Image Credit: Critter.org
I had always been loath to read the particular genre of Science-Fiction [or the more popular Sci-fi for short]. However, a couple of Asimov’s “Foundation” novels (presented to me some time ago by a good friend), collecting dust in my book cupboard, caught my attention the other day.
In an attempt to rouse myself of a self-imposed inertia and to read "something different" than the usual fare of fiction/non-fiction/magazines/newspapers - I forced myself to pick up one of these books. It is also possible that the not-so-recent marathon session of watching all the seven Star Wars movies may have aroused a wee bit of my interest in SciFi.
The title of one of the books said "Foundation", I assumed that this would be the first in the "Foundation series" - it is not. Turns out, "Prelude to the Foundation" is the first book in this series. I guess it is at this point
I must confess that this post is not entirely a review about the book but more about why so many people (read mostly guys) are addicted to SciFi literature/comics and of course the inevitable movies. I am going to share some of my theories here which will be interspersed with the promised book review.
When the "Foundation" begins we see the great psychohistorian Hari Seldon living on Trantor - the Capital planet of the Galactic Empire and Gaal Dornick, another student-mathematician has arrived to learn under him – later he is supposed to have become very close to Hari Seldon
Hari Seldon is primarily a mathematician and has developed the particular type of mathematics called “Psychohistory”. Apparently psychohistory is capable of predicting the future of the Galactic Empire.
The story goes on these lines - Hari Seldon manages to provoke the authorities and have his tribe of people (read his followers) sent to a remote planet, Terminus, which has absolutely no mine-able metals (so any type of industry is out) in its crust. And the assignment of this group of people is ostensibly to document "All of the Knowledge in the world" in what they call Encyclopedia Galatica (EG). Hari’s people are supposed to do this because Hari Seldon being the great Psycho-historian that he is - has been able to accurately predict the coming of "Dark ages" in the galaxy which is going to last - hold your breath – thirty thousand years!
During these dark ages, the Galactic Empire will lose control over all of the planets and little kingdoms will arise throughout the Milky Way – yes, the story is set in our own galaxy :)
And this EG is supposed to shorten the "Dark ages".
In my opinion this is where the underlying appeal lays – “Possibilities”. Imagine if our earth is one of these outlaying planet who has lost touch with the empire at the epicenter of our galaxy...
For the reclusive optimists, (apparently most SciFi fans are), there are possibilities of “See! We are not alone” and “anything’s possible now” – all positive and happy and nice. And for the pessimists (again reclusive) it would be “See! We are not alone” and “we are doomed to be destroyed/overpowered/studied under microscope...” The unknown always holds a certain charm, also no way of controlling our actions. And to this end Hari Selden ensures that there are NO psychohistorians on Terminus. IF, “he” can predict so can other psychohistorians, right?
So all these highly intelligent people nicely supplied with nuclear power for their power/energy needs work away at the mega-project of EG. They also diligently work at their farms – they got to eat something right? Now that their basic needs are met – what next?
It is at this point, that I wondered – what about music and art? How come there is absolutely no mention of music and art in this novel? The closest thing that finds mention of an art form is ‘dance’ as part of a “ritual” to crown a young king on one of the neighboring planets; where civilization has crumbled and people “have gone back to oil and coal!”
The description of dance/ritual in this novel is clearly a mockery of our own rituals on earth because the implied message is “rituals” are blind practices followed without any real scientific basis or benefit to them – hence useless and not worth participating in.
So, does this mean in Asimov’s interpretation – Art and music is only for lesser minds whereas science is for superior minds?
When the galactic empire falls, as predicted, after a certain period of decadence and other smaller kingdoms risen around Terminus, also as predicted - all the neighboring kingdoms, unaware that Terminus does NOT have any natural resources to speak off – plan to attack it and take control of it. So they send their respective envoys to “check out” if it is worth invading.
This leads to a series of crisis for Terminus known as “Seldon crises”. From this point on the novel turns into a pure political thriller with science playing a peripheral role rather than a central one – how the political leaders of this small planet initially avoid these attacks and and over several hundred years, eventually become the “lead” planet in their part of the world – forms the rest of the story.
Interestingly, very small thanks to all knowledge they have in gaining superiority over their neighboring planets. Instead it is the cunning-thinking of certain individuals in power that saves the day for this planet.
So, in summary, I found this novel to be more instructive in politics than in scientific possibilities – except maybe space-travel, which is sort of a given in this book.
However, the question I would like answered most is not about science itself but about human nature itself – IF it were possible to further develop psychohistory to be able to predict the future of individuals – would you choose to know your future? Let me know your thoughts...
Although not the typical type of read I pick up, this novel did work my grey cells a lot – about possibilities and if I were in a certain situation what would my choices be? I was quite surprised to find myself delving deeply into philosophical/moral discussions with myself while reading this book. Maybe all these SciFi buffs are not nerds are all but really intelligent, philosophically aware people!
I may still find it difficult to read through another SciFi novel, I have, however, developed a new found respect for SciFi nerds :)
Verdict: Give it a shot, you may surprise yourself