display | more...

Published in 1988, "Prelude to Foundation" was a prequel to his seminal Foundation series of novels. The "Foundation" series was based around the idea of the discipline of "psychohistory" a mathematical analysis of human behavior. This book describes how the founder of psychohistory, Hari Seldon finds the key to the discipline by exploring different sectors of the Imperial Capital, Trantor.

But lets back up a little from imperial history and talk about the history of science-fiction. This book was written by Isaac Asimov, widely considered to be foremost science-fiction writer of his generation. Even twenty years after his death, when science-fiction has been rewritten in the public consciousness by video games and anime and comic book movies, there is a good chance that if you ask someone to name a science-fiction writer, Asimov's name will be the first that you hear. Isaac Asimov, despite his doctoral degree and wide variety of non-fiction writings, was a product of the first wave of pulp science-fiction, starting his writing career in his late teens in the pulps. Why this is important is that "Prelude to Foundation" reads like a series of pulp adventures, with short sections divided into two to five page chapters, with obvious cliff hangers, narrow escapes, various types of fights, exotic locales, and sudden twists. Despite the framing story of a search for a unified theory of history, this book is more a picaresque space opera. Not that that is a problem: this is exactly in line with what made the Foundation series the archetype of a great science-fiction series.

And yet, I still do wonder of how little the story telling has changed since the 1950s and 1960s. In the interim, there had been many great writers and movements in science-fiction, and since this book is about "psychohistory", I did imagine the core issue being dealt with using the psychological suspense and confusion that Philip K Dick had brought to science-fiction in the 1970s, or the social and historical perspectives that Ursula K Leguin pioneered. For that matter, given its urban setting, I could imagine a little bit of William Gibson in the book. Not that these criticisms should detract from the book: while science-fiction has changed and became more complicated, reading a more straight-forward form of science-fiction can always be fun.