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  • Writer's pictureM.C.

Review of Asimov's Foundation - Book and Series




Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is a seminal work of science fiction, prominently topping many lists of ground-breaking and genre-defining works. The original story consisted of three related books: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. Each represents a step for humanity in the evolving political progression from the current First Galactic Empire through its demise, galactic turmoil, and eventual rise of a Second Galactic Empire.


In a bold move that many thought was not possible, AppleTV has brought this expansive epic to the small screen as a series. The multiple episodes provide ample time to build the universe and tell the story in a way that couldn’t be done in a movie. But don’t let the small-screen format mislead. This production is every bit as good as a Hollywood blockbuster.


But in transitioning from the written word to a visual medium, AppleTV has made several changes for their adaptation, some of which enhance what Asimov wrote while other elements add to it. In the two seasons of the AppleTV series, most of the events of Foundation and elements of Foundation and Empire have been covered. This comparative review of the two works focuses only on that content.


Asimov’s Foundation


First published in a series of short stories beginning in 1942, Asimov’s Foundation examines the fall of a mighty empire and the events that follow in reorganizing and rebuilding society into a new structure. Based on a historical evaluation of the fall of the Roman Empire, Asimov transforms this into the far future as humanity has expanded to planets throughout the galaxy, each with its own culture and economy, though still a subject of the Empire.


The series introduces Hari Seldon, a genius mathematician who, through incredibly detailed modeling, has developed a new science called psychohistory which can predict the future. Seldon foresees the fall of the Empire and a resulting 30,000 years of darkness before humanity recovers. However, he suggests, if humanity establishes a Foundation to collate an Encyclopedia Galactica to save all the science and technological advancements humanity has made, the period of darkness can be shorted to just 1000 years.


The Empire agrees, mainly to remove Seldon from the capital planet of the Empire, Trantor, and quiet his voice. Seldon and his followers are sent to Terminus, where under the cover of compiling the Encyclopedia, they continue his work with psychohistory and follow the prophesies Seldon has recorded, diffusing different situations in favor of the Foundation.


As time jumps forward from one predicted crisis to the next, several decades if not centuries pass and the cast of characters changes which makes the book difficult to follow. Additionally, Asimov’s academic background comes through as the writing is dry and plot-driven, focusing on events and outcomes with less consideration of character.


AppleTV Production


The AppleTV series provides an incredible visual representation of the galactic empire that Asimov envisioned, including the city-covered capital planet Trantor with its enormous orbital platforms and space elevators. (This ultra-urban vision even exceeds what Luc Besson presented in The Fifth Element or George Lucas on Coruscant in The Phantom Menace.)


Jared Harris excellently portrays Hari Seldon, and in a twist to the original books, faces off against a triumvirate of emperors – all clones of a single, previous ruler. Decanted at different stages of life, one clone is always an adolescent (called Brother Dawn), one is an adult (Brother Day), and one an aged man (Brother Dusk). As each age and Brother Dusk eventually dies, Brothers Dawn and Day take up the next mantles in the progression as a new baby clone is created.


This mechanism allows for a fascinating look at power, entitlement, and what it means to be human. Brother Day, played by Lee Pace (Ronan the Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy and Thranduil from The Hobbit) runs the Empire, and with the help of his immortal robot and majordomo Demerzel, spars against Seldon and the efforts of the Foundation.


Because the emperors are clones, their majordomo advisor is an immortal robot, Seldon downloads his consciousness into VR, and other characters experience periods in suspended animation, AppleTV is able to present the same characters over the long periods of the story. This continuity allows for greater connection to the characters as they progress throughout the series as situations change, resulting in much greater character development.


Summary


Both works are immersive and ground-breaking, though for different reasons. There is something about reading the original work of a science fiction master, as the story he presents examines much of the current- and post-war society in which he lived through the lens of science fiction, a genre he helped create. The AppleTV production, on the other hand, obviously comes eighty years later when computer-generated effects allow for the most alien worlds to be portrayed realistically and inspiringly.


While the book delves in the societal and political progressions that follow the fall of an empire through to the establishment of the next, the TV production digs deeper into the characters and traits that both cause and overcome these situations. And both compellingly portray the strategic machinations between Hari Seldon and the Galactic Emperor.


Though there is more content to cover in the original trilogy, Asimov still expanded his story through the release of additional prequel and sequel stories. So, the AppleTV production has much more material to explore in future seasons.


If you are a fan of science fiction, check out both Asimov’s Foundation trilogy and AppleTV’s Foundation streaming series.

 

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