Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1951) 189 p.

Isaac Asimov is the last of the Big Three science fiction writers I hadn’t read, but I approached this book with a sense of duty rather than desire. While these classic science fiction novels may form the foundation (lol) of what we have today, they’re usually quite detached from what I’d consider to be “good” books, in both technical style and readability.

Foundation is a story spanning many generations, about the decline of a Galactic Empire and an attempt to rebuild it in the Dark Ages that follow. It concerns the “Foundation,” a sort of emergency ark of scientific knowledge situated on a planet at the very edge of the galaxy. Each large chapter deals with a different section of history, ranging from a mathematician on the capital planet deciding to establish the Foundation, up to a century afterwards when society is beginning to break down.

So Foundation tries to pack in an epic sweep of history, yet focuses on individual events and moments, and jumps to the next epoch very quickly each time. The majority of the book is dialogue, and there are no discernable characters – just names. Most classic sci-fi is pretty poor on characterisation, but this was appalling. Even if Asimov were a Pulitzer-calibre writer (which he suuuuure isn’t), it’s nigh impossible to craft memorable characters when you’re leaping forward in time every 35 pages.

Asimov also has an annoying habit – similar to Heinlein, though nowhere near as bad – of writing scenes in which Smart People Are Right and Foolish People Are Wrong. There’s never any self-doubt or self-questioning. This strikes me, ironically, as a very unscientific attitude. But, hey, if you like reading about pompous old men lecturing people, you’ll love this book.

Overall Foundation was a pretty bad book, the kind where I didn’t know what was going on most of the time – not because the plot was too complex to follow, but rather because it was too boring to follow. I may chance Asimov’s I Robot, but I doubt I’ll read the rest of the Foundation series.

Foundation at The Book Depository