Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Excerpt from Isaac Asimov's Foundation

I don't know why it took me this long to start Isaac Asimov, but I decided to start Foundation tonight, and holy shit what an amazing book. I picked it up not planning to read very much tonight. Sixty pages later, I'm ranting about it in my blog. On an unrelated note, Nooks are fucking awesome.

I just want to share a part I read tonight that was pretty resounding to me. I suppose a little context is necessary if you want to understand what these people are yelling about. The Foundation series is about a massive galactic empire spanning the entire milky way galaxy. It's a collection of short stories that take place decades apart from each other, detailing the collapse of this empire. Asimov took inspiration from the collapse of ancient Rome. It's filled to the brim with social and political commentary, and it's a little hard to believe that it was published in 1951.

Long story short, some guy named Hari Seldon went and established a colony on the fringes of the empire. Seldon was a genius "psychohistorian" - a scientist who would apply advanced mathematics to various fields such as sociology, anthropology, and politics and whatnot, and effectively be able to predict the future. He predicted that empire would fall within 300 years, and a 30,000 year dark age would consume the universe before second empire would rise up. The purpose of this colony, Terminus, was to gather together all information in the entire universe into an Encyclopedia Galactica, so the that the future generations may have something to build off of, and effectively cut the dark age from 30,000 years to a simple 1,000 years.

Fifty years after Terminus was founded, a nearby system is threatening to annex their colony by force. The project is in jeopardy, Terminus is shitting, and nobody knows what to do. Mayor Hardin is butting heads with the council of scientists that head the encyclopedia project.

Fara smiled indulgently. "Your taste in epigrams is amusing, Hardin, but out of place. As a matter of fact, I think you remember my line of argument concerning the vault three weeks ago."

"Yes, I remember it. I don't deny that it was anything but a stupid idea from the standpoint of deductive logic alone. You said - stop me when I make a mistake - that Hari Seldon was the greatest psychologist in the System; that, hence, he could foresee the right and uncomfortable spot we're in now; that, hence, he established the Vault as a method of telling us the way out."

"You've got the essence of the idea."

"Would it surprise you to hear that I've given considerable thought to the matter these last weeks?"

"Very flattering. With what result?"

"With the result that pure deduction is found wanting. Again what is needed is a little sprinkling of common sense."

"For instance?"

"For instance, if he foresaw the Anacreonian mess, why not have placed us on some other planet nearer the Galactic centers? It's well known that Seldon maneuvered the Commissioners on Trantor into ordering the Foundation established on Terminus. But why should he have done so? Why put us out here at all if he could see in advance the break in communication lines, our isolation from the Galaxy, the threat of our neighbors - and our helplessness because of the lack of metals on Terminus? That above all! Or if he foresaw all this, why not have warned the original settlers in advance that they might have had time to prepare, rather than wait, as he is doing, until one foot is over the cliff, before doing so?

"And don't forget this. Even though he could foresee the problem then, we can see it equally well now. Therefore, if he could foresee the solution then, we should be able to see it now. After all, Seldon was not a magician. There are no trick methods of escaping from a dilemma that he can see and we can't."

"But, Hardin," reminded Fara, "we can't!"

"But you haven't tried. You haven't tried once. First, you refused to admit that there a was a menace at all! Then you reposed an absolutely blind faith in the Emperor! Now you've shifted it to Hari Seldon. Throughout you have invariably relied on authority or on the past - never on yourselves."

His fists balled spasmodically. "It amounts to a diseased attitude - a conditioned reflex that shunts aside independence of your minds whenever it is a question of opposing authority. There seems no doubt ever in your minds that the Emperor is more powerful than you are, or Hari Seldon wiser. And that's wrong, don't you see?

For some reason, no one cared to answer him.

Hardin continued: "It isn't just you. It's the whole Galaxy. Pirenne heard Lord Dorwin's idea of scientific research. Lord Dorwin thought the way to be a good archaeologist was to read all the books on the subject - written by men who were dead for centuries. He thought that the way to solve archaeological puzzles was to weigh the opposing authorities. And Pirenne listened and made no objections. Don't you see that there's something wrong with that?

Again the note of near-pleading in his voice. Again no answer.

He went on: "And you men and half of Terminus as well are just as bad. We sit here, considering the Encyclopedia the all-in-all. We consider the greatest end of science is the classification of past data. It is important, but is there no further work to be done? We're receding and forgetting, don't you see? Here in the Periphery they've lost nuclear power. In Gamma Andromeda, a power plant has undergone meltdown because of poor repairs, and the Chancellor of the Empire complains that nuclear technicians are scarce. And the solution? To train new ones? Never! Instead they're to restrict nuclear power.

And for the third time: "Don't you see? It's Galaxywide. It's the worship of the past. It's a detioration - a stagnation!"

1 comment:

  1. That last line is fantastically poignant. I have been meaning to read this series for a long time. Maybe this will help me actually get to it.