Thursday, 17 November, 2005

The Foundation Novels

I finished Asimov's Foundation series today, all but Foundation and Earth, which I somehow missed when I picked up the rest of the books.  I was left mildly disappointed.

I liked the beginning of the series:  Prelude to Foundation, Foundation, and the first half of Foundation and Empire, but after that it was disappointing.  The addition of a Second Foundation that works in secret was a good idea, I think, but it causes problems.  With the "mentalist" abilities of the Second Foundationers and others, every character's actions and motivations are under question.  Once it's been established that the mentalists can affect anybody at any time in just about any conceivable way, then all the rules are the window and anything can happen.  It's not as bad as Harry Potter, with magic everywhere, but it's close.

I also read Asimov's Robot novels interspersed with the Foundation series.  I'm pretty sure that I read the first one, The Caves of Steel, when I was a teenager.  Once I got started on the book I remembered much of the story.  Somehow I missed the second one, and by the time Asimov wrote The Robots of Dawn, I'd given up on science fiction because it seemed to have been overrun by fantasy.

All three of the Robot novels are thinly disguised mystery stories set far into the future.  That's fine, seeing as how I like a "whodunnit" as much as the next guy.  I like how Asimov envisioned the societies on each of three different planets.  His discussions of social taboos make the reader sit back and contemplate just how much of what we consider "wrong" or "bad" (or "good") is based solely on how we were brought up.  The intolerable is intolerable just because we think it is.

I'm glad he didn't go any further with the mind reading and mind changing robot, though.  Sure, he touches on it a bit in Prelude to Foundation and again in Forward the Foundation, but fortunately he doesn't pursue that line too far.  The whole idea of humanity's destiny being controlled by a small number of robots with mind control capability is vaguely unsettling.