Foundation by Isaac Asimov, Group readalong part 1

Posted On 9 January 2012

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During January I am attempting to read more sci fi and as part of this I am taking part in Stainless Steel Droppings group readalong.  This kicks off with the first of the Foundation novels by Isaac Asimov.  Below are my thoughts and comments in response to the questions that have been posted for the first part of the readalong:

For the purpose of satisfying curiosity, is this your first time reading Foundation or have you read it before?

I’m a relative newbie to sci fi so this is my first time.

For those who have read it before, how has it held up to your memory/feelings about previous reads?

For those reading Foundation for the first time, what expectations did you have going in and has it met them or surprised you in any way?
Okay, to be honest I didn’t really have any expectations reading this for the first time.  In fact I really didn’t know what to expect at all.  Also, whilst I’m being honest, and don’t hate me for this, but I would never in a million years have picked up this book and my reason for saying so is totally fickle – the cover!  I know you can’t judge a book by its cover but it would have just put me off – sorry, I know I’m going to get beaten with a big verbal stick now for not liking the cover and for being fickle enough to not pick up a book because of its cover but there it is.  I suppose, having said that I’m now going to have to backtrack a little on the first part of my answer because I think I probably did have an inkling of an expectation that I would dislike the content purely because of the cover!  And, I’ve been pleasantly surprised because after I got into the first few chapters and became aware of the structure I think it’s really good!  The biggest surprise for me with this book is that I expected it to be overloaded with sci-fi-ness and it isn’t really (again don’t beat me with a big verbal stick please!), I can’t help feeling that if we took away the strange people/planet names and took out a few of the gadgets it would be like a political/historical read.  I did also have an expectation that maybe quite a bit of the content would just go over my head – but again I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

What are your thoughts about the structure of the novel thus far? (I am referring to the brief glimpses of different parts of the history of the Foundation with big time gaps between events in the novel)
I actually like the structure – it’s like a series of little mini stories really that are all connected and given the timeframe involved I don’t see how it could have been structured any differently – unless there were hundreds of books that is!

What are your initial thoughts on the field of psychohistory?

I found it intriguing and I guess the whole thing comes across as plausible somehow, purely because of the numbers of people involved.  But, I’m not totally convinced that, given these numbers and timeframe concerned, Dr Seldon could have been quite so precise with some of his predictions. I suppose it makes it more readable that way though.  It puts me in mind of what we would call ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’?

What, if anything, is holding your interest thus far, what are you enjoying about Foundation?
What I’m really enjoying about the story is all the twists and turns of the characters and how they keep playing their own little games in order to manoeuvre this way or that.  It feels like a giant game of space chess.

What, if anything, are you not enjoying about Foundation?

I don’t know that I would say I’m not enjoying anything in particular but in terms of little niggles or criticisms there have been a few instances where the speech has felt a little too familiar – things that we would say now.  I’m not saying that people wouldn’t still use that same language that we do but it’s just a surprise with some of the phrases, especially when you consider how much our language has changed since for example the writing of Shakespeare.  So when you consider the number of years forward that we’ve moved for this story (in fact so far forward that nobody remembers which planet humans started from) I’m not sure there wouldn’t be some differences.  But, and now I’m going to talk myself out of that criticism, I think it would annoy me to read the book if the author had tried to make up new words of sentence structures.  I did read another book recently where the author had attempted this and it just came across as irritating.

You may have covered this in answering the other questions, but if not, what are your thoughts/feelings about the Galactic Empire.  Is it a practical thing to have a galaxy spanning government? Can you imagine such a thing and do  you think it would work?

I don’t think it would work – and I don’t think it will ultimately work in this series (but that remains to be seen).  It’s not like it hasn’t been attempted throughout history, the Romans, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, but in Foundation this is on such a magnificent scale to make it virtually impossible – it seems to me difficult enough for all the inhabitants of a planet to get along let alone lots of different planets on a system where they’re light years away from each other!

What are your thoughts on Hardin’s creation of a religious system in which to house scientific ideas and technology while keeping the users of that science and technology in the dark?

I thought Hardin’s invention of a religious system was inspirational in this story. He gave everybody a set of beliefs to follow which they just stuck to dogmatically, retaining all the knowledge to the Foundation.  In doing so it’s almost like the rest of the system is going backwards and losing the knowledge they once had as they become more and more reliant upon these beliefs.  It feels like ultimately the Foundation will have become the big ‘I am’ and nobody will be in a position to threaten them.

Thanks Carl for these questions/discussion points.  I look forward to the next set.



27 Responses to “Foundation by Isaac Asimov, Group readalong part 1”

  1. Grace

    I’m glad you’re joining us! I had no idea what to expect either, but thus far I’m liking it (even though I wish that Asimov would develop his characters a bit more).

    I think it’s cool with older books to Google cover images, because there are so many different editions with different artwork! Some sci-fi artwork is really cool, and some misses the mark.

