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[Foundation's Fear] [by: Gregory Benford] Paperback – May 30, 2000
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How bad can it be?
About as bad as possible.
Now, Gregory Benford is a smart guy...but so was Issac Asimov. And this is no Foundation. And Benford is no Asimov. Gregory’s book plows through pages of Einsteinium mathematics and infinite trips of digital personas wandering through a byzantine uber-matrix leaves mere mortals bewildered…and bored. And it’s endless. I’m a pretty fast reader and at the 43% point when I gave up, there was still 6 hours to go.
So unless you’re prepared to do a lot of scrolling and page flipping, skip this one. I’m going to gamble on Greg Bear’s book 2 in the hopes that GB is better than this GB.
If you give up part way through, read the 1 star review by Robert Shuler. He blessed us with a synopsis of Benford’s book 1 that preserves the continuity.
Well, I plowed through the other two books and my eyeballs fell out. Long? Is eternity long enough? Each was over twice as long as real books...and for bad reasons. Perpetual rehashing of philosophy and arguments over the Three Laws vs The Zeroth Law. Should mankind be guided by robots intent of preserving peace by stifling initiative and creativity? Or is is it better to protect humans but let them freely do their thing. Duh.
That argument was worth a paragraph at the most, not a repeated multi-page discourse from beginning to end...and still couldn't reach a conclusion.
Add in words that mere mortals don't understand.
And multiple paragraphs of dialog exchanges without identifying who's speaking.
How can such great authors write this discordant, dissonant, cacophonous, inharmonious epilogue?
The book starts well enough, but I started having feelings of déjà vu - "Haven't I read that phrase before?" I found phrases, then sentences, and then whole paragraphs repeated! I started taking notes because I couldn't believe what I was reading. It was as if Benford copied a section to another part of the book, and forgot to delete the original. I'm just a casual reader and they stood out starkly to me. Surely an editor would have noticed them!
Then, there are the interminable passages with Voltaire and Joan of Arc. The entire book could have dispensed with this subplot and been the better (and tighter) for it.
It became very clear that no editor had set eyes on this work, or at very least, had not been allowed to make even the smallest of revisions. This is a shame, because the story line itself, which at its essence is about Hari Seldon's discomfort about, and eventual acceptance of gaining the First Ministership, while picking up key insights about pyschohistory, is a good one.
Finally, there were several points where it was clear the author wasn't all that familiar with Asimov's universe. For example, characters questioned why there were no aliens. (And indeed, an alien species of sorts makes a showing.) Didn't Benford know about "The End of Eternity", or at least read a summary of Asimov's Empire timeline on Wikipedia? This seems like a fundamental misstep when one is trying to add to a popular story.
With original characters and the intervention of an editor, this book might be a good “hard science fiction”, but as it stands, the “Foundation” title and characters set too many expectations which this book can't meet.
Benford explains in an Afterword that he conceived the plot outline for all three books in this series, and coordinated with the other two authors and with Janet Asimov (herself known as author J. Jeppesen). But there are still disconnects, which I will cover, and while the other authors write more like Asimov (at least Bear does), Benford's flaws infect the whole.
ALIENS - In an afterword, Benford writes that he always wondered why there were no aliens in either the Foundation or Robot series (later combined and known as the Future History Series). Despite having read some Asimov and some analyses of Asimov, he is unaware of The End of Eternity (1955) in which Asimov postulates that humans invent time travel in the mid-20th century and become obsessed with smoothing out strife and stress in their timeline. When far future humans finally reach the stars, everyplace is occupied and "no trespassing" signs posted. The far future humans become secretive adversaries of the time techs, and send a female volunteer to entice one of them to fall in love and bring her with him on a critical mission to implement the time loop which is responsible for the invention of time travel. She explains everything to him and gives him the choice of finishing his mission, or aborting it and living there in the past with her. The result is the far future humans manage to select a timeline in which there are NO ALIENS IN THE GALAXY. Thus Asimov explains the universe of the Foundation series, which he had just completed. So much for relying on other people's analysis. Benford invents remnant alien A.I. which has been nearly exterminated by an expanding wave of explorer robots, acting to protect the humans they serve. Whatever it is they have done, it is so terrible Daneel won't talk about it, and it has been expunged from robot history. This is nothing like what Asimov would have written. Benford simply explains he is not trying to extend Asimov's ideas, but to write his own ideas based on those situations and characters. But he doesn't actually know the facts of the situations. Thus you have the specific facts to back up all the other negative reviews here.
