The Foundation Groupread, Part I

Welcome to Part I of the Foundation Groupread, hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings.

Asimov’s “Foundation” is divided into five parts.  This week’s discussion covers up until midway through Part 3.  Of course, I’m a wee bit behind and as I’m writing this have only read up to the end of Part 2, but I’ll get caught up by the end of the day.

For anyone who is interested, Carl is also hosting groupreads of the next two books in the Foundation Trilogy after we finish this one.

As a disclaimer, the following discussion might include spoilers from the first half of the book.  You are warned!

For the purpose of satisfying curiosity, is this your first time reading Foundation or have you read it before?

Asimov virgin here–not only have I not read “Foundation,” I haven’t read anything at all that Asimov has written.

What are your thoughts about the structure of the novel thus far?

Normally I tend to enjoy books that toy with structure, but in this case I’m not sure.  I definitely like the segments from Encyclopedia Galactica.  At the same time, I’d like to see more character development, and thus far we haven’t focused on the same characters for long enough to learn that much about any of them.

Speaking of characters, my favorite thus far is Lord Dorwin.  He reminds me of my high school trigonometry teacher, who had a speech impediment.  In a moment of glory, she once announced to the class “Pawabowa Cadabowa!”  I continuously admire the patience of high school teachers in dealing with teenagers on a daily basis… now back to Foundation!

What are your initial thoughts on the field of psychohistory?

I like it.  Is it realistic?  No.  Is it brilliant?  Yes.

What, if anything, is holding your interest thus far, what are you enjoying about Foundation?

I liked the way that Seldon popped up again in the second book to explain what was going on.  I liked it for the same reasons that I always enjoy the “Dumbledore shows up and explains everything” segments in each of the Harry Potter novels.  Even while dead, Seldon manages to have the last word.

What, if anything, are you not enjoying about Foundation?

I wish there was more character development.  I’m having a hard time getting attached to the major players in Terminus’ affairs at the moment.  In this book, Asimov takes the concept of The Foundation and frames it in much the same way that one would frame a protagonist.  While it’s structurally interesting, I’m not sure yet if I like it or not.

You may have covered this in answering the other questions, but if not, what are your thoughts/feelings about the Galactic Empire. Is it a practical thing to have a galaxy spanning government? Can you imagine such a thing and do you think it would work?

Can I imagine it?  Yes.  Do I think it would work?  Doubtful, unless it had no real power and individual worlds still maintained their own affairs, as in the example of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Ekumen.

One of the things that was very interesting to me while reading was noting the ways in which Asimov’s influence permeates other works of science fiction.  The idea of a Galactic Empire spreads, of course, to the Star Wars universe.  When we were first introduced to the planet Trantor, my first thought was that it reminded me of Coruscant.  Oh, and Encyclopedia Galactica is totally referenced all the time in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

What are your thoughts on the book thus far?


Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , | 46 Comments

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46 thoughts on “The Foundation Groupread, Part I

  1. I’m just now getting to read everyone’s responses. Not sure if I can add anything new to the conversation, but I’ll try.

    “Dumbledore shows up and explains everything”
    LOL, love that! and Hari Seldon pretty much is a giant deus ex machina, isn’t he?

    Asimov was never much known for character development, it’s just something you’ve got to get used to.

    and now I’m going to be saying “powabowa cadabowa!” and giggling my head off all afternoon. 😀

    • I finished the book a couple days ago, and I did get used to the POV and the structure as I kept reading. There isn’t much character development, but I got more caught up in the story than I had expected to, and I’m curious as to what comes next. I wonder if Seldon will keep popping up in the next books too… 😛

  2. Oh, you raised a point that I forgot in my own post. I liked how I could see things in this book that inspired later works, too. It was a nice piece of science-fiction history. That slipped my mind until now.

    • I finished the book earlier this evening, and even in the second half I was noticing so many little things that other authors borrowed and adapted later on… 😀

  3. I am incredibly curious about Seldon’s influence on the history and future of the galaxy. I do not necessarily trust him, but I wonder what his true intent/reason are behind his manipulations. Maybe has all set this in motion for good, but I wonder. Is he preventing or creating the mess? I do like how he has popped back into the story even after death, and that too has made me curious. How he planned it all out…is he twisted? I wonder.

    • Mhm. I also wonder what influence his own actions have on his predictions, and whether or not he’ll keep being right about the future or whether there will be too many individuals involved for mob psychology not to work…

  4. You can add me as No.3 to your Asimov virgin camp.
    I love your comment about Dumbledore and how Seldon manages to keep getting the last word in – it made me laugh – and particularly as not only does he get the last word in but he seems to then manipulate everyone into helping his prophecy become self fulfilling – but then as he’s an expert on psychohistory I suppose he knows what he’s doing and how to manipulate people to the maximum. I’m actually enjoying this so far. It is definitely short on characterisation (and description) and just very narrative led but I guess it’s moving the story forward in large chunks and otherwise there could have been a LOT of books!
    Lynn 😀

    • The more I read the comments the more I realize what a clever idea psychohistory and Hari Seldon are from a story telling standpoint. It may not be scientific or even plausible, but I think there is some actual science in the background with the group mentality/predictable crowd behavior that some have mentioned, and outside of that it just makes for a fun story.

