Foundation (Apple Series Tie-in Edition) Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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The first novel in Isaac Asimov’s classic science-fiction masterpiece, the Foundation series
The epic saga that inspired the Apple TV+ series Foundation, now streaming. Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.
For 12,000 years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future - to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save humankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire - both scientists and scholars - and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.
The Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov are among the most influential in the history of science fiction, celebrated for their unique blend of breathtaking action, daring ideas, and extensive worldbuilding. In Foundation, Asimov has written a timely and timeless novel of the best - and worst - that lies in humanity, and the power of even a few courageous souls to shine a light in a universe of darkness.
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|Listening Length||8 hours and 37 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||April 20, 2010|
|Publisher||Random House Audio|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #1,033 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#18 in Hard Science Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
#35 in Classic Literature (Audible Books & Originals)
#36 in Hard Science Fiction (Books)
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Top reviews from the United States
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The book jacket summarizes this 66-year-old book well. It stands up well to the passage of time. The twists and surprises take the story in unexpected and interesting directions. Asimov does not waste much space developing characters. In fact, it seems to me the characters in 'Foundation' take a distinct back seat to the story direction and underlying themes. If you like action-packed Sci-Fi, this book may not be your cup of tea. But if you like big human ideas,themes, or morals; you might want to read this one.
1) This is a male-only story. There are probably 50 or 60 characters across multiple segments scattered across time. ALL men. Governors, mayors, scientists, traders, commanders, etc. Not a single woman among them. Yes, there are few female characters. I counted 3, but each served as nothing more than scene decoration (literally, in one scene merely as a pretty neck to hang a glowing necklace around, then she's gone). Either Asimov bought into the 1950s era idea that a woman's place was raising children and cleaning the house and he couldn't imagine a future that was different, OR (worse) he was a misogynist who disliked the company of women and simply wrote a story where they didn't exist.
2) Everyone - literally everyone, smokes cigars. Cigars play a big part from start to end. It's as if Asimov could only imagine future technology, not future health, or social mannerisms.
3) The story is boring. Yes, there's a bit of futuristic technology here and there, but most of this story is a Shakespearean drama with devious plotting, backstabbing, more plotting, war strategies, and still more plotting. The typical scene is: important man sits behind an important desk, in walks in an opponent who is nervous/arrogant/angry, and they spend the rest of the scene in dialogue. Nothing happens. Nothing much is described. Just dialogue. Ever seen one of those movies that was made from a famous stage play but the director simply filmed the stage play? Yeah, it's like that. Foundation is set among multiple planets across the galaxy, but Asimov seemed incapable of grand descriptions (at least, I didn't see any). Just dialogue. If you like the Shakespeare dramas, you might enjoy this Machiavellian type of story, but don't expect anything resembling science fiction as we understand it today.
1. It was originally short stories which were later collected into novel form. This means that the scenes feel like they jump around a bit. Sometimes necessarily so (the series spans over millennia, so Asimov can't dwell too long on any particular area).
2. Because of the points mentioned above, it's hard to identify with some of the characters. In general, characters aren't given long to be developed because Asimov needs to move on to the next time period in the history of the Foundation. Just as you're starting to understand a character, their motivations and quirks, they are seldom mentioned again.
Despite this, when stepping back and taking a 10,000 foot view of the series, it's still quite an accomplishment and undeniably transformative for the genre. I have heard that the kindle version is a bit watered down compared to the original, but without a frame of reference it's hard to tell. I'm not a fan on censorship in any form, so it makes me want to seek out the originals as I continue the series.
I mean, I love sci-fi, I've read other works like the Urth series which is drastically more vague, complex and tells a winding story. This book I came into blind. The story is spread over several different perspectives which I didn't really have a problem with at first. At the end of the book, I did have problems with it. The first character we read about seems interesting and I was super interested in the whole plot with him, the next couple characters aren't as interesting. We go from someone in power, to someone really in power, to someone not really in power. The point is to give you different perspectives on the main point of the story: the setting. Yet these different perspectives were initially written separately and then later bound together by the author, and I think the disconnect is apparent.
But here's the deal. I just don't care about these characters enough to go beyond that and start caring about the world. In fact, the initial world of Trantor was vastly more interesting than anything else in the book.
Hey, maybe I just didn't get it.
Top reviews from other countries
Anyone who knows Science Fiction knows that Foundation is a seminal work, one of the great works, an era defining masterpiece of the genre. But what does that mean for the reader now? Does a book written in 1951 still stand up?
Foundation is the story of the collapse of an intergalactic empire and the efforts of a scientific community to preserve and rebuild. It is exactly that ambitious in scope and in never flinches from that. It is creative, engaging, visionary, leaps smoothly from generation to generation and adventure to adventure in a fashion that would make a Marvel movie feel comfortable and is, above all, a bloody good read. It is also jammed packed with some of Asimov’s most quotable lines (the above about violence being my favourite).
