Thursday, November 28, 2013

Forward the Foundation

Forward the Foundation is the final book that Asimov published. It deals with Hari Seldon as he ages and develops his psychohistory. Along the way, he sees almost everyone close to him leave this world before him. His wife is shown to be a robot and destroyed by somebody that didn't like her. (This book hints at her super-human strength and lack of aging, but he appear to not know that she is one until her destruction.) The "robot" minister leaves (leaving Hari as the minister.) The emperor is assassinated. His closest psychohistory coworker dies from overwork. His adopted son dies in a rebellion, while his daughter-in-law and one daughter are "lost in space." Hari himself eventually dies at the end.

The galactic empire gradually starts to fall apart. Asimov appears to be espousing some of his politics in the view of how it happens. The beauracracy (and especially taxation mechanism) grows too big. Dissafection and corruption within lead to major events without. Police and security become too independent. Democratic institutions slow real progress.

Eventually, Hari discovers that his granddaughter is a mind reader. She locates some other "mentalics" and these people are used to set up the second foundation. They also use their power of persuasion to help get access to the library and get the funds needed to set up the first foundation to create the galactic encyclopedia at the end of Galaxy.

The "science fiction" in this story is rather weak. Computers are seen as something through the "mainframe age", seeming to be less advanced than they are today. Asimov's obsession with robots grants them strange significance. Psychohistory does seem somewhat plausible. However, it is more an issue with getting all the needed datapoints than crafting intricate equations. (and why would people care so much about it?) Mind reading and pushing? Yeah I guess that could be interesting.

The story is, however, more about growing old. Hari is concerned with his age. We have sections as he reaches each decade of life. The "big picture" events in the plot all seem a little too contrived to be believable. A few people always seem to know exactly what needs to be done at a certain point in time, whether for good or for bad. The dumb luck and predictive power play too important of a role to be believable. In the end, Seldon manages to survive to create the foundation that can save the world from millenia of fighting. But, he still dies. It makes for an ok story. (At least he wasn't hunting for earth!) However, missing it is no great loss.

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