Now that my Wheel of Time reading challenge is over, I’m moving on to my next goal: NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books. I’ve already read 19 of the books and started five of the fantasy series, but most of what I’ve read falls into the fantasy category. In an attempt to get back into sci-fi, I bought the first three books of The Foundation Novels by Isaac Asimov. Apparently I’m a terrible reader for never having read (or honestly, even heard of) Asimov, so I eagerly picked up Foundation when it arrived.
From what I’ve been told and experienced, there is one main difference between science fiction and fantasy: science fiction is world centered, while fantasy is character centered. What this means is that a sci-fi author will spend most of his or her time describing the world and the way it works, at the expense of a strongly developed character. A fantasy author may have wonderful back story for every character, but the world they live in won’t be very important. Of course there are exceptions to this very vague rule, but Foundation falls firmly into the “world-centered sci-fi” category.
At its core, Foundation is about how humanity has doomed the world to a terrible downfall. Planets are rebelling, culture is deteriorating, and science can no longer keep up with the needs of the population. To save humanity (or at least make the decline into a barbarian-type world less painful), Hari Seldon has created a plan–send a group of scientists to a remote planet to write a great scientific encyclopedia for future generations to learn from. From here, the entire book follows the adventures of that scientific community. It skips generations and several characters disappear between sections (an example of not being character driven), but they are working to preserve human knowledge at any cost.
In this scientific community, called The Foundation, Asimov has placed high importance on nuclear power. The planet they settle on has few natural resources, but they have a better knowledge of nuclear power than the neighboring militaristic planets. To prevent an attack, the Foundation creates a mystical religion surrounding nuclear power that only they can teach. While individual characters are torn on how good maintaining this religion is, they all ultimately support anything the Foundation tells them is right. Scientific evolution is the most important thing to these characters, and they will do anything to ensure the human race doesn’t completely descend into chaos.
I’m really not sure where this series is going. In the first book two main and important characters have already been killed off or forgotten, and it is hard for me to connect to the story when characters aren’t developed. But the ideas in this book are different from anything else I’ve read, and I know that getting into science fiction will challenge my reading habits. I’m going to finish this series, and hopefully I can be convinced that a world focus over characters makes for a good story.