ROBOTS - Were of course not present in the original Foundation series, later added as rather distant hands-off caretakers when he merged it with the Robot series. Benford includes:
1. A massive army of them led by Daneel with their own repair and maintenance planet.
2. Dors was created to protect Hari, they fall in love, get married, and have a lot of sex.
3. Tiktoks, which are sentient and moral but less advanced and without the 3 laws, perform all hazardous labor in the Empire and mount a rebellion in which they object to humans consuming other life as food (more to this, later..)
4. Sentient robots governed by the 3 laws are re-invented on Sark.
5. Hari as First Minister violently suppresses Sark (starves it) because of its disruptive technology and ideas.
6. While in Prelude to Foundation Hari spends the whole book looking with difficulty for any robot artifacts, they are easily found in Benford's book, which begins by them casually finding two "sims" - simulations of the ancient personalities Joan of Arc and Voltaire (which are more than sentient, and governed by no laws at all as far as I can tell, in fact they are unrestricted in self-modification, as a result of manipulation by their programmers in a debate competition, something forbidden to positronic robots).
7. The Empire itself is a meta-mind, a kind of intelligence. I'm not sure whether it is A.I. or trans-human.
8. And the alien remnants of course.
Even in the robot series, robots were not present on Earth at the time of the great expansion. They were only on the 20 spacer worlds, which did not cooperate with Earth. After the robots destroyed Earth (in slow motion) forcing the humans to leave, there wouldn't have been any wave of robot explorers sent out.
REASONS FOR DECLINE - Lack of invention and too much emphasis on stability were Asimov's reasons for decline, not only in Foundation, but in other writings. In Benford's book, apparently renaissance in thinking and technology, as on Sark, is too disruptive, chaotic, and triggers the decline. The suppression of Sark (which among other things one reviewer refers to as brute force) is just too un-Asimov to appeal to any Asimov fan.
TRAVEL MODE - Benford substitutes wormholes for hyperspace. There are gazillions of them occurring naturally, and they can be dragged into different positions (slowly). Most likely wormholes and hyperspace are both fantasy, and in my view the lure of them has short-circuited human venture into space just as surely as time travel did in The End of Eternity. We are unwilling to do the hard but possible work of it, waiting for the fantastical non-real version. I have studied General Relativity quite closely, and talked with many relativists. Despite a few famous advocates, the view of most relativists is that either of these two possibilities is unlikely. For a fascinating SF look at how a culture might accomplish realistic star travel, and how it would affect their spread through the galaxy and could be used against them, see The Host.
As one reviewer noted, Benford imagines this as a chaos theory. Asimov was well aware of chaos theory when he wrote the later novels, but did not incorporate it into psychohistory. Instead he incorporated it into individual robot behavior. E.g. "That is the problem that chaos theory presents me with under the First Law. The degree of probability that MC 1's permanent presence may harm all humans is ..." Asimov understands that chaos theory is about the weather (individual days or robots, etc.) while psychohistory is about climate, the aggregate, subject to huge energy flows and momentum. I agree with Asimov. Benford may have been influenced by writers such as Robertson, Combs, et. al.: Chaos Theory in Psychology and the Life Sciences, who claim psychohistory "can never be anything more than science fiction" but might be "aspirational grounds for real-life mini-Hari's." I disagree with Robertson, et. al., and have written my own book on a crash rate theory which can be applied to societies, possibly a forerunner of a realistic version of psychohistory, Economic Optimization of Innovation & Risk (for [very] serious readers).