    • Yay! I thought I’d be the only one who had never read Asimov before.

      Seldon’s appealing to me, and I don’t know why. Yeah, he’s manipulating the world with his psychohistory, but on some level I do trust him.

      I’m curious to see what happens next!

      • I’m not sure I trust Seldon. I do think he is manipulating things but I don’t know the reason behind it.

        • I’m curious as to whether the trust that I have in Sheldon is at all justified, or if he’s screwing with humanity for the fun of it.

          • In good fun I have to point out that every time you type “Sheldon” instead of “Seldon”, I smile because it brings Big Bang Theory images into my head.

            • Haha! I’ve been trying not to type “Sheldon” by mistake because I watched my first episode of Big Bang Theory over break and enjoyed it a lot!

              • Is it a good show? I haven’t watched it yet?

                • Big Bang Theory is the best! There’s a character on there who pops up every now and again who can’t say his “r”s. I kept thinking of him too when Lord Dorwin was talking.

                • It’s entertaining; it’s comedy about nerds. 😀

                • Big Bang Theory is GREAT. Full of all kinds of fun geek references and is also just a sweet comedy. It plays on the same old tropes of half hour comedy but does so with new flair because of its inclusion of so much pop culture.

                  • Thanks Grace, Shelley and Carl. You have all convinced to give the show a chance. I wasn’t sure I would be able to relate to the show, but maybe I should just get over that. I’m a history nerd so I shouldn’t judge.

  5. One thing I like about science fiction is that it takes ideas that are somewhat unbelievable and uses them to tell us something about ourselves or our society. So the psychohistory idea is fascinating to me even though I don’t think it’s possible.
    I kept thinking of so many books and movies while I was reading this first half!

    • I always knew that Asimov was influential, but until reading this I didn’t realize the extent.

      Even though I don’t think that the psychohistory is possible, I think that it’s believable within the context of the story. It isn’t likely to happen, but I tend to suspend disbelief in fantasy and sci-fi.

      • I think if you aren’t willing to suspend some disbelief with sff then it will make you nuts. And I know some bloggers who it does drive nuts, who don’t want to settle for anything but utter plausibility. And I don’t fault them for their tastes, but I just can’t limit myself in that way. I enjoy the stories too much.

        • Exactly. And there’s a big difference between suspension of disbelief and gaping plot holes, which tend to bother me a bit more, lol.

          Also, after starting Part 3, the structure of the book is starting to grow on me.

          • Exactly, well said. I can even deal with some plot holes though depending on the kind of movie. For example if you over-analyze movies like Inception or The Lake House (two random examples) you can easily talk yourself out of the enjoyment of them (provided you enjoyed them in the first place). But some films just go way too far with plot holes.

        • I feel this way about some movies. If I’m entertained, then why care too much about if it really could happen. I like to let go and let the story take me on a fun ride. I used to be more of a stickler for “facts.” The old me would have hated movies like Inglorious Basterds since it changes historical fact. But as I get older I just don’t care that much about facts. Asimov and Tarantino aren’t writing non-fiction. They are entertaining people and making some points along the way.

  6. Science fiction is one of those genres that I want to love, but find it hard to in practise, although I do like H G Wells. I know enough about this one to know that it’s a classic. I had thought The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was original in the encyclopaedia idea, it’s interesting how authors inspire each other.

    • For me it’s one of those genres that I’m easily intimidated by, but end up liking more than I expect. 😀

      • I feel the same way and I was nervous for my first group read of Dune. But Carl, you, and everyone made me feel welcome and I’m finding that I like the genre.

  7. I would be curious what your thoughts would be on other Asimov works if you try them after this. Three of my favorites outside of this trilogy are I, Robot, The Positronic Man, and The Currents of Space. While I see many similarities between all of these books, his style, or maybe “structure” is a better word with those stories because they are more focused on a brief period of time and on specific characters as opposed to more far-reaching events. I guess what I am trying to say is that Asimov does have some variety to his work and is worth reading outside of the Foundation novels.

    What passes for character development in this series really comes with the next two novels. It doesn’t entirely go away from this structure, but it does settle in with some specific people for a longer period of time.

    I didn’t expect anyone to like Dorwin, so that brought a smile to my face. I couldn’t help but think of the characters in Dune with the weird speech patterns when reading this. Makes me wonder just what it is with classic science fiction that led authors to do things like this.

    Seldon does indeed get to have the last word every so often, doesn’t he. Hadn’t thought of it like that but you are correct.

