The History and Influence of Foundation by Isaac Asimov
In 1929, the renowned writer Isaac Asimov was still nine years old, a naturalised immigrant to New York who was expected to work in his family’s business. In a succession of shops that sold sweets, newspapers and science fiction magazines, Asimov was literally a kid in a candy store. However, things were not so ideal as all that. His father had actually forbidden him from reading those fascinating looking magazines, until Asimov convinced him that they must be educational since they had the word ‘science,’ in the title. And though Asimov would soon be attending college at the young age of fifteen, at the time, his ultimate dream for the future was only to run a newsstand in which he could read science fiction stories all day and listen to the trains rumble by. It’s a remarkably humble vision for the boy to have, not least of all, because his work on the Foundation books would establish him as one of the most important figures in a genre that he was once prohibited to even read.
My name is Simon Fay and you’re watching Content Lit, a channel dedicated to the best books of the twentieth century. In these episodes, I’ll be looking at the original Foundation trilogy. I suspect that many of you will have read the books already. Others might just be curious about the series. As such, I’d like to describe what the stories were all about as well analyse how Asimov’s particular style of writing helped to make them so beloved among millions of science fiction fans. I’ve created an episode for each of those topics, which I’ll link to at the end of the video, but for the time being, I just want to concentrate on the history and influence of the trilogy; a real-life story that’s as much about a singular person as it is about an entire genre of fiction. And to help in my effort in that, I’d like to return to the far-flung days of the 1930s, a period when both science fiction and Isaac Asimov were about to mature…
How it Began
Isaac Asimov’s first job after his initial stint in college was as a civilian chemist at the Philadelphia Navy Yard’s Naval Air Experimental Station. As already mentioned, he was incredibly young when he first applied to university. Fifteen years old when he was allowed to pursue a zoology major, which he quickly changed to chemistry due to his repulsion at the idea of having to dissect a cat. Later in life, Asimov would say that if he was going to be remembered, he would like it to be as a writer first and as a scientist second, still, by the time he made it to Philadelphia the passion that would drive him had yet to be identified. Really, he was in a good position to make an impact in either profession. Through his work at the naval yard he’d obviously earned an opportunity to advance in the scientific sphere, but he also found himself surrounded by like-minded individuals who shared his interest in science fiction writing and who emboldened him to pursue it as a career when he was in doubt as to whether it was financially possible. Among these colleagues was Robert Heinlein who along with Asimov was one of the most important writers in what would become known as science fiction’s golden age, an era typified by stories that put more of a focus on accurate science than on the adolescent fantasy fulfilment that was common to the genre in prior years. Most importantly though, Asimov had already acquainted himself with the founding father of the entire movement; John W. Campbell, a man who can be described as both a lunatic and as a visionary in one breath.
In 1937, Campbell had taken over Astounding magazine, where he dived headfirst into his role as editor by changing its name to Astounding Science Fiction.
Campbell was a science fiction writer himself, the author of Who Goes There?, a story on which John Carpenter’s seminal horror movie The Thing was based, and he had a bold vision of what the future of sci-fi should be. At a minimum, this meant Campbell would encourage his ensemble of writers to create stories that would appeal less to children and more to intelligent adults, developing their talents in a direction that demanded they fully understand the science of what they were talking about. This was more than a superficial request. To give you an idea of how rigorous Campbell was in this regard, a story once published in the magazine actually described the basic instructions of how to build an atomic bomb one year before the United States’ top-secret Manhattan Project succeeded in detonating one of its own. Campbell had actually collaborated with a man named Cleve Cartmill on the story when they struck upon the surprisingly close description of how to construct the bomb by referencing scientific papers published before the war. The story was so accurate, in fact, that the FBI met Campbell at his office where they insisted that the issue of Astounding Science Fiction in which it appeared be withdrawn from the stands. Then, in a funny twist, it was only thanks to Campbell pointing out that by withdrawing the magazines they’d essentially be signalling to foreign spies that the information therein was correct. Sadly, in later years, Campbell would gain more of a reputation as a narcissistic and racist blowhard than as a mentor of any real worth and would find it difficult to even get a submission from any of the famous science fiction writers who he helped to establish. But, for the time being, what’s only of interest is how he shaped the work of our young Isaac Asimov, something which Asimov himself would remain grateful for over the remainder of his life.
