Review: Foundation series #1-4 by Isaac Asimov

Note: There’ll probably be some spoilers in this post, as I’m reviewing four books in a series at once. If you’d like to play it safe, the review for the first book should be spoiler-free enough to read. Not sure about the others.

Also, this’ll probably be a lengthy post. Stick with me, eh?

An intro

I’ve never read any of Isaac Asimov’s works, though I was familiar with them through some of the film adaptations. I have a couple of his books– gotten through library books sales for a pittance– but I was actually on the verge of putting them on Bookmooch because I had had them for around three years and never read a one. But then I needed some books for the Final Frontier reading challenge, and remembered I had the first three books in the Foundation trilogy lurking on my shelves.

So I read them. And then I read the fourth. And though that one knocked me off my stride a bit (you’ll see why soon), I think I’m going to continue reading the series until I get bored or disillusioned. It’s fun, for the most part, and it makes me feel just generally awesome to read Asimov.

Foundation

Book #1: Foundation

Publication: Spectra (April 29, 2008), Paperback, 272pp / ISBN 0553382578
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating:
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Challenges: The Final Frontier Challenge (#4)
Read: September 2009
Source: Library

Foundation was originally written in the 1950’s, and for someone who is used to more modern sci-fi it was extremely interesting to see what sci-fi was like back way back then. One of the first differences I noticed between modern and older sci-fi was that in Foundation the technology is largely nuclear powered. Nuclear powered! I don’t think anyone would do that today; modern sci-fi technology seems to be mostly powered by nannites. It was really weird, reading about tiny nuclear-powered personal shields, nuclear-powered ships, giant nuclear power stations (that EXPLODED and yet somehow didn’t wreck the whole planet), and so on. It’s kind of sweet, in a terribly old-fashioned idealistic way.

Also, they used microfilm. Microfilm! And of course the computers were minimal, but I expected that.

Next I noticed the extreme lack of female characters. There were NO female protagonists! None! The only females in the story were either background or minor characters, and this was terribly disappointing. And it’s another difference between modern and non-modern sci-fi: how many sci-fi books are there today with not even one major female character somewhere? Sheesh.

It was in this book that I also became familiar with Asimov’s early writing style. It’s very minimalistic, with hardly any descriptions, and while that sounds dry and boring it’s probably actually a good thing. Too much description would bog this book down, and with the amount of time we blaze through in this one book (200 years, I think?) if it had been chock full of descriptive passages it’d be 700 pages long instead of around 300.

Unfortunately the space not taken up by description is taken up by repetition. Every time a new generation shows up, the Seldon Crisis story is repeated. It’s interesting to see how it changes over time from something purely scientific to something almost religious, but it also gets annoying. I spent a lot of time skimming.

Despite the problems in this book, I still found the writing very engaging, somehow, the characters interesting, the story fascinating, and at the end I was very excited to continue the story. I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m a empire-building nerd or because the book is just that good. At any rate, it’s definitely worth reading.

Foundation and Empire

Book #2: Foundation & Empire

Publication: Spectra (April 29, 2008), Paperback, 272pp / ISBN 0553382586
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating:
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Challenges: The Final Frontier Challenge (#5)
Read: October 2009
Source: Library

Some of the problems in Foundation were fixed in this installment. There’s a female protagonist, one who I actually liked. The plot is much more streamlined. The new characters were even more likable than the ones from the first book, especially the Mule, the villain, who I empathized with (he’s ugly and an outcast and yet I felt bad for him and could see why he’d want to take over the galaxy).

Unfortunately I totally knew the “secret” halfway into it, and the end was one of those “let me explain my plan to you right before you die/I disappear forever/whatever” things that I hate. But, overall, it was a very good addition to the series.

Second Foundation

Book #3: Second Foundation

Publication:
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating:
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Challenges: The Final Frontier Challenge (#6)
Read: October 2009
Source: Library

I am not overly fond of this one. It had another female protagonist that I liked, but every other character hated her so much I’m not entirely sure what purpose she served besides the obvious heroine role. What I mostly hated was the mental games bits, which got very tiring and made me wish there were more ships exploding, or something.

It’s here that my biggest problem with the Foundation series pops up: the “super special Second Foundationers will make everything better through their big brains” thing. It makes me very annoyed that the two Foundations basically want to a) wipe the other Foundation out and/or b) completely rule over them and everything else. Why can’t they just work together?! Surely that’d be the best solution? But the Second Foundationers are too proud and the First Foundations are two prejudice. It’s like a Jane Austen novel set in space, honestly.

Also, the possibility of everyone and everything being under mind control makes me very paranoid when I’m reading, and I end up not trusting anyone or anything. And it rather seems too deus ex machina, especially considering the end of this book (which I’m not going to tell you about).

Foundation's Edge

Book #4: Foundation’s Edge

Publication: Spectra (October 1, 1991), Paperback, 480pp / ISBN 0553293389
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating:
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Challenges: The Final Frontier Challenge (#7)
Read: October 2009
Source: Library

My paranoia from the last book has leaked into the characters of this book. As much time as I spent suspicious of all the characters in Second Foundation, [#] spends suspicious of every other character in here. It’s good sense, but, yeah, annoying. I want to be sure of a character’s motives, you know? And you can’t even rely on the Second Foundationer, [#], as even he has the potential to be messed with (and he is, by the way).

Anyway, besides that, the writing style has completely changed from the first two books. Foundation’s Edge was written 30 years after Second Foundation, after all, and it shows. Instead of the lean, descriptive-free writing of the 1950s, Mr Asimov has found his love for describing things and much of the page count is, well, things being described. It was almost a shock, the difference, and I’m not entirely sure it’s better.

I decided, after finishing this book, that I don’t much like it as part of the series. It’s entirely too different from the first three books and it’s significantly cooled my ardour toward the series. On its own, however, without taking the first three books into account, it’s not bad. I think, however, that it tries a bit too hard to try and tie itself with the other books, and it makes it very awkward.

And so…

I really like this series, as a whole. The individual books vary in my enjoyment of them, but I definitely think they’re worth reading (maybe the first three more than the fourth) and I think even people who aren’t interested in sci-fi will like them. I read somewhere that they’re supposed to mirror the rise and fall of the Roman empire, so history buffs might find something they like in that aspect. And they’re not so inundated with technological terminology that the world is completely inaccessible, so don’t be afraid of that.

If you haven’t already read them, I for sure recommend reading them. They’re short, and they move quickly, so why not give them a shot? 😀

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