Thursday, January 17, 2008

Prelude to Foundation

Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov is a prequel to Foundation. (Foundation was originally published in 1951. Prelude to Foundation was published in 1988.) It is VERY different than the original novel. Foundation, if you recall, is composed of five segments. Each one separate, distinct. The story--the plot--is loosely woven together. The main theme could be construed to be one of ambition. Various individuals separated by time and often place are very thirsty and hungry for power. All use manipulative tactics to advance their cause--the cause to be #1 and to boss everyone around. But Prelude to Foundation is set on one planet, and follows primarily the life of one man for a handful of months. (If I had to guess, I'd say more than three but less than twelve.) And Prelude to Foundation does have a very similar theme. It too is all about ambitions, agendas, and propaganda.

You might be thinking, BUT WHAT IS IT ABOUT???? Prelude to Foundation is the story of Hari Seldon. A young man who finds his world turned upside down after giving a speech--reading his research paper--at a mathematical convention. His topic? Psychohistory. Suddenly, Seldon finds himself a hot commodity. Power-hungry people seem determined to use him, to use his supposed theory as a propaganda machine for their own agendas. Seldon is convinced throughout seven-eighths of the novel that the theory of psychohistory is impossible. While it might theoretically be possible to to decipher the ins and outs of the philosophy, the science. It is just that a theory that hasn't been proven. And a theory that is unlikely to be proven since it is so complex, so headache-causing that even the supposed inventor of this theory can't understand or explain what exactly he means by the concept. Seldon doesn't want to deal with this "theory" in the practical. It boggles his mind that others are so determined to make him apply it politically, socially, economically. This one little research paper has him on the run for his life. Okay, life might be an exaggeration. No one is out to kill him--for the most part--they just want to trap him, use him, keep him under their control. (Which one could argue would seriously hinder his "living" life at all.) Of course, this isn't Hari Seldon's story alone. There are many, many characters. Many, many plot twists. Many things that make this novel complex.

If I had to compare the two novels, Foundation and Prelude to Foundation, this is what I would say. Foundation is like eating a wonderful, delicious meal. You leave the table feeling full and satisfied. You enjoyed every bite. It was an experience. Something to be savored. For me, Prelude to Foundation loses some of the magic. It wasn't like eating a wonderful meal. It is like you're held captive while someone describes to you the minute details of what it took to prepare that meal. The preparations. The recipes. The nutritional value of each dish. The reasonings behind exact serving sizes and garnishes. The how-to's of elaborate table settings. It is a thicker, heavier, weightier read. Very detailed. Prone to lessons and lectures in some places. It gets bogged down in the whys. In some ways it is a less satisfying read. Of course, this is all subjective.

Since it is a prelude, it is now listed as "first" in the series. I think this might just be a mistake. Of course, I can't unread Foundation to fairly evaluate Prelude to Foundation. But in all honesty, if I read Prelude to Foundation first, I'm not sure I'd bother to go on with the series. If I did, I certainly wouldn't be in any hurry or rush to do so. Prelude to Foundation was boring in places, while Foundation had me spellbound the whole way through.

Forward the Foundation is another prequel. It also goes "before" the original novel Foundation.


Kim L said...

Yeah I'd have to agree with you. I think part of the thing is that Asimov is a much better writer of short stories than full length novels. Most novels by him I've set down without bothering to finish.

What did you think of the ending where Hari Seldon learned the true identity of Chetter Hummin?

Becky said...

I was surprised to say the least by the two twists to his identity. One surprised me a bit more than the other. I thought or had glimmers of thoughts that he wasn't quite telling the truth about who he was and why he wanted to help. And I was a bit suspicious that he was just so conveniently able to save Seldon each and every time he got into trouble. But the second twist did surprise me. The twist with Dors not so much. I *knew* something had to be up with her.