A review of Isaac Asimovs legendary series.

Imagine you are born in the first years of Soviet Russia. At only three years old, you escape the horror and bloodshed of early empire via a gruelling trip to the USA. Your Jewish parents never teach you Russian, and you grow up working at their news stand while the great depression ravishes the country. You read a lot of sci-fi and study arduously, but before you hit the legal drinking age – the world goes to war. You complete your master's degree in chemistry in 1941 and find yourself working at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. Would you not feel overwhelmingly powerless to change this morbid, violent and negligent world you were born into?

Isaac Asimov's coping mechanism was to write sci-fi. In 1941, during a conversation with his editor, he came up with "psychohistory" - a fictional science predicting large group behaviour using history, sociology, and math stats. The first short story was published in Astounding Science-Fiction magazine in May 1942 and, in a span of a decade, became the Foundation Series, which received a special Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966.

It's not easy to judge sci-fi that is set fifty millennia in the future on the merit of its predictions accuracy. Yet, it acts as a beautiful lacmus test on the state of society when it was written. Who at the height of WW2 would not want a series about a genius scientist who predicts the fall of an Empire and produces an infallible plan to guide all of humanity through it with minimal damage and in the shortest amount of time possible?

What's fascinating is the change in the author's toolset with the war's course. In his first short story, Isaac's hero is faced with a blind bureaucratic apparatus of his weak world that does not recognise and is incapable of dealing with an impending crisis. He then proceeds to solve it purely through diplomacy. Closer to the war's end, the following crises were averted by utilising technological dominance and economic relations. In the early post-war days, Isaac writes about a new kind of omnipotent enemy that could not be predicted and stopped by his world's rulers. He introduces a clandestine operation working quietly in the shadows to alter the enemy's mind, thus guaranteeing his world's dominance.

Isaac returned to his Foundation Series three decades later, in the early eighties. It became much more nuanced in it's assessment, finding many flows in the course of "the good guys", offering significant critique to those who control minds with pure intentions and coming up with a novel "shared consciousness" vision of a peaceful future that seemed like a good idea yet clearly troubled him.

Do writers like Isaac possess an otherworldly sensitivity to recognise the path of their society, or do they imprint their vision on the world that can not help but follow in their wake? And are we coming closer to the peak uncertainty of the past century now that Isaac's story finally made it to our screens after three decades of failed attempts by major film studios who spent millions on development and had nothing to show for it?


Little of this will make sense if you watch the TV series and not read the book, as the storyline has been changed beyond recognition. It is a great TV series, but I recommend reading Isaac's books, too – they are very different.

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#book review#isaac asimov