Prelude to Foundation
By Isaac Asimov
Published by Books on Tape
Read by Larry A. McKeever
Asimov’s Foundation Series has been called the most important science fiction series of all time. Maybe it is. Certainly I can think of few collected works that have been as influential on the SF genre as this one has been, although I think his Robot series may have been even more influential. Ever since Isaac Asimov formulated his “Three Laws of Robotics” they have been quoted and used in science fiction stories written by other authors both within Asimov’s universe and in their own. I have even observed movies and TV series in which the Three Laws are referenced as though they were more than Dr. Asimov’s fictional creation, as though they were firmly coded into real world robots… BTW, anyone who has watched shows like Robot Wars (I not sure we should really call Radio-controlled destruction machines robots, but then no one asked me) ought to understand that is not the case, but the Three Laws are still firmly entrenched.
However, if one considers that the Robot series takes place in the same universe as the Foundation Series, albeit much earlier, then perhaps the assertion stands since it all comes together in the Foundation Series both by Asimov, himself and authors who have ventured to write stories set in his future history after his passing.
When I was a teenager (sometime during the Paleolithic Age) the Foundation was a classic trilogy of Science Fiction. It did not encompass the entire one thousand-year interval between the First and Second Empires, which was implied by the first book of the series, Foundation, but over the course of the series, the premise of foreseeing the future course of events through the science of “Psychohistory” (not to be confused with the real world study of the psychological motivations of historical events.). Asimov’s Psychohistory is a combination of History, Sociology and Mathematics which can be used to predict future events on the large scale – it cannot be used to predict the actions of a single individual. In Prelude Asimov retcons the term a bit, with his character Hari Seldon, admitting that it ought to have been called “Psychosociology,” but since the later-occurring stories had already used “Psychohistory” Asimov was stuck with the term and instead had Selden saying that “Psychohistory” sounded better. I cannot say I completely agree, but it really is too late to correct that now.
There was a very long interval before Asimov started to revisit his earlier series connecting them, where possible to each other via new novels, but when he did, it was probably inevitable that he would pick up the Foundation Series where it left off. In the original series, Hari Selden establishes the Foundation to provide a seed of civilization from which the next Empire would grow a thousand years after the imminent fall of the First Empire. The first three books, which were a collection of earlier stories, cover the establishment of the Foundation and Selden’s accurate prediction of the first few major future events, but then something goes dreadfully wrong when an individual conqueror called “The Mule” comes along and starts destroying Selden’s plan. Finally, the course of future events are guided back on track by the end of the third book, but there really was still more to be told. In all, Asimov only got 500 years into that period, but while there is always room for more stories, he left it at a point from which we can imagine everything went according to the revised plan,
However, he also felt the need to write a prequel to the original Foundation Trilogy and this is the first book of that in which a much younger Hari Selden come to, the Imperial capital world, Trantor, to talk about his not-yet developed theory of Psychohistory at a mathematical conference, which in turn leads into a series of adventures and misadventures.
I must admit that since we know Selden ends up on Trantor in time for Foundation it seems unlikely he would be “Getting the hell out of Dodge” (so to speak) during this story, but that probably would have been his wisest course of action. So, much of the time I kept wondering why he even let himself get led time after time into needless danger. Indeed, the incredibly intelligent Selden comes off as more hapless than Pauline (of “The Perils of Pauline”) and his logic, while impeccable in mathematical studies seems lacking on the personal level, (NB: just how that happens gets explained later so I won’t spoil it now).
I also had some problems with some of the details, but most of all with the final confrontation with Chetter Hummin (whose name obviously sounded like Cheesy Human and I guessed had to be our old friend R. Daneel Olivaw, the robot with mind-control powers for Deus ex machina fun, since I already knew he was still around after twenty millenia) when Hari Seldon having learned that robots had once existed and that two of the eight hundred cultures on Trantor had legends of a robot indistinguishable from humans concluded that Hummin had to be that one and that his guardian, Dors Venabili, was another (maybe?). There really was no proof other than old stories that such even existed and I found it rather annoying that Hummin then admits that he is the one of legend because Seldon’s logic was indisputable. The problem is that Seldon had no real proof, just old stories that even if true did not point in any way toward Hummin. Oh well…
However, despite that, it is a pretty good story even if it seems Asimov was grasping for connections just a little too far to keep from stumbling once or twice. Even with those fumbles, however, it’s a better story than many authors have managed to cobble together, though I cannot but help think it might have been better had Daneel not been revealed at this point in the series since readers of Asimov’s works would have already known this from the previously written (albeit chronologically later) Foundation and Earth.
I think the most easily found recording of this book must be the one from Audible, read by Scott Brick, and I’ve read some good reviews of his reading, but I can say with full confidence that Larry McKeever does an excellent job of reading as well. Mister McKeever, modulates his voice professionally to make each character stand out from the others without any of them sounding silly (I call that “using funny voices”).
His pacing is perfect as well so between giving Asimov’s story and the characters in it the respect they deserve and not hurrying the listener through the book, Mister McKeever’s reading is most enjoyable.
So in spite of my nit-picking, this is a very good story and is read well. BY all means, do not shy away from this edition.