There are problems for a modern audience. The endless reference to “atomic” weapons feels quaint rather than threatening. The idea that you might mathematically model future social development based upon predicated behaviour of the masses provided there is no significant influence from individuals feels rather silly now, especially for those of us who have worked in the modelling of crowds: you kind of have to swallow the principles of “psychohistory” as psychobabble and roll with it. Finally, there aren’t any women to be seen. After all, why would women want to have anything to do with this nasty Science nonsense (cough, Bletchly park, cough.) Oh, wait, there’s a wife. She nags a lot.
Still, it was 1951, and if you can look past the stuff that doesn’t make any sense any more this is still a brilliant book and a brilliant read. Most of all, if you want to indulge yourself in the old days when we used to think the smartest and the bravest would win out against the stupidest and most loud, this is a warm balm against the nasty burns you get from watching the news.
I will add that I haven’t read any of the sequels, so there may be a feminist uprising in second foundation that includes a complete revision of psychohistory to embrace the modelling of chaos. But, to be honest, as long as it has more spaceships and smart people I’ll keep reading.
Oh dear, I guess some books don't age well and the eyes of adulthood see them very differently.
It's a classic, but now seems quite dull and dated. The technology of the planets on the edge of the crumbling empire seems laughable. Does Asimov really expect us to believe atomic power is revered as a religion to planetary systems that no longer understand it? The prose is clunky and the politics rather contrived. The book is really quite dull; whatever did I see in it? My fault for revisiting what I recall as a childhood favourite.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 13, 2020
Anyone interested in these books would presumably already have some idea of the central idea of psychohistory being used to model future human events and society. It was a revolutionary concept back in the 1950's and even today outside of fiction and in the real world of mathematics and human studies is debated.
There are some who debunk the idea that humans and society can be modelled effectively to understand future events but there is a large body of research that does indicate it's at least partially the case that we can understand future patterns based upon historical evidence. And the truth of that is of course the Coronavirus which has various governments basing their strategy upon the predicted actions of society based upon mathematical models using past information. It's not quite the same but there are certainly parallels that make reading Foundation such an interesting thing.
Now, inevitably having been written in the 1950's the language and some of the social mores are a little quaint compared to modern society. Essentially Asimov reflected the times he lived in and no matter how far thinking - which sci-fi is by it's very nature - it can only be written on the basis of current understanding. I do note another reviewer who takes to task Asimov for not creating more female protagonists which, I find surprising given that in many of his books the stronger lead characters are often women.
Writing style is of course engaging and easy to enjoy which, is something one would expect from a writer of such renown and popularity.
Overall, a masterpiece and one that is still relevant today 60 years on.
Wait… are they mathematicians or psychologists? The book seems to start off with Seldon as a mathematician and then goes onto refer to him as a psychologist throughout all the other stories. Weird.
The fall of the Galactic Empire as explored by Asimov is based around the history and fall of the Roman Empire. It’s a great concept, as with all of Asimov’s work - very high in concept indeed, for its time - but as a thoroughly modern reader, I couldn’t help but feel it was all rather… simplistic.
What do I mean by “simplistic”? The reason we’re given for the fall of the Galactic Empire is stagnation of thought: the entire galaxy has basically forgotten how the 50,000 year old technology of “atomic power” operates - a crucial technology for their very survival - and instead of training more people to reclaim that knowledge, they ignore it and restrict the use of the technology to the core worlds (and have maintenance people constantly doing minor repairs on power plants that are falling apart because they only know how to use it empirically). The consequence is that entire star systems essentially regress to an early 20th Century level. And the reason for all of this is because the nobles of the Empire have forgotten what the scientific method really is, and nobody is bothered about doing any new scientific research. They only want to catalogue the old.
An entire galaxy. Hundreds of thousands of planets. Quadrillions of people. And everyone’s simply forgotten how to do science? Come on.
Countless works have elaborated on the foundation (pun intended) Asimov laid here over the years. Galactic empires have been a staple for large-scale epic sci-fi for decades now, and I daresay they’ve refined the concept. We have more believable politics and motives, more complex machinations, and deeper analyses in later works than here right at the start. The politics that led to the rise, and then the resistance that preceded the fall of the Empire in Star Wars, for instance, is far more engaging and believable than the reasons given in Foundation. It is perhaps because Asimov frames the concept of an empire as a largely good thing: sure the current Galactic Empire is rotten to the core due to corruption and stagnation, but we only need to do it right next time around. Whereas in more modern works, a true empire (under a single absolute monarch) is pretty much universally acknowledged as a bad thing: a force for the evils of conquest and indigenous erasure.
So, in all, I don’t think the version of the Empire Asimov has in Foundation holds up today. I mean Frank Herbert’s Dune, written only 14 years later, does it a lot better.
