Prelude to Foundation

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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.