Now, I suppose it was a characteristic of the times that people such as Asimov and Campbell could so quickly strike up a friendship. Back when Campbell first took over the magazine, Asimov had become curious as to why there was a schedule change in its release and so decided to simply visit its office to find out what was up. As it happens, the visit inspired Asimov to write a story for submission, only for the story to be completed by Asimov then swiftly rejected by Campbell within two days. Hardly discouraged, Asimov submitted a second story that was also rejected by Campbell, but which came with a letter that contained no small amount of praise. Despite it all, the two men became good friends and began to meet on a weekly basis, with Campbell having assured Asimov that with a year’s worth of practice, he’d be well on his way to getting a story placed in the magazine. Not one to back down from a challenge, Asimov actually found a place for his third attempt at a story in another science fiction magazine and continued to submit others until Campbell accepted one at the end of that year.
It’s difficult to sum up in exactly what way Campbell had an influence on Asimov’s writing overall. Certainly, in the high regard Asimov spoke of him, it was undoubtedly a massive one, but what elements in particular did Campbell encourage Asimov to pursue?
One piece of advice he gave was for Asimov to start his stories as late in the plot as possible. Asimov is probably best known for his Three Laws of Robotics, a collection of rules that prohibit robots from harming their human masters, but it was actually Campbell who pointed out that these rules were starting to emerge from Asimov’s stories, so you can gather he had an influence on the thematics in the young man’s work too. Campbell also didn’t like the idea of superior alien intelligences, so, as I’m sure you can guess by now, they remain distinctly absent from all of Asimov’s early work. Crucially, Campbell seemed to have had as much of an interest in human psychology as he did in science, so he would have expected Asimov’s work to include more richly drawn characters than the basic heroes and villains that populated the genre in times past. And with the broad selection of stories featured under Campbell’s run at Astounding Science Fiction, he’d also demonstrated a clear taste for a certain kind of sociological science fiction that Asimov would have worked to cater for. Naturally, I don’t mean to say that Campbell was some kind of secret ghostwriter behind Asimov’s success. He was an incredibly hands-on editor who deserves every credit he gets, but Asimov was already well on his way to establishing the themes he’d make his own by the time he and Campbell became friends. By age eighteen, for instance, Asimov was a member of the Futurian Science Fiction Fan Club, a group of writers and editors who had an active interest in politics and the exploration of it through science fiction, meaning that he’d already begun to wonder how his stories could be used to explore societal issues at large. In any case, you could say it’s only further evidence of Asimov’s talent that such a key figurehead in the industry took a personal interest in him. As it so happens, it was only in retrospect that Asimov would be recognised as one of the most important innovators in science fiction’s golden age. At the time, he said, most people would have just considered him to be a third rate contributor to the scene, most people, that is, except John W. Campbell, who demonstrated nothing but support for the lad. Regardless, the faith Campbell showed clearly began to pay off when in 1941 he suggested an idea for Asimov which would become a classic short story known as Nightfall and go on to be voted the best science fiction story written prior to the establishment of the 1965 Nebula Awards, which marked the start of an incredible run under Campbell that would continue with the stories in what became the original Foundation trilogy.
Indeed, if Nightfall was Asimov’s first great piece of fiction under his mentor, Foundation was his graduation piece.
