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The Foundation Project: The Psychohistorians

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The Psychohistorians is the first part (or story) in the first Foundation novel. It begins by introducing us to Gaal Dornick who, with his newly minted doctorate degree in mathematics, is making his first inter-planetary trip to Trantor, the seat of the Galactic Empire.

Trantor Is Cooler Than Coruscant

My original tattered copy of Foundation

One of the things I remember really liking about the Foundation stories is the planet Trantor. And reading the book this time was no exception – I was again caught up in the wonder that is Trantor. A planet so densely populated (40 billion people) that every square inch of it is covered by buildings – making it effectively one gigantic city! (And yes, I was infinitely peeved when in 1999 The Phantom Menace ripped off that cool idea – George Lucas didn’t come up with that one people!) Gaal’s wonder and excitement shows throughout this entire section, and I couldn’t help but think what a cool place it was.

Anyway, Dornick is there to accept a job with the famous mathematician / psychohistorian Hari Seldon. Seldon meets with Gaal and the full awe of the power of psychohistory becomes apparent. A branch of mathematics that can predict what large numbers of people will do when certain stimuli are applied, Seldon has applied psychohistory to the history of the Galactic Empire and determined that it is going to crumble. He is not trying to stop the fall however, he just wants to shorten the 30,000 years of anarchy before the next empire comes to reign.

The Opium Of The Scientific Elite

Once again I remembered having very much enjoyed the idea of psychohistory, and this time I felt the same emotions – although not quite as strongly. I think it would make a fascinating science, and Asimov was enough of a scientist and story-teller to pull off the illusion that it could all work. Very well done that – even on my third reading!

So anyway, Seldon and his band of doom-sayers are banished to a planet on the far edge of the galaxy known as Terminus. Here they will set up their Galactic Encyclopedia and hopefully begin to shorten the interim anarchy to a mere 1,000 years.

Vague But Readable

This time as I read through the story I realized that some of the criticisms I have heard about Isaac Asimov are true. One in particular, that he doesn’t give very detailed descriptions, showed up repeatedly. So, for example, rather than describe in intricate detail the fascinating aspects of Trantor, he gives overall descriptions and instead focuses on how Dornick feels about the place. Perhaps that is why Asimov’s style of writing has never bothered me, because I tend to use the feelings to create my own mental images. Anyway, just thought I would mention that.

One of the things I do like, however, is how readable this book is. Each part is divided into several little chapters that are a breeze to whip through! That was much appreciated. I also rather liked how several of the chapters began with a quote from the (future) Galactic Encyclopedia about what was happening in that chapter. That was helpful, and reminded me of how Dune does that same thing.

Anyway, overall I really enjoyed this first part of Foundation. I found myself once again being mesmerized by a very cool story and the way in which it was told.

If this book sounds like something you might be interested in reading you can probably find a used copy at eBay, or buy it new on Amazon.com.

If you enjoyed this article please see my other posts on The Foundation Project.

2 thoughts to “The Foundation Project: The Psychohistorians”

  1. Nice to find someone else out there who doesn’t immediately resort to statements about how awful and old Asimov’s works are.
    Also strange that you’re re-reading exactly what I chose to re-read, though I’m on to the Mule and his adventures at this point (had to take a break for review work – Ander’s comic hero anthology With Great Power, a good read btw).
    I agree entirely with your analysis regarding Asimov’s outlining of detail. He comes from the era of writers who rely on the active imagination and participation of his readers. Most modern reviewers seem to find this to be detrimental, but then they didn’t grow up listening to radio plays for entertainment.
    I also think that the charge of lack of characterization, at least insofar as Foundation is concerned, is deliberate and not a failing. The entire concept of the series is that the actions of human beings in the aggregate can be predicted and manipulated. This means, therefore, that the individual is (from the grand scale of things) unimportant. What better way to illustrate this throughout the stories than to have characters who could be anyone? Any trader, mathematician, scientist, etc. could be stand ins for the characters actually chosen.
    And finally: I once read at least somewhere, if not several somewheres, that no female characters appear in the series. I’ve so far run into two, one of whom is extremely influential (and more of a character than most).
    (As an aside: anyone who thinks that Asimov can’t do characterization did not grow up in a Jewish household….)

  2. Hey Crotchety Old Fan,

    Yep, Asimov is one of my all time favorite authors, and Foundation is my favorite of his stories. I’m not sure why I like his stuff so much, maybe because he was the first SF author I really read. To be sure there are plenty of other “classic” authors whose work I don’t like, but I have liked everything I’ve read from Mr. Isaac.

    I am glad to hear that you are also re-reading Foundation! I really am enjoying it more than I thought I would, which is nice. I can’t wait to get to the Mule stories – those are awesome.

    Yeah, maybe Asimov was relying on readers to fill in some of the details. As I read Foundation this time I find myself imagining a much more futuristic world that what little he describes, and that works really well for me. Maybe that is part of the reason I am enjoying it so much!

    Anyway, I look forward to finding out what I think of Foundation this time and how Asimov handles the characterization. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts anytime – I really enjoyed hearing from you.

    Thanks

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