Reading Through the Bookcase: Isaac Asimov

As I’ve mentioned already, I often have just a few books from a set rather than the whole shebang. And this, alas, is true for Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels. I only have the original three (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation), and then the first sequel to them (Foundation’s Edge). I knew I didn’t have the fifth (Foundation and Earth), and until recently, I didn’t even know that there had also been two prequels (Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation). However! I had never actually managed to get through the trilogy, even though I’d started it a couple of times, so l am very proud that I’ve finally done it. And I’ll get the other books as soon as I can. I am really wanting to read them.

My only Asimov novelsFirst, it was fascinating how it was possible to tell that the early books really were written several decades ago. Changes in spellings, hyphenation, and usage might be subtle, but they are definitely there.

Meanwhile, another couple of things made me chuckle. The first was the portrayal of women. This seems to me to be somewhat typical of the earlier SF writers. Even the women (probably called “girls”) with brains are a bit…cutesy. They might know rocket science, but they still tend to gush when they talk and get pretty emotional. And be a bit dismissed by the men, who shrug women’s minds off as rather incomprehensible. I was encouraged, though, about Harla Branno, the female mayor of Terminus (the Foundation planet) in the fourth book, because she had a lot of authority and tended to be quite intimidating. She never gushed. So Asimov had learned a few things by the end.

But speaking of learning. I kept wanting to yell, “Stop explaining everything!” Another thing that made me chuckle even while it exasperated me was that most conversations seemed to be explanations of how something worked or some mathematical principle or other. (People really don’t talk like that, most of the time.) There was rather a lot of theory, and in many cases, the dialogue just seemed to be a substitute for the narrative, to avoid the whole thing sounding like a treatise. Granted, some parts were worse for this than others, so the books weren’t all like that. But it did seem to me that the emphasis was far more on the ideas than on the development and expression of story. I think (I’d need to test this idea) that that was probably more true of the earlier SF writers than the later ones, and that the later ones came in more with the idea of telling a good story first of all.

But still! I loved the idea of psychohistory, the science of very large populations and how their progress through history can be predicted. I really enjoyed following those early stages and watching the Foundation evolve from a society of encyclopedists to traders I think, in fact, that that’s why I kept getting stalled in the second book over the yaers. I really hated the idea of the Mule and the disruption of the tale of the psychohistorical progress of the Foundation through its thousand years. I was much more interested in seeing all the theoretical stages that a population would go through than in seeing what would happen if they were interrupted.

I was glad when things seemed to have gotten back on track by the end of Second Foundation. And I quite enjoyed Foundation’s Edge…except…

I had checked Wikipedia to find out how many sequels there were, and while reading about them, discovered that at some point, Asimov decided to set the Foundation books in the same universe as his Robot books (none of which I have read) and also to integrate other standalone novels as well. (Including The Stars Like Dust, which I also read this time.) So as I progressed through Foundation’s Edge, it really started seeming to me that the book was really written just to set up the relationship of the Foundation books to the Robot books.

And I didn’t actually like that. I have vague recollections of other writers who have done this–tried to integrate all of their books into a single universe and timeline–and I had found it really awkward and, eventually, contrived. I wanted the story of the fourth book to stand on its own merits and not merely be a quest that led to an explanation of how the Robot books eventually led to the Galactic Empire that collapsed during the Foundation books.

I enjoyed The Stars Like Dust, partly because it really seemed to stand alone (rather than having to be seen as what it was later conceived to be, a part of that whole encompassing history). It seemed to have more of a real story arc and somewhat more space adventure than the other books. Yet I am still interested in reading Foundation & Earth and then the prequels, just to get the whole story as Asimov finally envisioned it.

So the Asimov books are done, except for a collection (Gold) that is stacked differently on the shelves and will be read later. On to Jane Austen!

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