I’ll try to avoid any overt spoilers, but don’t sue me if you can extrapolate plot points from this review…
Over the years I’ve read quite a lot of Asimov (although none of his non-SciFi stuff), and would count myself as a fan. The Robots stories are amazing, and Asimov managed to create a whole universe that felt believable, filled not only with robots and starships, but people with very Human prejudices and societies. Asimov had a knack of juxtaposing typical sci-fi elements with innately Human elements that asked some pretty deep questions not only of the characters in his books, but of us as well (anyone who doubts that should read the Bicentennial Man, and if they’re still unsure, they should never speak to me again).
Of course Asimov’s other big series is the Foundation saga. Set in the far future (but noticeably less grimdark than other far-future settings) it tells the ongoing story of a Foundation set up in a far flung corner of the galaxy designed to preserve humanities advances in technology and the sciences after an accurately predicted collapse and dissolution of galactic society, and to lessen the amount of time humanity would spend in the turmoil of a galaxy wide dark-ages by preserving the knowledge it would need to rebuild itself.
This entry into the cannon is set before the first of the previous Foundation novels, thus before the collapse of humanities Empire and galactic civilisation, and sees Hari Seldon – the near legendary creator of the series’ science of Psychohistory which predicts the fall of the Empire – first suggesting his notion of Psychohistory, and becoming embroiled in the struggle by various factions to use his as-yet undeveloped science for their own ends. It also attempts to tie together into a single time line the two sagas – that of the Robots and the Foundation stories. And that’s where it falls down.
The writing style is typical of Asimov; lots of setting and background, with somewhat stilted character dialogue. The characters often speak in unnatural and rigid ways, virtually dispensing with small talk and always simply diving straight into deep and meaningful conversation about serious issues. This isn’t really a bad thing, it’s just Asimov’s unique way of writing. What spoils the book for me is the unnecessary joining together of the two universes. It’s not a smooth join – there are plenty of patches and retcons throughout to make it all fit, and it just seems a bit… well, pointless really.
The two separate universes were both well established, both telling their own stories, both doing their own thing. But later in his life Asimov decided to hammer the two together, and I can see no real benefit to doing so. It doesn’t improve the stories told in either universe, it has no real direct effect on either universe, and it creates issues. Such as what happened to all the robots? In the later robot novels, they’re everywhere. In fact Spacer culture (by far the dominant culture in the galaxy at the time) is built on robots. What changes so drastically that not only do robots cease to be used, but are in fact almost wiped from the general consciousness? Why do neither of the Foundations contain any knowledge pertaining to robots? Why do neither of them develop robots in their isolation when they clearly have the technology, the know-how, and the need?
It just doesn’t work for me.
Not to say the book is a complete loss. There are some genuinely good moments, and one moment which simultaneously gave me goose-bumps and had me smacking my head saying “How did I not see that?”
All-in-all, a disapointing addition to both universes.
Rating: 3 out of 5