Wit, wisdom, and an uncanny sense of wonder have become the bestselling trademarks of grandmaster Isaac Asimov. Each of his works has marked a new milestone in science fiction literature. But none has shaped the very future of science fiction more than his Foundation Series. Beginning with the phenomenal Foundation and continuing with Foundaiton and Empire, Second Foundation, Foundation’s Edge, and Foundation and Earth, this monumental and classic saga has already sold well over six million copies. Now, in an anxiously awaited publishing event, Isaac Asimov once again fashions science fiction’s future by going back to when it all began…presenting the overture to the greatest SF series of all time, the newest Foundation book, PRELUDE TO FOUNDATION.
It is the year 12,020 G.E. and Emperor Cleon, First of that Name, sits uneasily on the Imperial throne. Here on Trantor, the great multi-domed capital of the Galactic Empire, forty billion people have created a civilization of unimaginable technological and cultural complexity. It is a world so intricately woven that pulling one thread would unravel it all. Cleon I is unnverbed by this, for he knows there are those who would see him fall—those he cannot touch. If only he had knowledge of what lay ahead, then the Empire truly could be his.
When young Hari Seldon arrives on Trantor, he is unaware of the perilous politics that are brewing. The thirty-two-year-old Outworld mathematician has come simply to attend the Decennial Convention and do a bit of sightseeing. But when he presents his paper on psychohistory, little does Hari realize that he has sealed his fate and determined the destiny of humanity. For Hari Seldon possesses the prophetic power that is so desired by the Emperor. And now suddenly this naïve and little-known Heliconian has become the most wanted man in the Empire as he desperately struggles to keep his portentous theory from reaching the wrong hands…while forging the key to the future—a power to be known as the Foundation.
After the completion of Foundation and Earth, Asimov was at loggerheads as to how to proceed. A fan suggested that he should write a book about the early life of Hari Seldon, and Asimov seized on the suggestion as a way to put off figuring out what happens after Foundation and Earth.
Prelude to Foundation is the story of Hari Seldon’s arrival on Trantor. He gives a paper describing the (still theoretical) science of psychohistory and is surprised to find that the Emperor and his First Minister, Eto Demerzel, are interested. When a journalist meets Seldon and suggests that Imperial interest means personal danger, Seldon finds himself in a pell-mell flight across Trantor trying to hide from sight and figure out of psychohistory can be made a practical science.
Now, to be perfectly honest, I’m prejudiced against the novel. It provides details of Seldon’s early life which contradict the mental picture I had built up from reading Foundation (and which I’d never been anxious to learn anyway). Moreover, the novel continues the explicit tying together of the Foundation and robot books—in the end, it is revealed that two different characters are none other than our old friend R. Daneel Olivaw. That merging of the two fictional universes is something which still grates. Finally, there is a section where Seldon engages in activity which his hosts consider obscene, and reading about that kind of situation always makes me squirm.
My personal problems aside, there is little to say about it. It is good and competent, but not brilliant. I can’t say that I dislike reading it, but I can’t say that I found it wonderfully exciting, either.
The characters seem unusually shallow, even for Asimov, but Asimov continues to show greater ability to describe cultures. (As with Foundation and Earth, the main plot of the story has our heroes encountering culture after culture as they progress along their quest.) Although this is a “page-turner,” it seems less compelling than most Asimov novels and less memorable. A distinct improvement after Foundation and Earth, but not one of the best of the Foundation books.