My Review of Forward The Foundation

Forward the Foundation (Foundation: Prequel, #2)

Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the last of Asimov’s Foundation series, and was published posthumously. One suspects Asimov was feeling the effects of his age, since this novel (more a group of novellas, really) show Seldon growing older and gradually losing everyone in his life he cares about His “wife”, Dors Venabili, is destroyed, his adopted son Raych is killed, his collaborator Yugo Amaryl dies in middle age from overwork…all in all pretty bleak. But it brings everything around again. In the first book, Foundation, we see Seldon as a very old and feeble man confined to a wheelchair, and in this volume we see how he got to that point. But this novel does show how they set up the Foundation, and the Second Foundation, with the idea that the Foundation would focus on the physical sciences, and the Second Foundation would focus on the mental sciences.

I now have this as part of a 7-book set of all of Asimov’s Foundation novels in e-book form.



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My Review of Prelude to Foundation

Prelude to Foundation (Foundation, #1)

Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is the 6th book in order of publication, but the first in terms of internal chronology, and I think a return to form after two weaker novels in the series. Asimov took the story forward in Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth, but kind of wrote himself into a corner where he could not see any way forward. So he decided to go back and look at how it all began. A young mathematician named Hari Seldon presents a paper at a conference, and then is called to see the Emporer himself. The Emperor believes that Seldon can predict the future, and wants to take advantage of that power. Seldon protests that he can do no such thing, that he only showed that there would be a theoretical possibility that some day people might be able to see something of the broad sweep of future history. Then Seldon is attacked, and put to flight. As he travels through various parts of Trantor he starts to get some hints of how to advance his work, and by the end he may have enough to get started. The look at the various aspects of Trantor’s society is fascinating because it is a microcosm of the galaxy with all of the various societies it contains.

I now have this as part of a 7-book set of all of Asimov’s Foundation novels in e-book form.



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My Review of Foundation and Earth

Foundation and Earth (Foundation, #5)

Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the fifth volume in order of publication, and continues the story from Foundation’s Edge. Trevize made his decision, but is uneasy because he does not know why he made the decision he made. He decided he needs to go looking for more. And his traveling companion, Janov Pelorat, is an historian who is interested in the mythology about a “planet of origin” called Earth, and wants to look for it. So they go off in search of it. As they look at old legends, they start finding very old planets, and it turns out Asimov has merged the Foundation universe with his Robot universe. The planets they find, at least at first, are a couple of the old spacer worlds: Aurora, and Solaria. Eventually they find Earth, but is radioactive. This was first introduced in Pebble in the Sky, then explained in Robots and Empire. Then they notice the Moon, which is unusually large, and investigate, where they find R. Daneel Olivaw, who has been manipulating everything for the last 30 millennia. After this Asimov could not think of anywhere to go with this story, so he did a couple of “prequel” books.

I now have this as part of a 7-book set of all of Asimov’s Foundation novels in e-book form.



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My Review of Foundation’s Edge

Foundation's Edge (Foundation, #4)

Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


After a long break, Asimov was persuaded to return to the Foundation series and tell some more stories. The initial result was this volume, followed by three more the expanded the story. By now, instead of short stories or novellas, as the previous stories were, Asimov is writing novels, so this is one single novel. The basic idea starts out with a troublesome young man named Golan Trevize, who manages to piss off the ruler of The Foundation, the Mayor of Terminus, Harla Branno. Trevize believes that the Second Foundation still exists, but his attempts to force the issue in the Council get him exiled and sent to look for it, a convenient way to get him out of the way. Simultaneously, another plot thread involves the Second Foundation. This is the weakest part of the novel, in my view, since people with supposedly advanced mentality should not be acting like insecure teenagers. Then a third actor is revealed, a planetary gestalt called Gaia, and it turns out they have been manipulating everything. They think making the Galaxy a larger version of their planetary gestalt would be a far better thing than the Seldon plan, but they refuse to make this decision themselves. They have selected Trevize to make the decision because he has the gift of making the right decision somehow. That is why they got him exiled from The Foundation and brought him to Gaia. In the climax, the Foundation, the Second Foundation, and Gaia, wait to see which way he will go.

I now have this as part of a 7-book set of all of Asimov’s Foundation novels in e-book form.



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My Review of Second Foundation

Second Foundation (Foundation, #3)

Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is the third of Asimov’s Foundation novels, and the last of the original Trilogy. After this he left the Foundation alone for many years. This volume picks up where the previous one left off. The Mule was thwarted when Bayta Darell killed Ebling Mis, thus preventing The Mule from learning the location of the Second Foundation. But The Mule could not be secure if the Second Foundation was out there, so he mounts a search, using whatever clues he can find. One of those clues was Star’s End, and that leads him to a star system called Tazenda, which might be a corruption of Star’s End. It looks deceptively rural and unassuming, but if a group is hiding itself it might do just that. The Mule goes there, but is met by someone from the Second Foundation, and it turns out this person also has unusual mental powers, strong enough to overcome The Mule. A little psychic surgery and the galaxy is safe.

But now the Foundation is aware of the Second Foundation, and that is causing problems. This knowledge is making them act in the wrong ways. Instead of relying on themselves, which Seldon’s plan requires, they are now expecting the magical Second Foundation to bail them out of any problem. A group of Foundationers want to find and eliminate the Second Foundation, and they mount a search themselves. The grand-daughter of Bayta Darrell, Arkady Darrell, gets involved in things, and flees to Trantor in the company of a nice trader. In the end, the Foundationers are successfully convinced that they have found and eliminated the Second Foundation, but they haven’t. Because it is not where they think it is. So Seldon’s plan is safe – for now.

