|cover: Don Punchatz|
|the Second Foundation confronts the Mule|
cover by Hubert Rogers
I discovered Asimov's Foundation saga when it was available as a trilogy of paperback novels published by Avon Books. I still own the 1971 edition of Second Foundation which I first read when I was in my personal Golden Age of science fiction. The copyright information for that edition enigmatically says, "...based upon published material originally copyrighted by Street & Smith Publications, 1948, 1949." Only much later did I understand that the Foundation Trilogy was cobbled together, mostly from stories that were originally published in Astounding.
|cover art by Robert Schulz|
Through the 1940s, Asimov published his science fiction stories in pulp science fiction magazines. Many of his stories included robotic characters. Asimov was the first person to use the term "robotics" in print (1942, Runaround). Only in 1950 did he first publish a novel-length story that had not first been published in a science fiction magazine.
Asimov was often at his best when writing shorter fiction and his early robot-themed novel-length works were compiled from short stories (I, Robot) or first published as a serialized set of chunks in magazines. Asimov's "The Caves of Steel" was originally serialized in Galaxy magazine and "The Naked Sun" first appeared in Astounding. Asimov's vision of future Earthlings living in their caves of steel and afraid to go outside, let alone venture forth into the Galaxy, has always struck me as a horrible dystopia.
|cover by Frank Freas|
I recently suggested that Asimov can be viewed as having long ago written stories that hinted at the spirit of the solarpunk sub-genre.
|cyberpunk: the dystopian now|
Asimov's 1950's proto-cyberpunk version of a "subversive and gritty rebel" is quite tame by modern standards. Still, Asimov's vision is rather chilling: the entire population of the galaxy is subjected to an insidious form of "mind control". Sadly, R. Daneel Olivaw did not appear in the original stories about Asimov's "all human galaxy", but it is fun to imagine that Daneel was there, carefully working behind the scenes to control the rate of human technological advance and the spread of Humanity outwards from Earth towards the 25,000,000 habitable exoplanets of the galaxy. In 'Profession' there are only a few thousand special humans who remain free to create and it is they who are responsible for making new technological advances. All the billions of other people are just programmed for their jobs by computerized devices that insert specific skill sets into their brains. In 'Profession', the protagonist rebels against this system, but in the end he is assimilated just like everyone else. Resistance was futile.
|"a La-Z-Boy-recliner experience of the future"|
With the advent of the cyberpunk sub-genre, Hollywood and game makers needed a dramatic and visual equivalent of Frankenstein's Monster. Thus, the headjack.
Myths of Science Fiction
I've previously complained about the myth that portrays science fiction as being about predicting the future. Another popular myth is that science fiction is about us, here and now, and that it must "force writers to look at the present moment and decipher its implication".
Science fiction should be about taking a step (or two, or twenty) beyond they myopia of concern for the present. The authors of many early science fiction stories were obsessed with "tubes" and "rays". They told stories about a near future in which new technologies were powered by newfangled tubes and soldiers used magical death rays rather than guns. In contrast to such myopic near-future stories, Asimov took a step beyond the present and invented positronic brains, imaginary technology that carried his story telling far beyond the soon-to-be-obsolete "tubes" of his present world in the 1940s.
Not Reading Science Fiction
|Bliss and Pel|
I like to think that Golan Trevize is a personification of Asimov, reborn after his death from a heart attack in 1977 and having been asked to write another novel in the Foundation series. Simultaneously, Janov Pelorat can be viewed as the ghost of the "old Asimov", the man who wrote the original Foundation saga back in the 1940s. While writing Foundation's Edge, Asimov began a search for the unquestioned assumptions that were hidden behind the mysterious success of Seldon's Plan for the galaxy, success that even the Mule had been unable to derail. Trevize and Pelorat went along for the ride on Asimov's investigative journey through the galaxy. What they found was the even more mysterious hidden world of Gaia, a planet with a vast telepathic group mind.
|cover art by Stephen Youll|
After the success of Foundation's Edge, Asimov next wrote another story about R. Daneel Olivaw: a novel set early in Humanity's exploration of the galaxy. Police detective Elijah Baley discovers that the spread of Humanity, outwards from Earth into the galaxy, is being secretly guided by a telepathic robot, Giskard. Giskard and Daneel, working to guide Earthlings towards further exploration of the galaxy, are The Robots of Dawn. Giskard tells Baley that someday a future science of psychohistory will be needed. Baley wonders if in addition to his telepathic abilities, Giskard can somehow "see" into the future.
|original cover art by Jim Burns|
|Seldon on the surface of Trantor by Peter Elson|
Prelude to Foundation is rather long-winded and self-indulgent. Many parts, like Seldon's near death when he gets lost on the surface of Trantor, are hard to swallow. Maybe someday Asimov's estate will release a condensed version.
Next: investigating the first science fiction
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