9 January 2016

Vintage: A Review of Foundation's Edge, Isaac Asimov

The call to vintage SF arms could not have been better timed with the surprising arrival of Foundation's Edge through the library system. Deep into November I had compiled a stack of holds conceptualized to inspire the beginning of this reading year. A super fan of the first three:  Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation it is of embarrassment that I never read Asimov's later additions to the series. Apart from Dune, no other SF book has impacted my reading soul as has Foundation. It is a glorious example of world-building, complete with historical depth and mathematical shenanigans that woos the reader into believing in psychohistory. Asimov's ingenious fictional science, psychohistory:  the predication of future events of mass populations through the combined study of sociology, history and mathematical statistics exemplifies the power of quasi facts to strength a sci-fi story. 

While I insist upon reading vintage, my actions do not always equate those intentions. Dragonriders of Pern, A Wrinkle in Time and a smattering of Heinlein books that went spectacularly wrong, have been my lacklustre venture. Thus the arrival of Foundation's Edge has become a fortuitous event, destined to arrive just as I vowed to join the Little Red Reviewer's January challenge. And so, as I devour the book, falling deep within Asimov's prowess to story-tell, I am beyond content. After-all there is no greater reading pleasure than finding a new tale to an already loved series:  I feel like an old friend has come over for tea.

During the glory days of the Galactic Empire, a scientist by the name of Hari Seldon predicted the fall of the Empire at which humanity would dive into a deep dark age of 30,000 years. With the aid of psychohistory, Seldon purported that humanity's great fall could be averted to only 1000 years if certain variables were put into place. Those variables, the creation of Foundation and it's hidden brethren Second Foundation are the stories of the first three books. In this, the fourth book, the deviant The Mule, a mutant with mind-control powers has been defeated, ending the crisis that almost crushed Seldon's plan, spiralling humanity into darkness. 200 years have passed, Foundation has achieved further advances in technology while Second Foundation, unbeknown to the First keeps a steady, psychohistorical control on the entire galaxy. Both Foundations continue to pursue the dream of Seldon, one through the physical sciences, the other through mental with both intent on actualizing the rise of the new Empire with their descendants the ruling power. Using the laws of mass action, the future of one individual cannot be foretold and it is one man, an exile from Terminus that could foreseeable derail the Plan.

Truth be told, the first 20 pages of Foundation's Edge was duller than a bread knife.  Asimov's intention to capture the Roman Empire's fall via the medium of science fiction can be brilliantly boring. Reading intellectuals pontificate even while acknowledging that the boredom is intended by the author is Foundation's Edge's achilles heel. Without the fortitude of a steam roller I would have tossed this copy to the return pile before ever discovering it's hidden diamond plot-line. A quest always brings the happy to town and no greater search in the canon of SF is there, than the quest for Earth. Earth, a myth so deeply folded into it's past that it has disappeared, has become the twist to reanimate the series. As I continue to read, discovering the true importance of Earth, and whether Seldon's plan has been compromised, preoccupation that only a good space book can do, drapes over me. 

Vintage SF January is going so far, very well indeed.

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