The two sims are hyped up by a competing pair of programmers, a boy-girl pair with some chemistry, and the sims escape during the debate. The boy and girl go into hiding. Benford drops them from the story about 1/3rd of the way through, with only a trivial mention at the end. The two sims spend a lot of time arguing, and develop a relationship with one of the tiktoks, or a sim of the tiktok (little difference), who turns out to be much more capable than we are first told.
Daneel has quit being First Minister, saying he finds the Empire decaying anyway, and is afraid he is making it worse. He talks Cleon into picking Hari, but the Council has to elect the FM. Lamurk wants the job and probably has the votes. He repeatedly tries to have Hari
assassinated, but it cannot be proved. There are scenes with Hari floating in an electrostatic elevator shafts (a physicist wrote that???) and an episode where he and Dors are mind melding with Chimp-like Pans (Avatar style), and are deliberately trapped there to be killed indirectly when the Pans are killed. That episode was probably the best part of the book. Reminded me a bit of Otis Kline (who did mind transfer 100 years ago) or Edgar Rice Burroughs. But not especially of Asimov.
The escaped sims discover the alien remnant AI's, and force their hand. The aliens want revenge on the robots and hold Trantor ransom. They start the tiktok revolt.
Hari, emboldened and confident, in touch with his primitive nature (or something) after the Pans, mind melds with the computer to work on psychohistory. He finds the sims and they introduce him to the alien AIs. They are about to duke it out but Hari insists on negotiating. This is as close as Benford comes to plotting like Asimov. But then Hari has them commandeer the tiktoks to assassinate 15 Lamurk operatives, and persuades Daneel to assassinate Lamurk (using the Zeroth Law). This is another example of brute force. But it raises Hari's stature in the eyes of Cleon and a bunch of other people who guess that he is responsible.
The aliens double-cross Hari and kill two-thirds of the robots (using the tiktoks), which is very upsetting to Daneel and Dors. Tiktoks will be phased out (even though doing without them was previously deemed infeasible).
Hari is easily elected FM, and immediately moves against Sark. The aliens ask to leave, and the to programmers are mentioned again as they are assigned the task of figuring out how to get the aliens back to their spore state in the galactic center (but no further development of their relationship). Hari asks Joan and Voltaire to stay and help him rule. They are able to impersonate him in 3D holo-conferences, while he concentrates on psychohistory.
Dors doesn't die! Her apparent death and removal was a key feature of the 2nd novel by Bear, supposedly closely coordinated. Bear brings her back with a different exterior and reunites her with an aging and discouraged Hari, after declaring psychohistory a complete failure technically, merely a sort of ruse to give people something to believe in while really the robots and the Second Foundation control the outcome. So I was wanting to see just what happened with Dors. Nothing! The plotlines don't connect.
Benford mostly does repetitive introspection and philosophizing, despite his declaration he wants more action and suspense. But if you are thinking you can skip-read this book, forget it. There is no suspense at all. Major events come out of the blue in the middle of a
conversation. It is jolting. And of course that undermines all suspense, since the reader wasn't anticipating anything. Perhaps Benford mistakes his own anticipation for the reader's. Many conversation are disconnected and illogical, making it difficult to determine what is happening around key events, even after a second reading of some of them. I mean, difficult to determine basic facts intended to be evident, not those witheld for effect.
Neutral, 3 stars. But the info from the afterword that it is NOT in the style of Asimov should have been stated in the marketing material. The book was moderately entertaining, except for the repetition, and is a good price per page.
Top reviews from other countries
I have thoroughly enjoyed it .
There were three books in the series , I bought the second and third books from a shop in Edinburgh but of course had to read the first book thus reading the books in order
and the ride and limited defintion of the soul has to be re anlaysed....re-thought...big confrontation for all readers...do robots have a soul...can robots have a soul...according to the legitimate definition given by benford yes..and i must say looking at this new angle i agree....