Review: Asimov, Prelude to Foundation (1988)

The story centres around Hari Seldon, who proposes a statistical way to predict the future of humanity, during a talk at a conference on Trantor, the Galactic Empire’s capital planet. The Empire’s aide Eto Demerzel, as well as the Emperor’s main challenger, the Mayor of Wye, both want to make use of this new tool to increase their power. Seldon convinces both that his proposal has a long way to go before becoming useful, but both insist that that isn’t necessary to make the common man believe that Seldon is some sort of oracle. Seldon meets a man, Chetter Hummin, who tells him that, rather than allowing him to fall in their opponent’s hands, Demerzel and Wye would rather kill him. Seldon, protected by historian Dors Venabili (female), in an attempt to escape them, starts travelling around Trantor, while trying to find out if his science can be made practical.

An an Asimov-story, this book contains logical discussions and unexpected plot-twists. However, they are too late, too little, and too predictable. The biggest problem with this book however is that it lacks direction. While looking for ways to develop his science, Seldon goes through a couple of episodes that make little sense. Venabili’s tenacity in protecting Seldon from any and all danger seems without reason either. She seems to have abandoned a successful career and a rich social life with far too little justification. And even though Seldon and she share many dangerous and intimate situations, there is no relational development between them at all.

As always with Asimov, all the answers come at the very end, but he gives us nothing during the rest of the book. In his other novels, false explanations that are nonetheless just as probable, are offered all the time, and it is this constant turning up-side-down of things that makes these stories compelling. It is a pity this book has almost none of that. With the badly worked-out characters of Seldon and Venabili, and an R. Daneel Olivaw who is a mere shadow of his former self, what remains is a book that leaves the reader with an unsatisfied sense of ‘who cares’, and which serves no purpose for itself. Instead this novel seems to be written only to fill in some story gaps and make Seldon aware of the events in the Robot novels.

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