A three-part science fiction epic that charts the fall of one empire and the rise of another, it would go on to win him another unheard-of accolade at the 1966 Hugo awards for best series of all time, though even that honour is practically a footnote compared to its status as the Citizen Kane of science fiction storytelling. By that I mean, in the Foundation novels, Asimov innovated some of the most basic ingredients that fans take for granted in their favourite space operas today. The idea of a galactic empire is certainly notable for having been invented by one man, though it’s even more interesting to see how the culmination of Asimov’s scientific and writing careers fed into the series under the watchful eye of Campbell as his editor. It was on his way to Campbell’s office, after all, that Asimov felt lacking in any short story ideas and so decided to pitch a science fiction version of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. The Foundation trilogy also bears the mark of its editor by how it jumps right into the action and how the universe in which it takes place seems to have an utter lack of alien intelligence. And while Asimov’s knowledge of history may have been the impetus for the story, his expertise in science played just as much of a part in its creation. For example, in the books, a man named Hari Seldon has advanced a field known as psychohistory, used it to predict broad sweeps of future events, and proposed a plan to limit an oncoming dark age from 30,000 years to 1,000. As might be apparent, Seldon can’t predict what will happen to any one individual in this dark age. Only what will occur in society in general. This idea in particular was inspired by Asimov’s experience in chemistry, whereby he knew that the general behaviour of a gas could be predicted but that the individual movements of the particles within the gas could not. All of this is to say, Foundation is a bit of a watershed moment in twentieth-century writing. All of the ideals of a specific era of genre fiction, combined with the personal knowledge of one of its masters, are embodied in the episodes that span the collection of three books. Of course, all of this is just the beginning of the story. Certainly, the characteristics Asimov and Campbell most enjoyed in science fiction found their form in Foundation. But it might just have been the peak of an era that would lose all relevance, if not for the very visible throughline you can see carry on to pretty much all of science fiction’s biggest franchises in the decades that followed. That is to say, whether the original Foundation trilogy was a series its successors would have to pay tribute to or one they’d need to find an antidote for, it was a behemoth that couldn’t be ignored.
What Happened Next
The initial reception to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation stories could be said to be underwhelming given the praise they would later receive. As we know the episodes today, it’s as the trilogy that would eventually count over twenty-million books sold. On their initial release though, each story was published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine, the issues of which we can look back at to appreciate the gradual growth of interest the work experienced.
The first story Asimov wrote in the saga, released in May of 1942, didn’t merit a name on the cover of Astounding Science Fiction nor artwork to tempt the reader in. But from August of 1944, every episode published in the magazine over the following five years received the fully illustrated cover treatment.
You can imagine being a reader at the time, in the dark as to what will happen next and only being able to wonder when the next chapter in this incredible epic would hit the stands. Maybe you’d have gone so far as to write the magazine a letter, or, like Asimov, decide to drop by their office to insist that they publish more entries in the tale. Of course, there was more than just readers keeping track of Foundation’s escalating narrative. Writers too would have kept an eye on Asimov’s work and borrowed from it as he had borrowed from theirs. Nonetheless, though these days Asimov is probably more famous for his stories about robotics, we know through Foundation that it’s also his right to claim the concept of an antiquated form of empire ruling over the entirety of space. And while Asimov’s particular theory of psychohistory has mostly remained untouched as a genre trope, the theme of destiny and foreknowledge of an inalterable future has remained standard fare in science fiction. In this manner, one way you can see the impact of the series beyond its awards and book sales is to follow the breadcrumb trail of concepts to some of the biggest literary and motion picture franchises that emerged in its wake.
For instance, as one of the more popular successors, Dune has sometimes been referred to as Frank Herbert’s counterpoint to Asimov’s Foundation. In a way, you could say this implies Herbert had some kind of problem with Asimov’s series, but I think it’s more a case of Herbert building on Foundation, so to speak, in that he appeared to see a lot of worth in the kind of stories it told, and sought to expand on their scope and put his own spin on the political themes.
