Isaac Amisov’s Foundation series is hailed as one of the classics of Sci-fi, visionary for its time and has even received the Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966. Naturally my expectations were high with these claims of greatness surrounding the series.
But unfortunately the book did not live up to my expectations.
Before I start with the problems, I will begin with the positives though. This is a book written in the 1950s. I am sure it must have been pretty impressive for its time and it has influenced much of later coming Sci-fi greatly. Even if you are only vaguely familiar with European history, but especially if you know Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it is obvious that the author applies these historical concepts to his created future in an interesting fashion. One might describe it as an adaption of a cyclical view of history where all the previous events return again, just in a different context.
This, though, at the same time might be the books greatest downfall. It is extremely predictable. You know what is going to happen from the start because of the nature of the story’s construction. This is not helped by the very similar story set-ups: we see the Galaxy’s history happening mostly from the top, and the visionary great guy is always outsmarting the traditionalist reactionary, only in different decades. The insight we do get into this massive imperial world is far too little for my taste: the first part describes the fascinating sights of Trantor, but after that there is little description to find despite the fact that other places are visited throughout the novel.
Some of the visionary aspect of it does not hold up well either unfortunately: the psychohistory idea was very intriguing but Foundation’s scholars write on paper (!), atomic power is the main source of power etc. In our modern world which has far succeeded these trends, this all becomes largely irrelevant and leaves you merely thinking: ‘outdated’.
As for the writing style: it is quite simple and very straightforward. It’s not difficult to read at all. But this book is heavily based on dialogue between, in my opinion, not well enough fleshed out characters. As I said, the traditionalist vs. the innovators and most of those are basically Machiavellian characters with different titles and cloaks.
Overall, this was unfortunately a disappointing read. I can see how this might have been better 60 years ago and it sure was impressive seen in its context. But there other problems mentioned weigh the book down as well. I might have a look at the sequel to see if it gets better though. But this seems like a classic that has not held up well.