Prelude to Foundation – Book Review

Foundation series by Isaac Asimov is one of my all time favorite book series. It was also the first science fiction series that I ever read so it has a special place in my heart. I had read the original trilogy and had been planning to read the prequels and sequels that were written later by the author for several years now. Apple recently announced that the TV adaptation will be aired in September so I thought this was a good chance for me to reread the books, along with the prequels and sequels in chronological order. I also wanted to see if the series would stand the test of time as I have now read hundreds of other books after this series.

I started with Prelude to Foundation which is the first book in chronological order this month and thoroughly enjoyed it. No wonder this series won the best series of all time Hugo award.

If you are reading this series for the first time, you should start with “Foundation” which was the first book in the publication order. Starting with this book would make the series seem boring (which it is not). Not much happens in this book plotwise and the characters aren’t that well portrayed either. People who like character centered stories and not plot focused books, usually dislike Asimov and I can understand why after reading this book. But if you like the original trilogy, are a science geek, love big ideas and imagination, then you will enjoy this book.

This series is about a mathematician Hari Seldon from Helicon, who comes up with Pyschohistory to predict the collapse of a galactic empire that spans across thousands of planets and comes up with ideas to mitigate the suffering of humans and chaos when the eventual collapse happens. Seldon refers to “the theoretical assessment of probabilities concerning the future” as pyschohistory.

This book follows Hari when he was young and had just come up with the idea of Psychohistory. Throughout the book, he keeps asserting that it is just a theortically possible idea and not really something which can be implemented practically – possible but not practical (spoiler: by the end of the book, he learns a way to make it practical). When the emperor of the galactic empire learns about Seldon, he wants Seldon to work for him. But Seldon does not want to work for anyone as he thinks that he cannot use Pyschohistory to help anybody.

It is about Seldon trying to escape multiple people who are trying to capture him for their own gain. He seeks the help of a journalist (Chetter Hummin) and a historian (Dors Venabili from Cinna) and ends up in different sectors like Streeling, Mycogen, Dahl and Wye on the planet Trantor where the story takes place. Each sector he visits is vastly different from all the other sectors on this planet.

There is a lot of world building in this book about the planet Trantor and also about the galactic empire and its history which kept me interested. The main reason why anyone would want to read this book is to learn more about pyschohistory and how Seldon developed it. And the book does delve deeper into pyschohistory as a concept and there are multiple discussions that Seldon has with his friends in this book about it. There are some discussions about religion and feminism too that were fascinating.

All the books written by Asimov have a mystery element in them, along with the hard scifi elements. This book too had two shocking reveals at the end that nobody can guess. Everything that happened in the book made more sense after I read the ending.

“The more complex a system, the more likely it is to become chaotic.”

The author talks about many amazing ideas (some exist today) that I had to make a list here –

  • Cities on Trantor planet which are completely underground with artificial daylight
  • The planet consumes a lot of energy and degenerates into heat which is then discharged into space
  • energy-poverty is never heard of on this planet
  • Hyperspatial ships, spaceliners, jet-down with ion trails
  • microfusion planes with microfusion motors and hot gas
  • microfusion battery
  • Electronic Book scanners with microcards, instead of print-books (like Kindle)
  • Cylinder that clips on to the ear (like earpods today)
  • heat-seekers to detect humans
  • anti-gravity elevators, gravitic shaft
  • anti-gray spaceflight
  • credit tiles that are used like credit cards
  • magnetic propulsion
  • superluminal velocities
  • How food is made abundantly available using
    • micro-food (most fascinating)
    • yeast farms
    • fungal vats
    • algae ponds
    • microfarms
  • expressway with car tracks propelled by an electromagnetic field
  • holograph
  • radio-holographic identification
  • holovision
  • neuronic whip
  • pressure transducers
  • thermal blankets
  • photonic founts
  • mesonic refractometers
  • mechanical sweepers
  • talking computer
  • nerve-rebuilding
  • dry-net for hair
  • psychic probe
  • computer code-number for communication (kinda like IP address I guess)
  • voice-print (normal voice-print as Seldon stresses. Any change in voice modulation won’t make it work so you cannot be coaxed. What a great idea!)
  • distortion field, field-distorter to use against evesdropping
  • Aurora planet which was probably occupied after Earth by humans
  • Robots and the three laws of robotics, along with a new zeroth law that changes the first law
    • 0. A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
  • computo-map
  • neuronic cannon
  • needle-gun
  • holomirror – no inversion of left and right in it
  • concept of “tampering” humans
  • How energy and power are abundant on the planet by using
    • thermopiles, heatsinks using the heat from magma layer for energy (like geothermal energy)
    • solar power-stations in orbit around the planet
    • nuclear fusion stations
    • microfusion motors
    • wind-stations

Have you read any book from this series? If so, did you like it? What did you like/dislike about this series?

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