To start with, each book in the Dune series charts the struggles of competing houses within an antiquated imperial regime akin to that of Foundation’s empire. Asimov himself was inspired to borrow the idea from actual history, and while Frank Herbert certainly had plenty of historical knowledge of his own, he’d also expressed some scepticism regarding the Foundation and its scientists’ ability to provide a surprise-free future for humankind, so you could also assume that at some stage in the development process Asimov’s novels had been on his mind. Secondly, Asimov’s stories in the original Foundation trilogy mostly revolve around a series of political emergencies and Frank Herbert’s book famously revolves around similarly politically oriented disputes over a substance known as the spice. Furthermore, Asimov’s stories deal with the Foundation’s incredibly accurate predictions for the future and the success of their plans in manipulating it, while over in Frank Herbert’s book, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood act as a dark mirror who work to do the same, but who are actually utilized to show how impossible such an undertaking could be. Finally, in Asimov’s books, robots and artificial intelligences are notably absent and the Foundationers boast the defence of personal shields, making individual characters invincible to many of their foes. And in Herbert’s story too, artificial intelligences are banned and coupled with the existence of things like personal shields you can begin to understand how such a strangely archaic style of government might reign.
Yet all of this isn’t to say that Herbert is some kind of copycat. You could list as many differences between the sagas as similarities. More importantly though, I’d say it’s actually a case of Herbert suggesting other ways a story like Foundation could have been told, delving deeper into the human psychology element, and contributing with plenty of innovations of his own. The hero’s journey that kicks off Herbert’s series, for example, adds a mythic status to the tale that isn’t really anywhere in Asimov’s work. And the tragic end that the hero’s journey eventually leads the main character to contributes to a much more maudlin tone that was probably more inspired by the likes of Lawrence of Arabia than any science fiction oriented fare. Besides which, Herbert’s imperial universe is arguably more densely packed than Asimov’s. The fact that there’s a universal language in Foundation and that the origins of Earth have long been lost was a genius little way of giving a visceral sense of just how far into the future the story is set, but in Herbert’s take on the idea, mentions of things like the Orange Catholic Bible, which is both familiar and alien-sounding at the same time, offer a much more layered representation of the ever-shifting shape of human civilisation. That’s all a kind of an aside though. The main point to take is that while Herbert’s work is clearly a landmark achievement that can stand on its own, it’s evidently one that grew out of the work Asimov had completed before.
Similarly, Star Wars owes quite a lot to Foundation, which is something I think isn’t talked about as much because there are a couple of other inspirations behind George Lucas’ cinematic effort that are probably more well known.
Within the world of movies, Lucas was quite open about how the films of Akira Kurosawa inspired him, Hidden Fortress in particular being one from which he borrowed. The westerns of American cinema also played a part in the formula for Luke Skywalker’s journey. And, in terms of panache, Flash Gordan is more often mentioned in how it contributed to the movie’s style. Oddly enough, though the existence of an imperial empire and the problems that come with predictions for the future are also major parts of the saga, it seems like the inspiration for the original Star Wars trilogy is less often ascribed to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and more to Frank Herbert’s Dune. This is understandable I suppose. Given the breadth of fiction that was influenced by Foundation, you could just assume that the ideas George Lucas took from it were actually a step removed and you’d be inclined to credit it to the series that also spotlights the hero’s journey of a young man on a similarly barren desert planet. But if there’s any doubt as to a direct link with Asimov’s work, there are plenty of tidbits that seem to have been lifted directly from the original Foundation trilogy’s pages.
Trantor, the gigantic city-planet that once acted as the capital of Asimov’s decaying empire, finds a counterpart in Coruscant, the capital of Lucas’ old republic. Hyperspace, while not actually a term coined by Asimov, is the means by which the ships in both universes travel. Interrogation probes are used to extract information out of prisoners in Foundation as well as in Star Wars. And most interestingly, the Second Foundationers of Asimov’s third book demonstrate mind control powers equivalent to that of a Jedi’s force will, in one scene of the final story even using their powers of persuasion to convince a set of security guards that there’s no need to cause a disturbance and they can just be allowed to move along. To be sure, in Lucas’ original trilogy the Jedi are sometimes ignorantly referred to as wizards or sorcerers in a similar manner to how the Foundationers are often preceded by remarks that they’re a civilisation of magicians. And on top of this, while once upon a time Lucas’ vision for the Star Wars saga might have been more akin to a fairytale than a classic space opera, with the prequels, he appeared to have become more interested in tracking the decay of the old republic in the same way that Asimov once tracked the decay of the first Empire.
