Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Prelude To Foundation by Issac Asimov

When Hari Seldon, a young mathematician, comes from his Outworld home to a mathematics conference on Trantor, the capital planet in the Galactic Empire, he has no idea his entire life is about to change.  He has developed a mathematical theoretical concept that he calls psychohistory, which is an exploration of the idea that there could be a way to predict the future using math and statistical analysis.  His talk seems well received and he is proud of his exposure. 

But the next day, he starts to realize that his life has changed, unalterably, forever.  He is whisked away to talk to no less a personage than Emperor Cleon I.  Cleon has been quick to see that Seldon may be the answer to his prayers.  With over forty billion people and hundreds of worlds to oversee, the Empire is too unwieldy to handle efficiently.  There is always the possibility of entropy, of falling apart due to inability to handle everything.  Surely, psychohistory is the answer to this dilemma.  Cleon and his right-hand man, the shadowy Eto Demerzel, want Hari to develop his theoretical idea as quickly as possible so that it can be used to control the Empire and historical outcomes.

No matter how much Hari tries to explain that his ideas are just that, ideas, Cleon seems determined to make sure those ideas become practical, workable tools.  Hari leaves with his head reeling.  When he is approached by a journalist, Chetter Hummin, who offers to help him flee, he accepts and together the two escape.  Hummin's first thought of a safe place to stow Hari is the famous University which has autonomy and from which even the Emperor would be loath to remove him.  Although Hummin has to return to his own life, he leaves Hari and provides a helper.  Dors Verabili is a female historian and together the two start their journey toward making Hari's ideas a reality.  But can they do it before Hari is captured and forced to work for those who want to the power of his ideas for themselves?

This book explains the beginning of the Foundation world, the epic science fiction location that actually beat out Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings trilogy to win the Hugo Award in 1966 for the best all-time series.  It outlines the famous rules of robots and the idea that things will inevitably, without guidance, fall apart over time.  Asimov based the series on Gibbon's History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire and students of history will see the impetus that work gives the series.  What makes Asimov's series enduring is his ability to make likeable characters, create a brisk pace of events that could takes decades, and his overarching world building.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

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