Sunday, February 11, 2007

Classics of the genre, pt. 1

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was one of science fiction's brightest stars. Even though the genre had been created in the early 19th century (most enduringly by Shelley's Frankenstein), it took until the late 1930s for a broad spectrum of writers to really explore the spatial and temporal boundaries of the imagination. Asimov penned some of the most influential stories in sci-fi, centering around two separate series of novels and short stories, both set in the distant future: the Foundation series, and his writings on Robots.
The Foundation series revolves around the concept of "psychohistory", the fictional science of predicting the future through a rigorous mathematical analysis of social forces. (Indeed, the initial hero of the series, which spans hundreds of years, is a mathematician.) The protagonists struggle to prevent the imminent collapse of the vast and peaceful interstellar empire into a foreseen chaos, or at least to shorten the period and intensity of barbarism. The series focuses on a number of central figures in times of psychohistorical crisis, where events threaten to diverge from the calculated course of history. If all of this sounds a bit too philosophical or dry, be assured that Asimov's flair for characterization and succinct writing style allow the human side of these stories to shine through. The Foundation stories are all about people who care deeply about the welfare of others known and unknown, born and unborn yet.
Next up: Robots!
Books in the Foundation series found at GPL:

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