Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
From my first reading of this Foundation Trilogy when I was fourteen to my latest reading today, I still put these in my top ten books of all time. No question.
So many reasons. And even though the characters and the short-story-like presentation of the different times are quite fine and memorable, it isn't these that I point to.
It's the ideas.
It's also how our history is writ large as SF.
It's the social exploration. It's the re-establishment of civilization, one building block at a time. It's the scary devolvement of all civilization, too. All dystopia and the glimmer of optimism. It's a grand slide and a hard scrabble in a far future galactic civilization that might as well be us in a mirror.
I've since read Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and I've read about the ancient history of India's economic empire around 5 thousand years ago, mainly accomplished peacefully and with great demand, eventually leading to a grand civilization.
Both of these histories played a huge part in Asimov's imagining of his empire, but it's mostly the Roman Empire's history that this book emulates, from the ousting of its malcontents, the fracturing of the provinces, the devolvement of knowledge and learning into dogma and religious pomp.
Asimov curtails the worse parts of the Roman empire by having the Foundation eventually focus upon economics as a last-ditch stopping point before outright violence overwhelms the rest of the galaxy.
It's not a perfect solution, but this is merely the first of three novels that absolutely need to be read together. :)
I'm still absolutely amazed that history is retold so convincingly and grandly as an epic SF with such clear and sharp prose.
Asimov has always been known as a wonderful teacher. Even his most entertaining and important works, such as this, always remain a testament to his own learning and his absolute insistence on making everything perfectly understood to his audience.
The novel is ambitious, wide-sweeping, and terrifying. It's honestly mind-blowing, taken together with the other two, just how much information and development and implications are poured out onto the page. :)
If this is any indication, I think we're all doomed to repeat our History. :)
Of course, with all the things we know now, I'd have loved to see how Asimov would have written this today. :)
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