Moreover, beyond Foundation’s influence on both Dune and Star Wars, Asimov’s work could be said to have made an impact that reaches well beyond the world of fiction. Technology like personal pocket computers are anticipated from the very first story of Foundation. Psychohistory itself inspired Paul Krugman, a Nobel laureate of Economics, and has been explicitly referenced by countless science communicators when discussing the mathematical techniques of predicting human behaviour. That said, Asimov has always remained distinctly humble about how he came up with all of his ideas. He knew well that anybody could imagine some incredible type of gadget, so long as they didn’t have to describe how it worked, and for every idea that would become a reality in the future, there were plenty of others that would become obsolete. Elevator operators, newspapers and sexist attitudes are just a few jarring examples of twentieth-century life that show up in a world that’s supposed to be set twelve-thousand years down the line. And, as for the larger concepts of his work, I would suppose that his humility came from the knowledge that he was just one man in a community of writers who were all tinkering around with the same kind of things.
For instance, one of Isaac Asimov’s contemporaries, Arthur C. Clarke, the author of Childhood’s End and the writer for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, was famous for having said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
It’s a compelling idea, phrased in a way that I think has helped it to become a pretty famous maxim to just about anybody interested in history, science or science fiction. But if we wanted to, we could actually trace it back to Isaac Asimov too, who in the second book of the original Foundation trilogy had a character remark that an uninformed public tends to confuse scholarship with magicianry. Well, maybe Arthur C. Clarke did find the germ of the idea in that line by Asimov. It’s all the more likely though that it was just a concept that was in the air. I know for example that it’s commonly believed when Hernán Cortés and his Spanish invaders plundered Mexico, the indigenous people must have thought of them as gods. Well, in the verbal history of the Mayans at least, as transcribed by Diego Durán The History of the Indies of New Spain, it was apparent that they had absolutely no illusion that these sadists from Europe were gods of any type. It was just an assumption on the Europeans’ part that their technology would make them seem so innately superior. Nevertheless, whether or not this misunderstanding was known to Asimov and Clarke is besides the point. It might simply be the case they were mutually inspired by the common belief. And so, by the same token, you could say that the numerous examples of inspiration that Star Wars and Dune took from the original Foundation trilogy could merely be ideas that were floating about rather than rarities only to be found in the pages of Foundation. This isn’t to say any similarities between the franchises can simply be waved away. I really do think Herbert and Lucas literally took some elements from Asimov’s work. It’s just that in the grand scheme of things that’s not what’s important. At it’s best, drawing up side by side comparisons like this is just a really fun way to examine the relationship between some of your favourite stories, but at its worst it can become this kind of materialistic competition where the value of each author’s work is measured by how many original ideas they included page by page. And to be honest, I think it’s basically a handy shortcut for people like me to impress upon viewers how significant Foundation remains. You know, if Asimov were still alive and doing appearances on TV, it would give the chat show host an easy way to get the audience to cheer as he walks on stage. Really, what I actually think is important in the original Foundation trilogy’s legacy is the spirit behind the stories and where we might find that spirit today.