Also, I know this is endemic of the genre in general (most egregiously in Star Trek), and something we’ve begun to move past now, but we have a failure of worldbuilding in that planets are treated as though they are small nations or settlements. It’s much easier to manage a world when it has only one type of people on it and is administered from one central place, but across an entire planet it’s not very realistic. Terminus, the planet of the Foundation itself, is excused from this, because the Foundation literally is a small settlement on an otherwise barren and inhospitable world lacking in resources. The other planets of the outer reaches - Anacreon, Smyrno, the other two of the Four Kingdoms, and Korell? No. Not excused. It’s possible the problem here is that Asimov was trying to apply the fall of the Roman Empire to a vastly upscaled civilisation, to the point where I think a lot of that stuff falls apart. Controlling lots of planets is a different creature to controlling and administering several countries on one planet. If you can only just barely do the one with a centralised totalitarian regime, there’s no way you can do the other.
The Foundation’s growth isn’t particularly believable either. I can buy that it starts as a small settlement focused wholly on creating the Encyclopedia Galactica, and that it needs to leverage its bargaining strength as the only atomic power in the sector to stop itself being invaded by the Kingdom of Anacreon, but later on it turns science into a religion and rules through it and… what? It kind of lost me at that point. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief any more after that.
Let’s move on to characters. Asimov is not good at characters. I’ve been told he’s better at it in later books, but these early works really do just treat characters as entirely inconsequential. One of the main reasons Foundation is not engaging to me as a modern reader is because there’s zero attention paid to the people in the story. Couple this with the fact that the five stories are short and they each represent a significant jump forward in time and a brand new set of characters, by the end I didn’t know or care who anyone was, aside from Hari Seldon and Salvor Hardin. Even then, everyone has essentially the same personality - the main characters in each story are shrewd, businesslike, intelligent, logical and project this air of professionalism akin to MPs in the House of Commons pretending to be gentlemanly. They all chomp cigars and outwit their opponents. The differences between them are very minor. By contrast all of their opponents are framed as stupid; angry, lumbering oafs that are easily outwitted by applications of simple logic.
The prose lacks in any meaningful description, and the setting of each story is essentially in a meeting room or an office. It involves people: dignitaries, mayors, boards of trustees etc… sitting down in formal meetings and talking - all except the last story, The Merchant Princes, which does have changes of scenery at least. It all makes for very dull reading. There’s snippets of action here and there that hint at the potential of the story, but overall the execution feels like a rough outline. This is the skeleton of a story. With actual character development, engaging imagery and heavy edits, this one book could be expanded into a five-part series of 100,000 word novels (and that’s forgetting the rest of the series).
As it is, if you took the characters out and presented Foundation as an essay, it would make more sense.
I enjoyed parts of the book for its ideas, and for the inkling of greater things that poked at my imagination - Derelict Imperial Cruisers, threats of war and the fear of retaliation from the Empire. Some of the characters were okay. Salvor Hardin and Hari Seldon were decent, for instance. My favourite story out of the lot was The Mayors - the third - where Mayor Salvor Hardin prevents a war by showing just how much the Foundation has infiltrated the hearts and minds of their entire society. But overall, it doesn’t hold up, and I won’t be prioritising reading further in the series. There’s a niggling curiosity in the back of my mind to see where the Foundation goes after The Merchant Princes, so I may read the next book at some point, but it won’t be for a very long time.
Oh, and something that made me laugh, that’s absolutely indicative of its time: The first mention of a woman character is on page 186. We see her all of twice, though she does hold significant political influence - she was quite interesting, actually. But the book is only 231 pages long! There’s also the preponderance on ATOMIC EVERYTHING. I’m sure modern writers will be laughed at in 100 years time for our quaint ideas about far future technology, but it was nonetheless amusing to read the idea that literally everything in Asimov’s future is powered by atomic generators. From spaceships to personal shields, to weapons and dishwashers and even women’s clothing accessories. It’s a good thing Asimov assures us they’ve cured cancer 50,000 years from now.
But there’s also the idea that Asimov didn’t think beyond the miniaturisation of atomic power. He has a character state that atomic power is a fifty thousand year-old technology. Surely a Galactic Empire that’s been around for 12,000 years, 50,000 years from now, would be using something other than nuclear fission - which is undoubtedly the type of “atomic power” Asimov is talking about here, given it was a new thing at the time he was writing this. Only seventy years on, and we’re so close to having viable nuclear fusion power. Tens of thousands of years in the future I’d expect us to be a lot further on than that (and we’d need to be, if we’re to travel the stars and become a galactic civilisation).
There’s weird errors in the version of the book I’ve got as well. I don’t mean the odd typo that’s slipped through, but a character in the final story called Sutt is routinely and erroneously referred to as “Sun”. I thought at first it was just an expression the characters were using (like “great galloping galaxies!” - that one made me laugh, legitimately) but as I read on, it definitely seemed like they were using Sun as Sutt’s name. Very odd.