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