Isaac Asimov
Foundation Cover



"There were nearly twenty-five million inhabited planets in the Galaxy then, and not one but owed allegiance to the Empire whose seat was on Trantor. It was the last half-century in which that could be said."

Isaac Asimov's Foundation series is magnificently ambitious, inspired as it was by Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but painted on a galactic canvas. After twelve thousand years in the stars, the human Galactic Empire is on the decline, and the psychohistorian Hari Seldon may be the only person who can prevent tens of thousands of years of barbarism and social decay. What's psychohistory, you ask? It's a science that Asimov invented solely for use in this series, one that merges psychology, history and mathematics to predict human behavior on a large scale over long periods of time.

Seldon paints a bleak picture of the coming imperial collapse: "The Empire will vanish and all its good with it. Its accumulated knowledge will decay and the order it has imposed will vanish. Interstellar wars will be endless; interstellar trade will decay; population will decline; worlds will lose touch with the main body of the Galaxy. And so matters will remain…. The dark ages to come will endure not twelve, but thirty thousand years." This collapse, Seldon says, cannot be prevented, but its effects can be minimized and its length shortened to a mere one thousand years.

His solution is to set up two Foundations, colonies where the collected knowledge and science of mankind is preserved and protected, one on each end of the galaxy. The Foundation established on the planet Terminus is the one followed by the narrative, and it has no contact with the other. Every few decades a "Seldon Crisis"—an event of massive social upheaval—occurs in a way predicted by Seldon, and Terminus acts how Seldon needed them to act in order to maintain his plan.

One of the most difficult subjects for me as a young adult was history, particularly because it was so hard to find meaningful patterns in the larger scope of world events. It's not hard to poke holes in Gibbon's theories of history, but he certainly provided a rousing narrative that made sense of many historical data. Asimov likewise provides a narrative spanning centuries (actually, twenty thousand years if you include the entire expanded series), and while his ideas of how historical movements occur are perhaps a bit on the naïve side, they are full of enough imagination to make even the most skeptical student believe that history might not be so boring after all.