“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
Once I finished reading Foundation, this quote stuck to my mind and comes up every time I watch the news. The source of this ever relevant quote is Isaac Asimov’s seminal work Foundation, a science fiction novel which transcends the barrier of sci-fi and talks to the reader from sociological, political, historical, scientific, and religious points of view. Taking place in a distant future, spanning many planets, this is a story of rebuilding an empire or in Hari Seldon’s words, reducing the time period of galactic chaos.
Written in a descriptive manner from a very detached point of view, this book gives an observers perspective to the events that unfold leaving the reader to form allegiances to various characters as the story proceeds. A glimpse into a character, an event or sometimes a theory is given in the form of excerpts from the Encyclopedia Galactica, the compiling of which founded the Foundation. The book while taking us through the development of new Galactic empire also shows us human fidelity, conception and growth of religion, and the power of knowledge, betraying Asimov’s interest in Science and History. This work focuses more on the development of societies as a whole and therefore the characters are present only as one small element of the big picture and hence character development is more or less absent. The individuals are only an instrument in the giant cosmos and therefore their personalities or interests, or anything for that matter, is not dealt with in the book. The only point in focus is their actions that advance the plot. As you finish the book, the only character you would remember is Hari Seldon, even though he appears in less than 20 pages in the book.
Though taking place in a future where traveling from planet to planet is as easy as traveling from one city to another, the similarities of the society, the thought processes of individuals, the building and destruction of kingdoms, and the hold that the unknown has on man is very similar to present times. The absence of the mention of anything – flora or fauna – other than man in the whole book is notable but can be overlooked since it deals exclusively with the fall of an empire and the calculated rise of another, and that any mention of flora or fauna, if not directly related to the plot advancement, would only suffice to distract and/or annoy the reader. Also notable is the absolute absence of female characters. Born in the 1920’s, Asimov was exposed to a world where women were already given the right to vote and to contest in the election in many countries. It, therefore, confuses me that he did not employ any female in any juncture of his story, be it crucial or not. As a reader and a great admirer of Asimov, I would like to ignore this fact and be content with the superior quality of his work but it does bother me a little.
To even make an attempt at summarizing Foundation in any way would be a gross injustice to the work itself as it is written in a very concise and precise fashion where not even a single word is dispensable. This is one of those rare works of fiction which not only interests the hardcore sci-fi reader but also satisfies readers of other genres, especially sociology. Foundation is a must-have on every reader’s bookshelf.