Isaac Asimov, Prelude to Foundation
After completing the Robots series, I wanted to go on with the Empire novels, but those have been out of print for years. So, I proceeded to read the Foundation novels, hoping that I would not miss much in between. I was not disappointed, since Prelude to Foundation ties in nicely with the Robots series, in a completely unexpected way (by me, at least…)
Prelude to Foundation takes place in the years 12’000. Cleon I is emperor of the Galaxy, which counts millions of planets (at the time when the Robots novels take place, only a few planets are colonized). The Empire is more or less stable, but Cleon is uneasy: many emperors before him have been murdered, and there is always the possibility of rebellion. Trantor, the planet of the emperor, is where the risk is bigger: many different populations live on it, and some are quite powerful, since the empire is dependent on them for food or energy.
Hari Seldon is a young mathematician. While presenting his theory of psychohistory at a convention on Trantor, he is not aware that this theory, which says that prediction of the future based on a study of the history of the different planets of the Galaxy is “possible, but not practical”, is about to change the course of his life forever. The emperor, however, does not want to hear about impractical: if Hari is unable to predict the future, at least people could think that he can, and he could therefore ensure peace and stability for the Empire and their emperor’s reign. But Hari refuses to lie and decides to go back home. Chetter Hummin, a journalist, manages to convince him that Demerzel, Cleon’s counselor, is after him and will bring him back to the imperial Palace whenever it is suitable. He also insists that the empire is in danger, that it is decaying, and that it would benefit greatly from Hari’s theory, if Hari agrees to work on it. Despite the hugeness and improbability of the task, Hari agrees, and the Flight begins: from the university of Trantor, where he meets Dors, a female student in history who accompanies him on the rest of his Flight, to the poor and insecure region of Dahl, with an unpleasant stay with the austere Mycogenians, Hari flees from Demerzel and works hard on making his theory more practical…
With Prelude to Foundation, Isaac Asimov continues weaving the endless possibilities of human diversity, designing new populations with sociological evolutions that show his visionary powers as a writer. As I have mentioned before, with this volume, he establishes the link with the Robots series, and the study in evolutionism, with the Mycogenians as heirs of the Aurorians and the people of Dahl descending from the earthmen is particularly fascinating. Soon, Hari’s Flight becomes a quest, as he realizes that the impracticality of his theory could be partially solved by what he learns about the past of the Galaxy. Asimov’s influence on other sci-fi writers is always present, and this volume makes no exception: I saw in mother Rittah, from Dahl, an obvious model for The Matrix’s Oracle.
And once again, Asimov’s skills in plotting surprised me, as I was unable to foresee the final twists, which amply made up for some lengths in the development of the story.
Highly recommended novel, but please, if you’re discovering Asimov, start with the Robots series, since Prelude to Foundation would lose a lot of its meaning without a previous knowledge of Robots, Asimov’s universe being such a carefully constructed one…