Another partly-read series I’m working on is the original Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov (which also fits my goal last year to read more classic sci fi). I just read the second Foundation novel, Foundation and Empire–not to be confused with Second Foundation, which is the third book!
The Foundation books are set in a distant future where humans live on planets across the galaxy, under the rule of a Galactic Empire. The impetus for the whole series is Hari Seldon, a master of psycho-history. Not the history of crazy people it’s a discipline of applying psychology to entire societies, to look at sweeping trends and predict the future with startling accuracy. Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire and a period of 30,000 years of barbarism before a new Empire will rise. He calculates that the solution is to gather the great minds of the time together into two Foundations at opposite ends of the galaxy. This will set in motion necessary events to shorten the period of chaos to only 1,000 years.
Throughout the 1,000 years, there are certain crisis points, known as Seldon crises, which must develop and resolve a certain way for history to continue as Seldon predicted. The novels primarily deal with these crisis points. Foundation deals with the founding and first two hundred years of the Foundation. Foundation and Empire picks up at the next crisis point, as the last vestiges of the Empire make an attack on the Foundation.
That’s Book One. In typical classic sci fi fashion, the book is really two novellas, and though both good, I found the second one the more interesting one. In the second section, a shadowy figure called the Mule has begun conquering worlds, heading towards the Foundation itself. Seldon’s predictions deal with trends, not individuals, and the Mule is poised to set awry all of Seldon’s calculations.
I find that I tend to enjoy Asimov on a cerebral level. He has interesting plots, and he deals with intriguing theories of societal trends and human nature and big macro-level things (like Seldon). He tends not to be as satisfying on a micro-level, by which I really mean that his individual characters rarely make an impact on me. Part of it is that there are often a lot of them, and they’re mostly intellectual men having serious conversations all the time.
That being said, Foundation and Empire was a pleasant surprise for having more relatable characters! The first section features a well-developed character in the general attacking the Foundation, and there was also a former revolutionary and a merchant trader who had my interest. I feel like those two should have been a little more than they were, but I still liked them.
The second section had two very solidly engaging characters. There’s Magnifico, the Mule’s court jester who is cringing and slightly pathetic and yet comical as well. And there’s Bayta. And she’s a girl! After a book and a half, I was beginning to think that Asimov was writing about a future society consisting only of men. There’s a complete absence of female characters until Bayta comes on the scene, and it’s nice that when she does arrive she’s intelligent, warm-hearted, and even has a bit of a sense of humor.
These are not comedic books, and they’re mostly not emotional books either. They’re not exactly light, although I wouldn’t say they’re heavy in a depressing way either. They’re interesting and they’re intellectual, and I’m pleased about the improving trend in this one, and hopeful for the next!