Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Prelude to the Foundation

Asimov's foundation series was one of the most popular in science fiction. As a kid, I had heard about it. However, I preferred reading Asimov's other books. Later, I finally read the original Foundation series. It wasn't bad, but when I think about it in retrospect, the final books seemed to ramble a bit. He seemed to be done writing.

Enter Prelude to the Foundation. In the introduction he admits that he thought he was done, but was convinced by his readers and publisher to write more books. So we get this uninspiring work.

Prelude to the Foundation is a critique of 1950s cultural norms, written in the 1980s and set tens of thousands of years in the future. Just imagine a world that sees rapid technological innovations, robots, space travel, quadrillions of people, the domination of science. Yet somehow, through all of this, people still have the morals and concerns of people in the 1950s. Yuck.

A "hand on thigh" story of situational moral relativism is repeatedly referenced. Why? Perhaps he just couldn't think of anything else to bring in the point.

The plot is also held together by threads without much substance.

Hari Seldon delivers a paper on "psychohistory", a mathematical concept in which large-scale history of people can be predicted given enough data. For some reason, people are interested in this. Some people try to chase him down. Others try to help him. He always manages to escape just in time. He also comes across as brash, violating norms of different cultures in an attempt to gain more knowledge to carry out his psychohistory. Somehow these actions all end up being just what is needed. In spite of some close calls, he and his friends have just the needed fighting skills and manage to escape without any harm.

In the end, it turns out that the emperor's assistant has been controlling them all along. Only Hari is able to determine that he is in fact not a person, but a robot who has been using powers of emotion to influence everyone and attempt to protect society.

The plot is a real yawner. The characters are not believable (or appealing.) The theme about questioning the norms of societies falls flat. Perhaps the only interesting idea here is that of information. In the quest to find all that is needed to "create" psychohistory, Hari realizes that knowing what unuseful information can be discarded is the most important part of accumulating knowledge.

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