What a read, what a read. My blind spots have become frightening, so I hope that you, of all people, dear reader, will continue to join me on my journey into this spine tingling darkness that is Foundation by Isaac Asimov. As always, you should already be aware, that the spoilers are coming, and nothing contained within this novel is off limits.
I have to reiterate the spoiler warning as this novel, lives off of some of its twists, and I’m not going to be nearly as subtle. This, of course, you should already know because you read it. Right? Just read it already! What’s that? You did? Well then why didn’t you say so? Let’s get started.
This novel is one of reductions. Many novels are, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Asimov, here, reduces the world, or to be more specific, human history and interaction into simple phases. The book implies that these phases are cyclical, and it utilizes an assumed knowledge of human history on the reader’s part, while at the same time giving the novel an excuse to avoid review, as most of human history has been lost, rather conveniently.
The novel begins at a pinnacle. We are greeted with an unbelievable mass of layered human bureaucracy, one that is almost beautiful in its scope and scale. Before we are allowed to understand it fully we are told that it is all going to come tumbling down. The cycle I spoke of before, well this is the height of it. “The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought, it is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of casts, a damming of curiosity-and a hundred other factors.” The novel hangs its hat on this cycle, but outside of Seldon (the speaker of the quote) everyone remains mostly oblivious, which is by Seldon’s own design, nobody can know too much or they may subvert or twist his plan.
Before I continue in this reductive analysis I must offer my self a way out, I have not, as of yet, read the other books in the series, so missteps may happen, but even if they do this review will serve as an interesting case study in human reaction to literature. I know I am all full of warnings and doom and gloom today, perhaps it is somewhat fitting giving the subject at hand.
In short order we are given a time frame, 30,000 years. That’s how long it will take to rebuild human civilization after the fall if no intervention takes place. This number should not be taken lightly. This is the standard timescale for the cycle to occur in. The earliest forms of civilization on Earth date back to around 12,000 years ago, and in doing a little research (things get hazy here as some retroactive continuity adjustments took place at some point) it would appear that the novel takes place just over 20,000 years into the future. Meaning that all of human history, since the dawn of civilization, could fit inside the time that it will take to rebuild without intervention. Basically it would mean starting over.
The rest of the novel outlines the remaining portions of the cycle, or at least a significant amount of it, as it never does cycle back around. First there is barbarism, which is quelled almost immediately by the Foundation as they invent the next portion of the cycle, religion. There as some struggle as the barbarism exhales its dying breaths, and then this new religion is allowed to take a firm hold. With their religion intact the Foundation sets out into acts of trade to help further their religion. “It [religion and the spread of it] is the most potent device known with which to control men and worlds.” Even so eventually the religion proves to be ineffective, and this mantra false, but luckily, almost by accident (or really by design) the Foundation has already set into motion the religion’s successor. Trade and the all mighty dollar, step in, to continue where religion left off.
This entire process is accelerated by the Foundation and its inadvertent preservation of science and technology. In the previous cycle there was no science and no technology during these phases. We had to create it, and create it for the first time. The theory then goes, that if the cycle had been allowed to progress without Seldon’s intervention then the technology would have been lost at the fall of the Empire, and its loss would spell 30,000 years of bad luck. Each crisis is really about the preservation of this technology, as at each crisis that is really what is at stake.
On a final note, one of the really beautiful parts of this novel is the merger of technology and religion. I have to admit it sent a chill right down my spine. The priests, in this world, would really appear as wizards or magicians, and with the way Asimov sets them up, the priests themselves would have no way to tell the difference. They follow the teachings of the Galactic Spirit and things, that they know no logical explanation for, come true. Of course building a religion out of a premise like that does set it up to fail in the long run as eventually someone, priest or not, is going to figure out how to operate and control such things.
The next book that I will be delving into for my own reading pleasure is The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. I know it’s another comedy book, of which I have already done two. Honestly that is just by pure chance. I promise I will lay off of the comedy for awhile after this one. The book just keeps staring at me from my shelf and I can no longer help myself, I can’t continue to look away. I will write to you again soon, enjoy the holidays… if you can, and for now I leave with this parting quote from Foundation, “Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right!”