    I’ll be interested to see how your feelings change or stay the same about the structure if you continue on with us for the other two group reads, not that I’m begging you to join in (hint, hint) 😉

    I think Asimov has had far reaching influence over the field in books, television and films, not to mention actual scientific and technological advancements that at the very least were inspired by his works. He was quite the writer. I need to read a good biography about him at some point.

    • I’m curious about the next two novels now, based on what you’ve mentioned about them. I’m thinking that the structure just takes some getting used to, and that I’ll probably warm up to it when I get farther into the book/series.

      I wonder if maybe there were more people with speech problems in the past, considering that now if you don’t pronounce ls and rs right, they send you to speech classes and work with you… (I had that problem as a kid, and it was quickly corrected.)

      It seems to me that all of the characters thus far are pawns playing into Seldon’s hand. I think that makes the book more interesting. He’s almost a God-figure himself.

      • Richard

        You should have read the three prequels before you read the three original books of the series.

        You need to read the Robot Series next. Since some of the novels overlap with each other.

        • I actually prefer reading this original trilogy first since it was written first, but then again I’ve not read the prequels or the sequels beyond the first three and the story arc they encompass.

          I take it then Grace that you are “in” for the next two group reads? I’ll be doing an official announcement about it later this week with a sign up.

          • Yep, I’m in for the next two!

            I tend to go in the order that they were written when I read a series, because sometimes the prequels aren’t as good if they were written later, or the originals provide background for the prequels. Again on the Star Wars analogy… Episodes IV, V, and VI go first, even though I, II, and III would be chronological.

            • One of these days I want to read the other books. Hari Seldon is an interesting character and it would be nice to actually get to see more of him than we get in this Foundation trilogy.

            • Richard

              Did you just compare a space opera to the Foundation series? I think I saw that you did. Also the prequels aren’t terrible since unlike George Lucas, Isaac Asimov could actually write a novel and portray the story far better then George Lucas could. Star Wars has nothing on the Foundation series.

              Even though the Foundation series comprises seven novels total, novels such as “Pebble In The Sky”, which was written and published before Foundation was published ten years later has many elements from the original novel and can almost be seen as the first written Foundation.

              • I’m not sure anyone was implying that Star Wars was an equal to the Foundation series, or that the Foundation prequels were bad. It is pretty common knowledge that Lucas based some of his ideas on Asimov’s work as well as numerous other older works. And as far as things written out of order, it is a perfect comparison. Asimov wrote prequels for Foundation after the original trilogy as did Lucas after his original trilogy. In both instances I prefer seeing the stuff that came out first as opposed to going at them in order chronologically, especially when (in the case of both of these) it is the original work that is lauded as the best.

                • I made the comparison because it’s another series where the chronological order of the story isn’t the same as the order in which the novels were written. It’s kind of like how very few people read The Magician’s Nephew before The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I like to read in the order that an author wrote because it’s neat to see the way that the author’s ideas change and develop over time.

  8. Whew…I thought I would be the only Asimov virgin. Good to know that there are at least two of us. Good comparison to Dumbledore. They both do seem to have the answers but aren’t willing to give all of the answers away at once, which can be frustrating but also adds to the mystery.

    Usually I like more character development, but so far it isn’t bothering me. It could be that I’m also reading Dickens and Tolstoy at the same time. A plot driven story might be a good break.

    I need to read Ursula K. LeGuin. Still haven’t picked up one of her books.

    • I think I’m just not used to the lack of character development, although I don’t want to say I dislike it, as I’ll likely warm up to it more as the story progresses. I love the moments when Hari Sheldon pops up… they’re my favorite parts of the book thus far.

      I’m curious as to what you think of Tolstoy thus far.

      • Well I’ve only read 40 something pages of War and Peace. I’m reading one chapter per day so it is slow going that way. But on a positive note, I’m loving his writing. And I’m amazed by how many characters he has introduced and yet they all have their own personality and I’m not struggling keeping track of them. I read Anna Karenina years ago and loved the novel. Unfortunately I don’t remember much of it. I’m finding that War and Peace isn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be.

        • I’ve made it halfway through War and Peace on more than one occasion, but then put it down and forgot everything I’d read up until that point. Tolstoy is, oddly enough, my least favorite Russian writer, mostly because of an unfortunate short story called “Family Happiness.” I did enjoy Anna Karenina though.

          • I haven’t read many Russian authors (I probably shouldn’t say that to you and I’m sorry). I’m hoping I can stick with War and Peace on this try since it is on my list and I wouldn’t want to have to read it more than once. It is good, but so long. Maybe I’ll read Family Happiness once I complete all his novels from my list and see if it changes my mind.

            • Haha, I read too many Russian authors, but haven’t read nearly enough British/American authors… the problem that I had with “Family Happiness” was that Tolstoy was trying to be all progressive and write from the perspective of a woman, but failed hard and ended up coming off as a chauvinistic prick.

              Good luck with the rest of War and Peace!

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