Asimov’s Foundation: A Critical Review Essay, Research Paper
In what became the first of many of what became the “Foundation Novels”, Isaac Asimov, through his invented science of psychohistory as well as his clever characterizations, projects his theory stating, basically, that the future historical events will be nothing more than reenactments of those past. The basic plot of Foundation is how due to the predicted end of the just rule of the Galactic Empire, and to minimize the barbarism to follow, an intellectually elitist colony to preserve knowledge is formed and must stand without weapons or resources other than their ingenuity to form the Second Galactic Empire. This interpretation of Asimov’s internal meaning is supported by numerous quotes from the book itself, most by the book’s hero and, despite the fact that he is dead for much of the book, main character, Hari Seldon. In the book, his image appears at intervals to speak to the future generations of his Foundation as they are faced with crises. Specific examples of this theory will follow. One example of Asimov’s message of the repetitive nature of history is in the central idea of the story itself. The way the future galaxy was to be saved from the barbarism by way of the preservation of knowledge is an indisputable parallel to the Earth’s own period known as the renaissance. As our history goes, the renaissance, or the enlightenment, was the beginning of the triumph of the Greco-Roman scientific perspective on life over the Medieval Judeo-Christian perspective. This transformation from the dark ages to a better world by way of science on Earth is precisely the goal of the Foundation on the galactic scale. A second example of the correlation between modern history and that of the predictions in Foundation can be found in the way the fledgling Foundation outmaneuvers its more aggressive and militarily powerful enemies. Previous to the “Second Seldon Crisis” as it is called, an advanced network of priests and high priests possessing power that, to the barbarians they are controlling, seems God-like. This power, nuclear power, is merely the utilization of the combination of their own scientific knowledge and their enemy’s lack thereof. For example, nuclear medicine, known to the barbarians as “Holy Food”, was carefully controlled by the priests who were conveniently trained to believe not only that this (in their timeframe) simple technique was mystical, but that the Foundation was actually the religious center of the Galaxy and under the protection of the “Galactic Spirit”. This, as in history, demonstrates the ability to control lesser minds by more capable minds by using the beliefs and fears of the lesser minds. In the past, during the Dark Ages, this technique was used in attempts by the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope, to gain political power through religion.
In addition, the third and final “Seldon Crisis” has its own precedent set in our history. The final crisis involves trade and its use to gain power over those who may have more physical power, yet become dependent for other resources and thus incapable of attack. This is found in nearly all of civilizations past, including but not limited to the Greeks, Romans, Byzantinians, and the United States in the present. Contrasting opinions to this theory exist, in quite exasperating numbers in fact, however no supporting arguments could be found. One theory states that Asimov’s writing style reflects that of what the theory calls “action-phobic”, which states “Asimov’s tendency to resolve the action offstage and have the main character sum it up for readers over a leisurely cigar.” (#2, 1997) Additionally, one critic (#3, 1995) writes:..but the bulk of the book is little more than an uninteresting travelogue with exactly the same structure as Foundation’s Edge and even less substance. In fact, there’s nothing in the first couple hundred pages that really has anything to do with the resolution itself, and you could easily graft the final 20 pages onto pretty much any other book you wanted. Who displays an obvious criticism of the writing style of Asimov, who tends to shift timeframes without warning, sometimes over a time-span of centuries with no hint to the reader until it comes up in context later, at which point the entire perspective of the preceding portions must be changed. However, such an argument is based on little fact and therefore virtually unsupportable. In conclusion, the basis of Foundation is drawn from none other than the history of Earth, primarily surrounding the Dark Ages and the following Renaissance. This theory is supported by the overview of the plot (the intellectual enlightenment from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance), the use of nuclear power under the clout of religion (the political power struggle waged by the Pope using religious overtones), and the use of economic might to subdue military strength. All of these parallels between Asimov’s predictions of future sociological problems and their solutions and those past support this theorem.