September 4, 2012

A is for Asimov

Being the geek that I am, being the devourer of books that I am, with decades of reading under my belt, one would assume that I had read the works of the man some consider the greatest science fiction author of all time.  Nope.  How I got to this point in my life without reading anything by Isaac Asimov is a question I can't answer.  I suppose I thought that the ideas contained within the books would be brilliant, but that the writing itself would be stuffy and overly wordy.  I've had the three books of Asimov's Foundation trilogy sitting in my to-read pile for a couple of months now, but I've been hesitant to pick them up.  I bought them because I saw them in a used bookstore and thought, well, I should have read these by now, and for less than ten dollars I can find out if Asimov is all he's cracked up to be.  The Foundation books did win a special Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series," after all.  It was the only time a Hugo was awarded in that category.  The Foundation series beat Tolkien's Lord of the Rings!

The trilogy books, Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation, were the first of the Foundation series to be written. Four additional books followed, two of which are prequels.  No, I'm not reading them in "in-universe" order.  I decided to read the original trilogy first.  If I liked that, I could read the following two books and then get to the prequels last.  The first three books were written in the fifties, but the others weren't written until thirty years later, with the prequels the last to be published.  So, I'm reading them in order if you take into consideration publication order.

After I started reading Foundation, I discovered that the trilogy is an interconnected compilation of short stories.  They weren't originally written as novels.  The books span hundreds if not thousands of years (haven't read that far yet).  In each new section, time jumps forward, and the main characters change.  In a way, that is a little frustrating, because you start to like these characters and then their part in the story is over.  However, the books are driven by the plot, not by character development.  That's not to say that Asimov doesn't know people.  The events of the books show a depth of understanding of human nature that other authors would be hard-pressed to equal.

I have not described the plot.  It's hard to say what these books are about, because doing so does not convey how addictive they are.  A description of the plot makes them sound like they could be boring, when that couldn't be further from the truth.  I can't put these books down.  Granted, I'm only on Foundation and Empire right now, but I blew through Foundation, and I don't see how I'm not going to have to go out as soon as possible and get the rest of the series, ignoring the to-read pile of books as it glares at me for buying new books when I have unread books sitting right there.  The premise is this: the Galactic Empire is in decline and has been for some time, although the residents and rulers don't see it.  A man named Hari Seldon not only warns of the fall, but also, using mathematics and science, predicts that there will be 30,000 years of dark ages (chaos, war, loss of technological and scientific knowledge) before a Second Empire will rise and restore peace and civilization to the galaxy.  Unless.  Seldon has a plan.  His predictions also show that there is a way to shorten this interregnum to 1,000 years.  He establishes two Foundations.  They are on the fringe, at opposite edges of the galaxy.  Their mission is to preserve and advance science, art, and technology.  They will bring about a better Second Empire's rise from the ashes of the first.

So far, the books have only dealt with the first Foundation and the crises they face as they wind their way along Seldon's path to the Second Empire.  I probably should have waited until I finished the trilogy to blog about the books, but I am THAT excited by them.  I don't know if I know many people who have read Asimov's books.  Geeks are aware of his laws of robotics and acknowledge his greatness, but how many have read his work?  This needs to change.  These books are brilliant.  Asimov was brilliant.  I wish had known sooner.  The bright side is that now I have his whole body of work ahead of me, and he was a prolific writer.  Both his Robot series and his Empire series he later connected to the Foundation series, bringing the total number of novels taking place in this universe alone to fourteen.  It's time to stop writing now and go see if the Foundation can handle the next crisis...

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