|Stalagmites and Stalactites! (click image to enlarge)|
About the same time, Star Trek arrived on TV. I didn't become consciously aware of Asimov's existence until I read his novel The Gods Themselves.
cover art: Don Punchatz
|cover art by Jean Targete|
The 90s closed out with Benford, Bear and Brin writing a second Foundation trilogy. Many Asimov fans reacted like Don Web: "Spare us!" But fans of Asimov continue to struggle with -and puzzle over- the Foundation series. In my case, I wrote my own sequel to Foundation and Earth.
|cover art by Fred Gambino|
"Genres are constrained conversations." -Gregory Benford
Benford's afterword for Foundation's Fear mentions the importance of science fiction fandom. It is thrilling to imagine that somewhere right now there is a young boy or girl in their own personal golden age of science fiction who is just starting to read Foundation, a child who will go on to both be a fan of Asimov's fiction and also write their own re-imagined version of the Foundation saga, a version that will ultimately eclipse even Asimov's original. Benford mentioned that in a similar way, Shakespeare's Hamlet drew upon earlier plays that had the same plot.
retcon. For example, one of the charming features of Asimov's fictional universe is hyperspace. Asimov himself was not averse to applying a retcon to hyper-spatial travel. In the original trilogy, piloting a spaceship through the galaxy was depicted as being rather like sailing around the world in the year 1,500. In Asimov's later expansion of the Foundation Saga, during the time of Golan Trevize, late 20th century Earth computer technology finally came to the Foundation and it suddenly became much easier to navigate between the stars.
I love the idea that for 20,000 years Daneel had prevented scientific advancement. Constrained by his programming, "he" could not afford to let humans make significant changes to human nature. I agree with Brin: the constraints imposed by science are an essential feature of science fiction.
In place of Isaac's 'hyperspace' ships I have used wormholes." -Gregory Benford
Asimov had his scientific training in chemistry and he was a professor of biochemistry. Benford's background is in physics, with a long-standing personal interest in wormholes. I believe it was a serious error for Benford to take his own interest in wormholes and shove it into the Metafoundation. Once you allow yourself to start making changes like this, you might as well stop pretending that you are in the same fictional universe as Asimov. Be honest with your readers and admit that you are in an alternate universe that was inspired by Asimov (and there's nothing wrong with that).
A serious problem for science fiction as a new literary genre was the dominance of physics and physical science in the 20th century. Asimov's interest in biology and, indeed, all branches of science and human learning, was an advantage that he had over most more narrowly specialized scientists and science fiction writers. This makes the Metafoundation a challenge and something of a field of landmines waiting for authors like Benford and Brin (also with a background in physics) who have tried to contribute to the Metafoundation.
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|original cover art by Michael Whelan|
Next year, it will be 50 years since Asimov won the Hugo for best series. Maybe this is a good time for Asimov's estate to issue another call for new science fiction works that are inspired by Asimov's Foundation.
Related Reading: can HBO do a Foundation TV show?
Next: fiction writing as a disease.
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