Forward the Foundation

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Here endeth a reading project I undertook back in 2004 (pre-blog!): reading all of Isaac Asimov's solo science-fiction novels. This involved a lot of re-reading, but that's OK. I had not previously read Forward the Foundation, though. Bottom line: it is surprisingly good.

I say "surprisingly" because I've never been a huge fan of Asimov's fiction style: which (back in 2005, and probably many times since) I've characterized as "advances the plot mainly via conversations between characters; very little 'action'." That's considerably less true here. And the conversations are less stilted.

This was Asimov's last novel, posthumously published in 1992. Appropriately, the structure is similar to 1950's Foundation: essentially, four novellas, each set years apart; the time covered is from the end of Prelude to Foundation to just before Foundation. The overarching theme is Seldon's struggle to develop his study of "psychohistory" into a tool that can be used mitigate the inevitable fall of the Galactic Empire, shortening the subsequent barbarous interregnum from 30 millennia to just one.

There was a lot of nostalgia for me. Remember, I read (and re-read) the original Foundation Trilogy when I was an easily-impressed youngster, as well as the Robot yarns. I'm not ashamed of my happiness at seeing old fictional friend R. Daneel Olivaw one last time. And I got a certain frisson from the passage where Seldon learns of an uninhabited "suitable world" at the edge of the galaxy, visited only by unmanned probes: "Those who sent out the probes named it Terminus, an archaic word meaning 'the end of the line'."

Amusing turnabout for fans who recall the Salvor Hardin quote from Foundation: "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." Oft tediously deployed by pacifists. Here, Seldon's bacon is saved numerous times by timely violence. Maybe an Asimovian attitude shift there.

This book is also notable for the pervasive grim theme of loss and mortality. Seldon says goodbye to a lot of characters here, and is very lonely at the end. I'm no shrink, but I guess Asimov knew he wasn't long for the world himself while he was writing the book (he contracted HIV