Ah, the Foundation series. I’ve read the series (the original three books) a few times and recently decided it was time for a re-read. It’s been probably five years or more.
Very cool idea. Hari Seldon develops a new branch of science called psychohistory. Drawing from knowledge of human nature, he is able to predict the future, at least as far as large societies go. (Presumably, individuals’ irrationalities kind of all cancel out.) He foresees that the great, galaxy-wide Empire will soon crumble. But there is a way to minimize the length and severity of the intervening Dark Age. The solution is to create the Foundation, a select group of scientists sequestered away on the far-off planet Terminus, ostensibly working on an Encyclopedia of All Knowledge. (Wikipedia, anyone?) It takes a few generations for people to realize the ruse of the Encyclopedia and their true purpose as a storehouse of knowledge and ingenuity that will eventually forge the next Empire.
(As I write this, this seems a bit like a metaphor for God. He has a plan for the Earth. Individuals have their freedom to follow or not, but one way or another that plan is going to come to fruition. In “Foundation,” Seldon is kind of like God.)
Reading this time around, I thought a few things in the story were a bit hokey. One is the creation of a science-worshiping (specifically, atomic science worshiping) religion to control the neighboring kingdoms. I thought it was unlikely to develop as quickly as it did (within a few decades) and to have such a hold over the people. For this reason, I liked the first two sections of the book (“The Psychohistorians” and “The Encyclopedists”) better than the others.
Second is the instantaneous travel between stars. The very first story has a description of the Empire’s faster than light (more like blink of an eye) travel. Ok, fine. But later on, the Empire’s remnants don’t even have reliable atomic power anymore and all things technological are breaking down, and no one knows how they work or how to fix them. But the Foundation’s enemies are still able to travel about between stars. Maybe the Empire’s old propulsion systems were really, really robust? In any case, it is necessary to the plot to have such a device, otherwise things would be way too boring…just the other day, mission specialists announced that Voyager 1 has left the solar system … after 33 years traveling 17 km/second. That means it’s traveled something like 10 billion kilometers (probably slower at start than now) … and it will still take 40,000 years to reach the next star in its line of travel.
See my thoughts on the next book in the Foundation series, Foundation and Empire.