By Ben H.
Foundation, the first book in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, is a sci-fi touchstone. I’m sure it’s been called a towering work of genius or a staggering work of brilliance. More importantly, it’s just been adapted for the small screen (I haven’t seen the show, but I’ve heard good things). The story’s three protagonists are a scientist, a politician, and a trader. Asimov explores big scientific, political, and economic ideas, and his protagonists give the reader a clue.
Asimov speculates that we will one day be able to predict the future using science. Psychohistory is born from the blending of (I bet you can guess) psychology and history. It’s used to predict the movements of large groups of people (the masses of humanity living their quietly desperate lives). We meet Hari Seldon, the most accomplished psychohistorian the galaxy has ever seen, on the planet of Trantor. Seldon tells Gaal Dornick, the scientist protagonist, that the current and seemingly stable galactic empire will fall and the galaxy will be plunged into thousands of years of chaos and barbarism. Seldon has a plan that, if executed properly, will save the galaxy thousands of years of chaos. Don’t get too attached to Gaal. Asimov moves through narrators pretty quickly.
According to the plan, Seldon establishes the first Foundation on the remote planet Terminus. He tasks scientists and academics with compiling an encyclopedia of the galaxy’s vast knowledge. They attack their goal with fervor. Meanwhile, the rest of the galactic empire is resting on its laurels and starting to collapse.
Fast forward a few decades and Salvador Hardin is the next narrator (the political narrator). Hardin is a very 60s sci-fi cool customer, space cowboy narrator. At this point Seldon reappears as a hologram (being dead) to provide hints or tips to keep the galaxy moving in the right direction, according to his plan. Hardin, the mayor of the planet Terminus, helps the planet through the first Seldon crisis, which is a time identified as a key turning point in the future of the galaxy. Each crisis must happen a certain way for the plan to be successful.
The last narrator is Hober Mallow, a trader working for The Foundation. At this point, The Foundation produces technological marvels that they trade to the surrounding planets. Most traders spread the religion Hardin created and tied to The Foundation’s technology to new planets. The new planets buy the technology, sometimes accept the new religion, and become regular customers. The traders make money and the surrounding planets become dependent on The Foundation.
Foundation is full of big ideas. Bloated bureaucracies, social elites, centralized governments, hyper-specialized professionals, cynical capitalists, zealous religious fanatics, and downtrodden regular folk populate the pages. It’s a thought-provoking story of the collapse of an empire.
Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).