1993-04-17: Prelude to Foundation

Prelude to Foundation (1983)

by Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

I read the original Foundation trilogy in the early 1960’s. I enjoyed it then, along with Asimov’s robot stories and novels, and others. I also read a lot of his science writing, which added to my interest in several fields and the interrelationships between them.

In this book, Asimov ties together three of his primary themes: robots, the Galactic Empire, and psychohistory. The act of integration is interesting, more so than the story itself or its characters.

In an Author’s Note, Asimov lists the body of work he has integrated, in the order of the content:

  1. The Complete Robot (1982). A collection of thiry-one robot short stories published between 1940 and 1976, including all of the earlier collection I, Robot (1950).
  2. The Caves of Steel (1954). The first robot novel.
  3. The Naked Sun (1957). The second robot novel.
  4. The Robots of Dawn (1983). The third robot novel.
  5. Robots and Empire (1985). The fourth robot novel.
  6. The Currents of Space (1952). The first Empire novel.
  7. The Stars, Like Dust— (1951). The second Empire novel.
  8. Pebble in the Sky (1950). The third Empire novel.
  9. Prelude to Foundation (1988). The first Foundation novel.
  10. Foundation (1951). The second Foundation novel, actually a collection of four stories from 1942-1944, plus an introductory section.
  11. Foundation and Empire (1952). The third Foundation novel, actually two stories from 1945.
  12. Second Foundation (1953). The fourth Foundation novel, actually two stories from 1948 and 1949.
  13. Foundation’s Edge (1982). The fifth Foundation novel.
  14. Foundation and Earth (1983). The sixth Foundation novel.

The most interesting thing, for me, about the book (and the others) is the way that psychohistory is not described. Asimov makes the reader (at least this reader) believe there could be something like it, without actually describing what it might be based on or what its capabilities could be. While reading this one, I had an image of a sort of phase-space based on memetic dimensions, with a population density at each (discrete) node. The population shift from one node to another would constitute the dynamics of psychohistory. I’m sure it would be mathematically chaotic and intractable.


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