“Prelude to Foundation” by Isaac Asimov

I’ve just (on Sunday, that is) finished reading this book. It took me a mere seven months to do just that. Even though you might think so, the book is not made up of twenty five thousand densely written pages, it weighs in at about 500 pages of quite spacious text.

Some of author Isaac Asimov’s books are regarded as science fiction classics. His most commonly known work is probably “I, Robot”, not because it’s a great book (I’ve never read it myself, so I can’t tell), rather because it resulted in a movie with the same title starring Will Smith. His work has inspired a lot of people, like the Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese new religious movement that carried out the Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subways back in 1995.

In “Prelude to Foundation” we meet Hari Seldon, a young, up-and-coming mathematician who has developed the theory of psychohistory. After having presented his theory at convention on Trantor, the planet where the Emperor of the 25 million planets Galactic Empire resides, he is summoned to Emperor Cleon who thinks psychohistory can be used to keep him on the throne. But Seldon refuses to help the Emperor and argues that psychohistory is just a theory that might never be practically usable. Through “Prelude to Foundation” we then follow Seldon as he tries to stay two steps ahead of Eto Demerzel, the Emperor’s right hand, who desperately tries to catch him.

All this sounds like a potentially great science fiction book. But I can never get the hang of Asimov’s style. It’s slow and old fashioned. The books suffers from the Gladiator’s disease. Too much chit chat, not enough momentum. Asimov wastes page after page by describing how Seldon tries to convince every single person he meets that psychohistory is just a theory. I can understand why this is important to Seldon, but as readers we know this already and do not have to be reminded all the time.

I recommend that you stay clear of “Prelude to Foundation” if you are considering this book as your introduction to Asimov’s “Foundation” series. Jump straight to book number two, which is actually the first book - “Prelude” was written 37 years after the first “Foundation” novel was release. That book is also considerably thinner, 200 pages less that “Prelude”. If you’re lucky, this might mean that Asimov manages to keep things flowing. If you have already worked your way through all the “Foundation” books except for this one, and liked what you read, Prelude might not be your worst choice, though. I, for one, is not writing Isaac Asimov off completely, and has “Foundation” laying on my night stand already.


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