Prelude to Foundation

[Amazon Link]

As I've mentioned before, I placed Isaac Asimov's SF novels on my to-be-(re)?read list a few years back. We're nearing the end of the road. I was disappointed in Fantastic Voyage II, a tedious slog. But Prelude to Foundation (which, for some reason, I had not read before) was an extremely pleasant surprise, with the Good Doctor punching all my decades-old science fiction fan-buttons.

The book is set (as you might guess) before the events described in his famous Foundation series (originally written in the 1940s). The mathematician Hari Seldon is visiting the fabulous capital planet of the Galactic Empire, Trantor, where he's given a talk on the theoretical possibility of psychohistory: the ability to explain historical trends by the statistical interaction of humanity over the centuries and light years.

Emperor Cleon, via his shadowy flunky Eto Demerzel, hears of Seldon's work and invites him to an audience. Wouldn't psychohistory be an invaluable tool to cement his reign against instability and interlopers? The problem is that Hari isn't sure that psychohistory is practical.

Soon, Seldon is on the run from the Emperor's cops. He's aided by Chetter Hummin, a reporter who teams him up with the resourceful (yet beautiful) Dors Venabili. Together Hari and Dors travel through diverse sectors of Trantor, each with its own customs, foibles, and colorful characters. In their flight, Hari tries to piece together the mysterious origins of humanity, and tie it into the centuries-old legends of robots.

A small brag: although Asimov is known for springing surprises on the reader at the end of his novels, I could see this one coming nearly from the start. I still enjoyed the journey though.

The Interview

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I took my low-courage stand against dictators and rented The Interview via the iTunes store. It was good filthy fun, with (as the MPAA puts it) "pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence." It kept me chuckling all the way through.

Given that the movie's premise has appeared ad nauseam all over the Internet during the past few weeks, you probably don't need this plot summary:

James Franco and Seth Rogen, respectively, play Dave Skylark (the dimwitted host of a trashy celebrity interview show) and Aaron Rapaport (his somewhat smarter producer). Stupid as he is, Dave has an uncanny gift for getting his interview subjects to open up on-air to reveal dark secrets. (Eminem: gay; Rob Lowe: bald.) It turns out that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a fan, and (incredibly) Aaron makes the arrangements for the show to broadcast live from Pyongyang.

But the CIA takes an interest, and persuades Dave and Aaron to attempt to assassinate Kim with a surreptitious dose of ricin. What could go wrong? Everything, as it turns out.

I was impressed: there was nothing here to make a right-wing freedom-loving troglodyte like me toss his cookies. Kim makes an effort to appear human and ingratiate himself with Dave; this works, briefly, but only because Dave is a gullible idiot. The movie doesn't go into the dirty details of North Korean misery and repression, but (hey) it's a comedy, and I don't recall To Be Or Not To Be showing Auschwitz either.

Last Modified 2015-01-06 11:47 AM EST