Where to find Foundation Today
In many ways, you could say that the Foundation trilogy was of its time. Indeed, the new wave of science fiction that followed on from what we know of as the golden age firmly relegated it to the past, an era that could best be identified by its unwavering dedication to science. Foundation is a bible of sorts for that era, a text in which a renowned intellectual utilised the fields of sociology and mathematics to engineer a utopian future that was all but assured. During the period it was written, Asimov had seen the rise of fascism and the power of the angry mob, and whether it was in reaction to the events of his time or not, the antidote he put forward in Foundation was simply to better control that mob. In addition, he actually managed to anticipate a post World War II scenario, albeit one with a much more optimistic spin than the kind of paranoid dread that would truly characterise the latter half of the twentieth century. Many times over in the stories, the precarious balance of power that exists between rival states is confidently maintained through the use of nuclear weaponry, free of any fear over who has their finger on the button, and, what’s more, the entire Seldon plan, we discover, is overseen by an elite group of psychologists, though they’re always portrayed as benevolent custodians rather than as a shady kind of new world order that we might imagine today. All of this is to say, beyond the more literary oriented wave of science fiction that came along, there have been plenty of real-world reasons for why readers might have begun to feel Asimov’s books were hopelessly naive. For starters, the cold war obviously demonstrated the horror of living in a world policed by nuclear weapons. Psychology and psychiatry too experienced a fall from grace, in part because of books like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest, but also because of the very real mistakes their practitioners committed over the years. To be clear, I have no doubt that the majority of doctors and counsellors help more people than they harm, but when you hear stories like that of Walter Freeman, a neurologist who gave John F. Kennedy’s sister a lobotomy that left her with severe mental and physical disabilities, you can understand why people began to distrust the so-called experts of the mind. To the regular person on the street, science itself even started to feel a little out of reach, with the more well-known discoveries across its numerous fields being those of quantum physics, in which the likes of Schrödinger’s cat is less intuitive to understand than the idea that the arrangement of planets at the time of your birth can define your personality for remainder of your life. When put like this, it can seem like a pretty sad state of affairs, but as naive as Asimov’s Foundation can appear to modern eyes, I think it’s still where the solution is to be found.
Today, for all the problems you can list, science certainly isn’t short of fans. In politics, public figures express their faith in it as a shortcut to backing up the logic of their policies, while in popular culture, NASA probably sells as many t-shirts as your favourite football team. In point of fact, science itself has become a bit of a brand that people can attach themselves to. For the most part, this can just come off as a little superficial, but in some instances it’s become a bit of a problem because by the nature of it being a brand, many other people have begun to detest it simply because it’s become the uniform of the other side. I won’t go too far down that rabbit hole, because really, if you’ve made it this far I’m probably preaching to the choir. But I do think the superficial aspect of it is often the main way bigger science-fiction franchises have engaged with the science part of the genre over the past few years. The reality is, it’s a lot easier for a filmmaker to have their character literally shout out, “Science rules!”’ than it is to actually give an example of why. And when the filmmakers do attempt to elicit some interest in the science of the subject, it’s often by means of a bombastic soundtrack, an incredibly expensive special effects sequence, and loosely related emotional thread that evokes more a feeling of religious awe than any curiosity to investigate a scientific field. Now, for fear of looking like too much of a curmudgeon, I’ll just point out that I do like most of the movies I’ve poached clips from for this section of the video. It’s just that they mostly lack a certain kind of procedural storytelling that you’d more often associate with science-fiction that came out of the so-called golden age and that the lack of that kind of storytelling in contemporary entertainment is doing the world a disservice.
For example, in the original Foundation trilogy, while the science that allows Hari Seldon to predict the future is entirely fictional, what’s crucial is that we see him present his ideas, discuss them and argue their merits. Further to this, every obstacle that pops up throughout Foundation is overcome with a strict dedication to critical thinking and a reluctance to engage in any violence. Correspondingly, it’s the actual demonstration of this methodical kind of thought that is the sagas main draw. Rarely is it a case of some dashing hero having a sudden epiphany, emotional or otherwise, that leads to a crisis being resolved, and in cases where it is a sudden act that turns the tables, we’re almost definitely treated to a monologue in which the characters discuss every step that led to them undertaking such a bold move. Most importantly, though the subject matter of the original Foundation trilogy can be said to stretch into the realm of fantasy, the actions of the characters always read as logical and justifiable, not just as the result of an author attempting to make you keep turning the page. In this way, Foundation doesn’t make its claim as a science fiction masterpiece just by merit of it being a compelling story that happens to involve spaceships and psychic powers. It’s also in its demonstration of scientific thinking in practice, an actual example of the principles that its heroes purport to represent.
Whatever else there is to say about science fiction’s purpose in a perpetually evolving world, I think there’s a genuine benefit in creating stories that showcase the scientific method because it can act as a lesson in how science can be applied to both the practical and existential problems we face, rather than just as token word in which we’re asked to place our faith.
