For someone who supposedly likes science fiction I’ve been late getting to Asimov’s best known works. That’s too bad, since 20 years ago I would have enjoyed the first book much more.
- The literal title of the series could be The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire, and How to Survive It.
- Amazon says “Foundation” is book three. It’s not: books 1 and 2 are prequels and if you read them as published, this is the rightful Book One (you’re not one of those people who shows their kids The Phantom Menace first, are you?)
- The future has no women, save for a shrill daughter of a viceroy wedded off to a barbarian ruler. This is literally the only female character in a book that spans 80+ years and five star systems. I would not have noticed this 20 years ago.
- The Empire’s degeneracy is most evident in its approach to culture and science: our ancestors knew more that we did so we’d better maintain the status quo and not let things get too much worse on our watch. Over a few centuries of such policies things inevitably get much worse. The premise is a good counterfactual to Tyler Cowen’s Stubborn Attachments.
- The peak of science is neither interstellar travel nor advanced atomic energy: both of these survive the decline and continue to be used even by “barbarians”. What waits to be re-discovered is psychohistory (PH), an invention of Asimov’s which is to psychology what Newtonian physics is to quantum mechanics: an averaging out of individual variability in order to predict “future history”.
- PH notably can’t predict actions of individuals, yet at critical moments it’s the individuals who make the critical decisions that make the PH predictions come true. Paradox? Irony? Both?
- Also, for someone who keeps saying that PH can’t predict the future of an individual human, the inventor of PH is really good at predicting the future of individual humans. That’s neither paradox nor irony but rather bad plotting on Asimov’s part, but I’ll hold final judgment until the end of the series.
Written by Isaac Asimov, 1951