Dan Sandman

44: Foundation by Isaac Asimov

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 31/10/2014 at 12:00 pm

Foundation by Isaac AsimovAt some point in the distant future, human civilization has found a way to travel through hyperspace, as a means of inter-planetary colonization. The Empire maintains order over the galaxy, partly because it controls the means to produce nuclear arms, but it is prophesied that soon its reign will come to an end. In an attempt to reduce the time it will take to rebuild an advanced society from The Empire’s ashes, two groups of scientists are exiled to opposite ends of the galaxy. This story follows the group who is sent to write an encyclopedia, thus safeguarding advanced scientific knowledge for future generations. However, as the plot develops, an interesting political game is set in play.

Written at the start of the Cold War, Foundation (1951) draws on two topical issues: space travel and nuclear weapons. The Space Race (1955-1972) between Russia and America was just around the corner, and there was already great worldwide anxiety in regards to nuclear weapons. Fortunately, since America used the atom bomb to conclude World War Two, such terrifying weapons have historically acted as a deterrent to prevent total annihilation. Whilst Isaac Asimov wrote popular entertainment, and became the eighth most translated author in the world, he also used a broad scientific and historical knowledge to explore ethical issues. In this way, Asimov’s worldwide popularity as an SF writer is a forerunner to the entertainment franchise Star Trek (1966 -).

I remember reading in the Oxford Companion to English Literature that Mary Shelley became the grandmother of science fiction when when she published Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). In Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel, a terrifying monster is created by an obsessed scientist, tapping into early nineteenth century fears that science could be used for evil. Frankenstein’s monster raised the religious question, should man really be dabbling with the work of God? In contrast to Mary Shelley, Asimov writes about how science can be used as a positive force in the galaxy; and in regards to religion, he refers to how it has been used historically by politicians to control ‘the mob’.

After all, as Orson Scott Card pointed out, Foundation was influenced by Asimov’s reading of Roman history.

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