I now have this as part of a 7-book set of all of Asimov’s Foundation novels in e-book form.



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My Review of Foundation and Empire

Foundation and Empire (Foundation, #2)

Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is the second volume of the Foundation series, and now Asimov gets to address an interesting problem, which is what happens if the Empire ever takes notice of the growing power of the Foundation and decides to “take it back”. So he has a General Bel Riose travel out that way to investigate what is going on. Again, this is a direct life from history. For “Bel Riose”, read “Belisarius”, the Byzantine general who attempted to bring back the lands of the Western empire under the rule of the remaining empire in Constantinople. But the dynamics of imperial politics get in the way. Any general who is successful automatically becomes suspect of maybe wanting the imperial throne for themselves. This too is something observed in the end days of the Western Roman Empire, where some of Rome’s best generals were executed by the Emperor because of suspicions. (And to be fair, successful generals very often did “aim for the purple”). So, while the Foundation was losing the battles to the superior forces of the Empire, in the end they prevailed, as psychohistory predicted. The ‘dead hand of Hari Seldon” decided the outcome.

But now Asimov had a problem. If the Foundation absolutely could not lose because of Seldon’s psychohistory, you have no more stories. Stories require conflict, and how can you have conflict when the outcome is pre-ordained? Asimov solves this brilliantly with the introduction of a mutant, called The Mule, who could never be predicted by psychohistory. And The Mule has some kind of psychic powers what let him take over everything, including the Foundation, virtually without firing a shot. So now there is real conflict. Can Seldon’s plan be salvaged in any way? Well, there were obscure references by Seldon to a Second Foundation, located at the other end of the galaxy, where “Stars End”. So a search is mounted. Fortunately, The Mule is prevented from finding this Second Foundation.

I now have this as part of a 7-book set of all of Asimov’s Foundation novels in e-book form.



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My Review of Foundation

Foundation (Foundation, #1)

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Foundation was the beginning of what became the best series of all time, according to the Hugo awards, voted on by SF fans. Asimov was a young writer selling stories to John W. Campbell, and one day he needed to come up with a story idea for his next conference. Fortunately, he had been reading Edward Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and that gave him the idea for some stories about the fall of the Galactic Empire. When you consider that Campbell was editor of Astounding Magazine you can see why this book is less a novel than a collected series of short stories (with the introductory scenes on Trantor added when they were collected into book form). Asimov had the idea that there might someday be a science of “psychohistory”, which he described as the statistical treatment of large numbers of people. Individual actions could never be predicted, he postulated, but with enough people (e.g. the trillions of the Empire) he thought it might work. He used the analogy of the “kinetic theory of gasses” to explain this, since no individual molecule could be predicted, but in the aggregate the gasses would follow the laws of physics.

Along the way he comes up with a lot of interesting ideas. One thing I found fascinating is that he places the Foundation on Terminus, a planet chosen because it lacked virtually any natural resources, thus forcing it to master miniaturization and engage in trade with other systems around it. This is not a bad description of Japan when you think about it. Japan has to import virtually everything of resources, and was notable for miniaturizing in the 1960s and 1970s, such as transistor radios. But interesting ideas pop up all over with Asimov.

I now have this as part of a 7-book set of all of Asimov’s Foundation novels in e-book form.



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My Review of The Real Frank Zappa Book

The Real Frank Zappa Book

The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I am a big fan of Frank Zappa as a composer, so I was looking forward to this book, but it ended up being a disappointment. The first part is autobiography, and I enjoyed that bit. It was interesting to know how he got into music, and how he hooked up with the variety of characters he made music with. But then the book became simply a long diatribe of his opinions on a variety of topics. Some of them you may agree with, but some of them are just stupid (like his claim that smoking cigarettes is just fine for your health). Ultimately, this is a book I won’t keep. It is going to the donate pile, which is what I do with physical books I don’t plan to devote space to. My local library can sell them and raise a little cash that way.



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My Review of The Mother Tongue

The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way

The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way by Bill Bryson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was my “read on the plane” book for our trip to Europe, and I rather enjoyed it. I am not at all certain that everything he said is accurate, but I generally enjoy Bryson’s writing, and I was not looking for a scholarly dissertation on linguistics anyway. So as long as you know that it is a discursive and have the right expectations you might enjoy this as well.



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My Review of Revolt of the Galaxy

Revolt of the Galaxy (Family d'Alembert, #10)

Revolt of the Galaxy by E.E. “Doc” Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the final novel in a 10 novel series which was mostly written by Stephen Goldin. Doc Smith wrote a novella called Imperial Stars which Goldin expanded into the first novel, and then Goldin wrote another 9 novels in a long story arc. But Smith is the famous one, so his name appears in large letters everywhere and Goldin is barely mentioned.

The setting is a universe where a Russian Feudal system has somehow become the dominant mode of government and of the language, so we see Russian words sprinkled throughout the conversations. Humanity has spread to a number of planets with varying characteristics. One of these is DesPlaines, a high gravity planet whose inhabitants have adapted by becoming shorter and stockier, and which has developed a unique attraction, The Circus of the Galaxy. What people don’t know is that this circus is also a key part of the secret service SOTE, the Service Of The Empire. This allows for an interesting twist for space opera, a series where the heroes do not have secret weapons or super powers, merely acrobatic training.

We finally find out what is behind the conspiracy, and who is behind Lady A. And at long last they will be defeated and the Empire made safe for the Empress Edna. But at what cost? The Empire is very nearly destroyed in the attempt. The book is fast-paced and a good combination of space opera with spy thriller. But since this a 10-novel story arc, each novel builds on what went before, so do not read them out of order.



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