Isaac Asimov’s “Prelude to Foundation”, the first prequel to the author’s classic “Foundation Trilogy”, is a modest but enjoyable science-fiction novel, showing the humble beginnings of Hari Seldon, the legendary scientist of the original trilogy. The novel will probably resonate more if you’re already familiar with the trilogy, as you’ll likely get more of a kick out of the young, slightly vain, slightly scatterbrained Seldon seen here if you’re well versed on his later accomplishments and eventual revered status.
But there are some compelling ideas here for both Foundation newcomers and longtime fans of the original books, often presented in fun ways. In particular, the novel examines the idea of personal cluelessness about one’s genius, and how it sometimes takes others to fill a person in about one's own potential. Here, Hari is presented as someone who thinks he’s just a modest mathematician, with maybe a few creative ideas worthy of writing an esoteric paper on, but nothing more. But once Hari delivers his paper at a conference, the most powerful six or seven forces in the universal hierarchy immediately wrestle and compete with each other to grab up Hari and his ideas first, recognizing their potential to shape the future. And even then Hari is slow to say, “Hmmmm, maybe I’ve got something here.”
“Prelude to Foundation” is pretty much a chase novel set in a fascinating, far flung future, with a nice level of attention given over to the ways people live and interact, and other humanitarian concerns. Dr.Asimov also uses “Prelude to Foundation” to tie some of his other famous books into the continuity of the Foundation books, specifically novels in his “Empire” and “Robot” series. At this point, that move neither overly complicates nor greatly improves the Foundation series, though it does add a bit of interesting texture, so it’ll be fascinating to see where things go in the other Foundation prequel/sequels.
If you’re interested, here are the seven books in the Foundation series, presented in chronological order of the events they depict: “Prelude to Foundation” (the first prequel to the original trilogy), “Forward the Foundation” (second prequel to the original trilogy); “Foundation” (book one of the original trilogy); “Foundation and Empire” (book two of the original trilogy); “Second Foundation” (book three of the original trilogy); “Foundation’s Edge” (first sequel to the original trilogy); and “Foundation and Earth” (second and final sequel to the original trilogy).
Finally, you should know that HBO is now developing the Foundation books as an ongoing television series, hence my renewed interest in the original trilogy (which I once read way back when) and the prequels/sequels (which are new to me). Personally, I think it’ll be fun to shoot through all seven books prior to the premiere of the show.