Thursday, May 29, 2014

Prelude to Foundation - Isaac Asimov

Looks like my exhaustion with books lasted a full month. All it took was having some time to kill waiting for a store to open. Which led to me killing some time in the local library. Start looking at some sci-fi titles, and I could feel that itch coming back. Or maybe that was a tick bite. No, no, I'm sure it was the urge to read.

Besides, it gives me something to do while I'm hiding from the birders.

I had opportunities to read the last two books of Asimov's Foundation series, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation, at least as far back as high school. I passed them over because I suppose I didn't think it was necessary to know how Hari Seldon created psychohistory. The important thing was he did, were the details really important.

Well, once Seldon brought up the immense challenges he would face to even begin developing the equations that would be needed, well that sort of piqued my interest. I hadn't considered just how many factors he would have to assess, just in terms of figuring out which ones are important and which aren't. How strong they are in relation to each other, how they interact, on and on.

However, if it had just been Seldon poring over math, I likely wouldn't have found it a good read. The story is an extended chase, with Seldon being sent running from the Emperor of the Galaxy (and his man-behind-the-throne, Eto Demerzel) and anyone else who might try to use his idea for their own gain. Never mind the fact Seldon considered it basically impractical, nobody ambitious would take that chance. He's set on this flight by a remarkably influential journalist named Chetter, and accompanied by a historian, Dors Venabili, who very quickly takes her job of protecting Hari very seriously. But in each place, Seldon finds some way of falling into danger, usually in his attempt to find something that could help him make sense of history.

Prelude isn't one of Asimov's stronger works, perhaps because he's trying to draw the threads of his different series together. I'm not sure when he decided to try and weave the Robots series and the Foundation series together, but this book does a bit of that. Since it takes place in between the two, the story is constrained a bit by the things those two series have already set in place. In some parts it works well, in other places you can see the flow of the story being disrupted as Asimov's working to tie things together.

The end in particular, he spends a lot of time with two characters sitting and explaining why one of them is doing what he does. It resembles the end of a detective story, where Sam Spade explains everything. Those are tricky to do without bringing things to a screeching halt, and in this case I don't think Asimov managed it. Maybe because I had already pieced a fair amount of it together, and the parts I hadn't figured weren't the most important ones. This is probably a book better read in the order the events take place, rather than coming around to it a decade after reading Foundation and Earth and Robots and Empire.

So the end stumbled a bit, but the middle section where they're on the run and meeting all these disparate cultures that make up the Throneworld were good. I'm not sure at the moment whether I'll read Forward the Foundation if the opportunity arises again.

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