Notes on Azimov’s Foundation
A couple weeks ago, I finished reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. I’d been planning on reading it for a while, but after reading that it will be adapted for TV, I figured I should get through at least the original trilogy before the show starts.
I found the book to be quite enjoyable and thought-provoking. But there’s one thing I just can’t get out of my head: In many ways, Asimov was a weak writer.
Asimov’s austere, dialogue-heavy style is one of the book’s strengths. He describes almost nothing about how things look or function. Because of this, you generally don’t stumble on outdated concepts or technology, which can be distracting when reading older science fiction. When there is a bit of detail that seems dated (buttons on Hari Seldon’s calculator, for example), you can often cast it in a modern context (maybe they were buttons drawn on a touchscreen).
But there are a few things that make it obvious that Foundation is mid-twentieth century:
- There is a lot of smoking going on. Mad Men levels of smoking. Knowing what we know now, it seems more likely that it won’t be any more than a fringe activity in the far future.
- Women are almost nonexistent in the story. There is one woman named in the story. She’s the only character that has a physical description.
- “Atomic” power is still the height of technology in the far future. And it’s used in almost everything, from spaceships to small personal devices. It’s clear that the consequences of carrying radioactive materials on your person were not well understood.
But the worst part about Asimov’s writing is the actual dialog that he depends upon. Ever notice when a lazy screenwriter wants to fill in backstory by having two characters talk about past events, even though they have no real reason to discuss them? Or when they think viewers are stupid so one character says a technical term and another explains what the term means, even though they both understand what it means? (This one makes me want to start throwing things at the TV.) Or when the villain explains every detail of his evil plan to Bond just before failing to kill him? Foundation is full of this stuff.
The dialog’s only purpose is to advance the story. It’s not used to develop the characters or even be interesting to read. Every character has a similar voice and personality.
Despite all this, Foundation was definitely worth reading. It contains some big ideas that got me thinking. Since that’s all it has going for it, I’m not going to spoil anything for you. Except to say that the concept of psychohistory seems timely, considering that Google and Facebook seem to be working on it.️️