    Space chess describes the book perfectly!

    • lynnsbooks

      I’m really glad to be joining in – these discussion are great and really thought provoking. Makes you think about the book and explore it in ways that you wouldn’t think do just by yourself.
      I think I had a different cover to everybody else! This is a library book and I think my library have found a unique version – I will try to find the image. I realise that I’m very fickle overlooking books because of their cover and I try not to do so but just sometimes I can’t help it!
      Like you, I hope that the characters do develop a bit more in the next books.
      Lynn 😀

      • Carl V.

        You aren’t fickle, we all do it. I usually go way out of my way to find books with covers I like. For example, if I know I want to read a certain Heinlein book, an author that I know I enjoy, I’ll search ebay for an older paperback with a cool cover before just settling for something ugly.

  2. TBM

    I’m so glad that there are so many newbies to this genre involved in this group read. I also am relatively new to it as well. I think I mainly avoided it for so long since I thought I wasn’t smart enough to understand all the technical stuff. But this novel shows me that actually it is fairly easy to understand. He discusses politics and history and most of the issues he raises are still pertinent today. The book does not seem dated at all.

    I don’t know if I would have liked if Asimov tried to get too clever to create a new way of speaking. Yes language evolves but it might be grating for me to read.

    • lynnsbooks

      These were my fears – basically that I wouldn’t be smart enough! This book is such a good choice though as its short and pacy. I know there’s a feeling of only just having met a character before you move on but I’m hoping that may develop in future stories and that this is just a device to move on quickly in the beginning.
      I definitely agree about the speech thing – it’s very irritating to read a book where the author has created a ‘new’ language! I tried that recently and pah! I think my niggle was not really speech but phrases (I just don’t always express myself very well)!

  3. Carl V.

    Which cover are you talking about, Lynn?

    I’ve never been thrilled with most of the Foundation covers, but I actually have come to really like the Whelan one I used for the readalong post. I know what you mean though even if it is that book. A book with a picture of an old man in a wheelchair doesn’t exactly scream excitement. Once you read the story though Whelan’s becomes a perfect cover, with the very cool imagery of Trantor in the background and the seemingly innocuous old man with his little planet and moons lap blanket. LOL!

    On top of my own feelings that the book would be too hard for me, I had a similar idea prior to reading it in 2008 that a book about politics and empire would not do it for me. I was happy to be proven wrong. It is nice when something like a group reading experience gets us to read things we may not otherwise have done, at least when the book turns out to be enjoyable.

    I’m a big fan of the structure too. I wouldn’t want all my books to be like this, but it is a nice style of novel, in between a short story collection and a full blown novel.

    “a giant game of space chess”…nice! I like that. It makes me think of the Meg Ryan movie where Walter Matthieu’s Einstein says something about there being order because god doesn’t play dice with the universe. What is interesting about the game is that Seldon seems to be holding all the pieces.

    Sometimes I think those weird speech affectations, like we have with Lord Dorwin, or like we had in Dune are sf authors attempting to portray speech that has changed and morphed in the future. Unless an author is a philologist like Tolkien I would prefer that they not try to do this. I think it mostly comes off silly. Even the occasional use of “space” as a euphemism in Asimov’s work can come off a bit silly at times.

    Great thoughts on the religious angle, I like what you had to say and couldn’t agree more.

    Love these discussions, people have such interesting ideas and get such interesting things out of the story.

    • lynnsbooks

      No, I wouldn’t want all my books to be like this but strangely I’m really enjoying it here and I think it’s made the experience easier going somehow. I will find you a copy of my book cover (personally I think it’s hideous – it’s not the same as yours).
      I’m so glas Asimov didn’t try to do a far fetched speech thing – I did recently experience that and it was incredibly annoying!
      There really are some great discussions going on – I love all the talking round in circles about whether Seldon really did predict what would happen or whether he just is manipulating everyone into doing what he has predicted.
      So intriguing. Great choice – I like the fact it’s a quick read – and that’s not because I’m put off by long books – but this is quite gripping.
      Thanks Carl.
      Lynn 😀
      I’ll try to find the image on my book and post it!

      • TBM

        I’m curious if you have the same cover as me. Mine is BORING. I posted a different image since I couldn’t find mine, but I may snap a photo of it for next week’s discussion. It would be fun to see all the actual covers that people have in this group read.

      • Carl V.

        I am assuming yours is that weird green cover with the Easter Island-type head on it and the person in the space suit? If not I’d be interested in seeing a Foundation cover that is more awful than that one, LOL!

  4. Shelley

    I hate my cover too! Maybe we have the same one. Seldon looks pretty grumpy on mine, and it’s not particularly inviting.
    Great point about the language, but I also am glad he didn’t try to do anything too crazy there. I am going to try using the word “Space” next time I’m mad about something and see what kind of looks my kids give me.

