Foundation (Foundation, #1)

By Isaac Asimov

Rating: 5 stars

This is the first time that I’ve come back to Foundation in over a decade and it was with some trepidation. I needn’t have worried – it was every bit as good as I remember. I love old-fashioned Golden Age SF and this is practically the epitome of that.

A Foundation is established on the periphery of the galaxy to preserve knowledge and shorten the coming dark age caused by the collapse of the Galactic Empire to a mere thousand years. The course of this millennium is mapped out by Hari Seldon with the science of psychohistory, the large-scale statistical analysis of human behaviour. This is the story of the Foundation from its formation and it’s first century or two into the Seldon Plan.

It’s partially the scale of this story that I love – the idea that one man planned out something on a planetary scale to last a thousand years. That’s up there with Diaspar and the Monoliths in terms of scale. Of course, it probably helped that I first read Foundation at an impressionable age, and the impressions that I formed then have stayed with me ever since then.

The episodic nature of the novel makes its origin as a series of short stories, originally published in Astounding, pretty clear. Only two of the stories share a protagonist (the first having him as a young man, the second towards the end of his life) but I don’t find this to be a problem – in fact I think it emphasises the future historical nature of the book and lends it weight.

The other two books of the Foundation trilogy are still sitting on a shelf somewhere at my parents’ house. I think next time I’m over, I’ll have to dig them out. A decade is far too long to go between readings of this wonderful series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586010808
Publisher: Voyager
Year of publication: 1951

A World Between

By Norman Spinrad

Rating: 2 stars

Pacifica is a peaceful planet, masters of the Galactic Media Web and rightly proud of their democratic, almost anarchic, government. Then a spaceship enters the system and although its message is peaceful, it could shatter the Pacifican way of life.

There were some interesting ideas in this book, such as the rather shrewd prediction of a global communications network (even called the Web) and the importance of the media in politics, but this was more then counter-balanced by a crude and awfully simplistic level of gender politics.

On the one side you’ve got the Transcendental Scientists, noble scientist types, with a large dose of chauvinism, but just about believable as an ideology, and on the other you’ve got the most caricatured crypto-feminists I’ve ever read. Every caricature of feminism is there (lesbians: check, man-haters: check, wanting to eliminate all men and use cloning to reproduce: check), with a side-order of communism to boot. The simplification and caricature of what could be a very interesting subject – the balance of male and female and their roles in society – completely ruined this book for me. I kept going until the end since I wanted to see how the Pacificans solved the problem introduced by these two competing ideologies, but the book is definitely not worth it overall.

Although the importance of the media and a global electronic network is well-predicted in this book, Spinrad somehow fails to predict the vast number of cat pictures that infest the real Web, instead favouring a total politics immersion, making the Pacificans extremely savvy in their politics and making for a (not quite) perfect electronic democracy. I’d have liked to have seen more of that rather than the crass gender divide that the book actually focused on.

Book details

ISBN: 9780671828769
Publisher: Pocket Books
Year of publication: 1979

Circus World

By Barry B. Longyear

Rating: 4 stars

Two hundred years ago, a circus ship crash-landed on the planet Momus and was unable to escape. Its star-travelling circus had to forge a new life and build a new society for themselves. Now, galactic politics infringe on the Moman way of life: with the 10th Quadrant about to invade, the 9th Quadrant sends an ambassador, Lord Allenby, to the world to plead with them to allow them to send their own fleet to defend the world.

This book is similar to Longyear’s Manifest Destiny in that it is composed of a collection of linked short stories that together tell a single story and it’s just as good. I wasn’t entirely impressed with the opening story, The Tryouts, as it felt a little meta-fictional, with the protagonist, a Newsteller, telling the background to Allenby’s arrival on the planet to a group of travellers. The issue I had with this story was that the listeners kept interrupting and commenting on both the story and style of telling, offering critique and comment to the Newsteller that stopped me getting involved with the story he was telling. But as you read further, this, and the rest of the strange society that the Momans have built for themselves, is explained and I think that on a re-read, I’d find this much less of an issue.

The other story that didn’t work for me was a short one called Dueling Clowns, which mostly revolved around trading puns and a punchline that I didn’t get. But mostly I found myself caring for the society that the circus had build on Momus, the clowns and fortune tellers, the magicians and storytellers and acrobats, and wanted to see their world preserved against the external threats.

Longyear is a writer whose writing is warm and friendly and easily draws you into the story and makes you care about his characters and settings. He’s definitely joined the list of authors for whom I’ll pick up any of their work on byline alone.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356086293
Publisher: Macdonald and co
Year of publication: 1980

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