Book Review: Prelude to Foundation

Prelude to FoundationPrelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set in a multi-planetary future some 20,000 years the Galactic Empire is in technological decay. Too vast, too unwieldy and racked by power games – innovation has ceased, sciences and skills are being forgotten (like weather forecasting)and populations are shrinking. Into this comes mathematician Hari Seldon with a new proposal, how to quantify and calculate the various probabilities of the future of civilisations. He has only shown that his theory is possible but he has no idea how to make his theory practical. This new science is called pyschohistory. Wanted by powerful people for his assumed power of being able to predict the future Hari is chased across the city planet of Trantor, along with his female protector, historian Dors Venabili.

It’s interesting to see how it has aged in the 30 + years since it was written and how, in many ways, limited Asimov’s imagination of the future actually was. People are still using computer terminals and keyboards. Watches with lights seem a novelty. On the other hand he does have hyperloops, e-readers (of sorts) and humanoid robots you can have sex with.

There are a few other shortcomings too: Hari Seldon the main character is a bit of a prig with a wandering eye and the dialogue is often clumsy and the last line is very cheesy. There are also simple earth-bound stereotypes too – the Indian Dahlites, the Scandinavian Wyes, the religious (Buddhist?) oddballs of Mycogen.

Yet the scale of the story, the sheer vastness of the concept and of Trantor the city planet of 40 billion people somehow takes you past these quibbles. It is an extraordinary feat. It was a long time since I first read the Foundation series and I could remember the plot in only the most basic outline as a result the twists at the end got me again which was a pleasing thing at the end.

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