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Prelude to Foundation

In 1951 science fiction legend Isaac Asimov wrote the first book in his Foundation series. It followed a group of scientists thousands of years in the future attempting to save humanity through the use of psychohistory, or, to be incredibly vague and slightly inaccurate, the ability to predict the future based on past events. Thirty seven years later (1988 for those of us afraid of math) Asimov returned to the world of Foundation to show us the life of Hari Seldon, the progenitor and father of the psychohistorical sciences.

The story takes place on the future world of Trantor, the capital of a galactic empire currently presided over by Cleon I. He hear’s of Seldon’s presentation of a mathematical paper that suggests psychohistory could be theoretically possible and believes that in order to keep the empire stable (And to curry political favor/stave off assassination) Seldon must come work for the empire and establish psychohistory as a real and practical method of future prediction. When Seldon explains to him that it would be nearly impossible to accomplish such a thing, Cleon sends him on his way.

Soon after Seldon meets a journalist named Chetter Hummin who convinces him that the advisor to the emperor, a man named Eto Demerzel, is out to capture him and force him to make psychohistory a reality and damn the odds. Believing his life to be in danger Hari flees with the help of Hummin and a woman named Dors Venabili, tasked with the safekeeping of Hari. Their flight leads them to many different corners of Trantor, each an independent culture and ecosystem unto itself. For on Trantor, each region is contained within a massive dome, and the weather withing changed to match the needs of the beings therein. Hari and Dors travel from the local university to Mycogen, a heavily religious farming community, Dahl, the sector responsible for mining and maintaining the planet’s heat sinks and thermal energy, and Wye, a rich and politically influential region on Trantor’s South Pole with designs on taking the throne from Cleon I.

Along the way we meet several characters that are destined to play a much larger part in the later novels, though if you haven’t read any of the Foundation books before I’m not going to tell you who. Prelude also ties the series together very nicely with another of Asimov’s famous series of novels, and explains to us a little known Fourth Law of Robotics. That my friends, is another revelation I am going to have to withhold until you read the book.

If you aren’t familiar with Asimov’s work (You are, even if you don’t know it) let me give you a quick rundown. Asimov is probably the man most responsible for how we view robots today. Not only in fiction mind you, in reality as well. Asimov speculated that robots did not have to be monsters meant to play the role of villain in every story. They could be friends and helpers to humankind. Robin Williams took on the role of one of his early creations in The Bicentennial Man, and Will Smith lent his talents to the re-imagining of one of his collections of short stories, I, Robot. Asimov launched a generation of new writers with the work he had done in creating the idea of the friendly and humane robot. And he did it with The Three Laws:

1. A robot may not harm a human, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey any and all commands given to it, excepting in cases where the command would interfere with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect it’s own existence, excepting in cases where doing so would interfere with the First or Second Law.

Those three sentences revolutionized science fiction, and believe it or not, the science of modern robotics.

In Prelude to Foundation we are given a story that is by turns a romance, a thriller, and a classic example of hard science fiction. But perhaps best of all, it gives new readers a starting point through which to explore the massive, iconic, world changing literature that came from one of the greatest writers of any kind of fiction in the 20th century.

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One comment on “Prelude to Foundation

  1. Naomi de Plume
    July 18, 2013

    Two fascinating things about Asimov, who was just amazeballs cool. 1) He invented the word “robotics,” but didn’t realize it. He just thought it sounded like a science that already existed, and coined the term. 2) He is the only author to have books in each of the major Dewey Decimal sections.
    Mind blown, right? *boom*

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This entry was posted on July 2, 2013 by in Fiction, Science Fiction and tagged .
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