In the Foundation saga’s lineage of successors, Dune and Star Wars certainly borrowed some of their more interesting ideas, but it’s in other sources that the spirit of its critical thinking can be found. To begin with, in terms of entertaining stories told with a degree of scientific rigour, you could count the likes of Larry Niven, Robert L. Forward, and Liu Cixin as authors who continued to uphold the same ideals, but I suppose they’re more descendants of the golden age in general rather than of the original Foundation trilogy itself. So, in terms of a bigger name that has many direct parallels with the series, I’d point to Star Trek as having been influenced by Foundation in both content and tone.
Funnily enough, Isaac Asimov originally skewered the Star Trek TV series when it first aired, but after an exchange of letters with its creator, Gene Roddenbery, he was willing to concede that any issues he had with the show could basically be put down to the constraints of a producing the episodes on a weekly television schedule. As it happens, Asimov ended up becoming good friends with Roddenbery and would even go on to serve as an advisor on Star Trek: The Motion Picture the last part of the franchise Roddenbery would exert any creative control over until he produced Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show which showcased a particular interest in portraying the methods of scientific investigation as well as a commitment to non-violent discourse as a means of settling political disputes. Most of all, that utopian dream that Asimov first engaged with when he joined the Futurian Science Fiction Fan Club way back in 1938 and illustrated over the course of his Foundation saga, found a mirror for itself in Roddenbery’s United Federation of Planets, a society in which the application of science helps to create a more unified, egalitarian world, and where intelligence is always the coolest trait a character could have. Still, while the initial run of Star Trek: The Next Generation might feel like yesterday to me, reality insists it’s been thirty years since it originally aired, and whatever seeds Asimov helped to plant in the franchise back then have long since blossomed, wilted and died.
I do think there’s hope though, in that, while direct descendants of the original Foundation trilogy might be in short supply, the procedural thinking that its stories were built around do still manage to capture the public’s imagination on occasion. The Martian by Andy Weir, for one, was a phenomenally popular book to screen adaptation that essentially consisted of a series of episodes in which your Dad uses his DIY knowledge to solve a whole host of scientific problems that see him relegated to Mars. So, if it isn’t that there isn’t a taste for this kind of science fiction among the general public, maybe it’s more that there aren’t a lot of money men willing to either promote authors who’ll write it or produce movies that take it on. A type of storytelling that once defined an era but is now just one part of an enormous spectrum of science fiction that we enjoy today. Maybe it’s only a case of the Foundation saga having evaporated, it’s ideas now just floating around until somebody decides to pluck one out of the air. Still though, it’s hard not to hear Asimov’s voice gently warning us that the current state of the world is not ideal. As Hari Seldon once said, the Empire is in decay.
I’d like to end this episode by pointing out that however you feel about where science fiction evolved to after the original Foundation trilogy, I think it’s something we can return to now, not just as an artefact from another era, but as a saga that reads just as vibrant and alive as when it was first published. When I pick up a Foundation book these days, though I find my interest perked if I see a particular element that’s been borrowed by subsequent authors, it’s still the relevance of the plot and superbly accomplished craft of its prose that makes it just as much of a compulsive page-turner for me as it probably was for the people who anxiously awaited the next issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine to hit the stands. I’ve talked about more of this in my other two videos of the series. In one, you’ll find a rundown of the story details as well as my actual review of the books. While in the other you can find an analysis and critique of Asimov’s actual writing style. Links to those episodes are appearing on screen now and are pinned in the comments below. I’d try to persuade you to watch them one after the other, but any influence this video will surely just have to reveal itself in due time.
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Another Earth (2011)
Bridge of Spies (2015)
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Enders Game (2013)
Flash Gordan (1936)
Hidden Fortress (1958)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Legend of Galactic Heroes – My Conquest is The Sea of Stars (1988)
Legend of Galactic Heroes – Overture to a New War (1993)
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Starsky and Hutch (1975-1979)
Star Trek (1966-1969)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
Star Trek: Voyager (1994-2001)
Star Trek: Discovery (2017-?)
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The Searchers (1956)
The Thing (1982)
The Tree of Life (2011)
The Martian (2015)
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
What Dreams May Come (1998)