    • lynnsbooks

      No, I don’t have the cover with Seldon on – mine’s a blue cover with a space station! I think I prefer grumpy faced Seldon (I’m sure I keep typing Sheldon by mistake!) I am glad Asimov didn’t create a new language – very annoying.
      Lynn 😀

    • Grace

      I think I might be the only person in existence that likes the abstract cover, lol.

      • lynnsbooks

        Well, it’s good to be different! You’re unique 😀

  5. TBM

    Mine is a blue cover with a space station looking thing. It is the type of cover that makes me hide under the bed since it seems to scientific for me.

    • lynnsbooks

      That’s it – that’s my cover – it’s hideous. BBBrrrrrr….. head peeps out from under the bed….. nope, still horrible!

      • TBM

        I agree!

      • Carl V.

        Yes, you should post an image. The kind of cover you describe doesn’t turn me off simply because there are some amazing artists like John Berkey and John Harris who do those kind of covers. However, if the ones I see on google are what you are talking about, the art is really bad. Not as bad as the one I described, but yes, bad.

        Check out Shelley’s post for today…now THAT is an awful cover, LOL

      • lynnsbooks

        Ah, took me a few minutes but apparently the image was one by Chris Foss – I checked out his site and he’s done some pretty nice stuff but I don’t like this one.

        Think that link takes you to the relevant page – didn’t want to post it in case I needed some sort of permission.
        What do you think??

      • Carl V.

        Yep, that isn’t the best, that is for sure. Especially when you see similar work done by other artists that are more imaginative and well done.

        It is also a good example of a cover that has little or nothing to do with the story. Which is why Whelan’s cover, with Hari Seldon wheelchair and all, is so much better as a representative work.

      • lynnsbooks

        Exactly – nothing to do with the book at all!

        btw – I have a small confession, I wasn’t quite sure where we were supposed to conclude our reading and accidentally read all but the last 20 pages (oh well, I was enjoying it after all) it just meant I had to be a bit careful not to put anything ‘spoilery’ in my answers.
        Anyway, I have Positronic man wbr so …

      • Carl V.

        There isn’t any hard and fast rule that you have to stop where the assignment stops, that is only there so as to break up the book for discussion purposes and to allow folks to participate while also being able to hopefully keep up with other books that they are jonesing to read.

  6. Grace

    Mine’s the cover that I posted this week. I’m not a fan of the orange, and wish that the bookstore would have had the Whelan one when I picked it up. I mean, it could be worse, but it’s far from ideal.

  7. TBM

    Hi Lynn, mine is actually different. I’ll take a look for the cover or take a photo. Some people might like it, but it isn’t my cup of tea. I do like the Whelan one. Shelley’s cover is pretty bad, a lot worse than mine.

  8. ibeeeg

    I am not a big short-story reader. Actually, I tend to avoid them. So, while reading the first half of this book, I did not look at the parts as short stories. They felt like jumps to me, and did take a bit for me to acclimate to in the beginning.
    Now, yes, I can see them as mini-stories, but not fully. Without the connection between the “stories” I think they would be lame on their own.

    Destiny or fate? Those are good words to think upon. I think Seldon is manipulating the future and pusing aside any sort of destiny/fate. I do wonder though if his true intent is for the good of mankind or not. I am questioning him more and more as we read further into the story.

    I too am glad that Asimov did not create a new language. If he did, I think he wold have lost me as a reader. His straight forth language brought me into the story very quickly.

    My cover is the orange one, and I am not fond of it all. Actually, it certainly would not have made me interested in reading the book – the opposite effect and would have fed into my whole boredom fear with classic sci-fi.

    • lynnsbooks

      I’m definitely not a short story reader, and you’re right, each of the stories wouldn’t stand up by themselves. I really don’t know what to make of Seldon – I don’t know whether he’s up to no good or not. I know what you mean though about getting suspicious of his motives – he’s very manipulative all things considered and if he was so adamant that his theories would be proved correct you can’t help wonder why he keeps popping up here and there to jog people along and keep them going in the direction he always intended.
      Lynn 😀

  9. "Auntie" sezzzzzz...

    Never heard of physcohistory.

    And all that being given a dogmatic religious system to hold onto. Yikes. Sounds so much like most religions. But I’m sure, it’s taken farther…

    “The night was clear and frosty,
    all ebony of shadow
    and silver of snowy slope;
    big stars were shining over the silent fields.”

    ~Lucy Maud Montgomery

  10. Redhead

    sorry I’m so late to the party, I’m only just now getting time to read everyone’s posts.

    about the whole “religion” that Hardin comes up with to promote science and technology, I think that the religion works is pretty telling of how backwards the outer planets have become. They are in their own little dark ages. Common people may not even be literate anymore, how can they be expected to be free thinkers when it comes to medicine and atomic energy?

    Foundation is a wonderfully not-too-sci-fi-y book to dive into. No infodumps, no geeky in-jokes, just interesting people and a really good story!

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