A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Foundation is the first volume of a science fiction series that eventually included not only a raft of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs from author Isaac Asimov, but also much tribute fiction from both fans and bestselling authors. First published in book form in 1951, it consisted of short stories that started to appear in 1942. Its influence extends throughout science fiction, notably in such blockbusters as Star Wars and Star Trek. Following the film success of such Asimov works as I, Robot, Foundation is being developed by Sony Pictures. It addresses many adult issues, e.g. the rise and fall of empires, various forms of mind control, cutthroat political intrigue, and warring cultures. One protagonist lives by the philosophy that "violence is the last refuge of the incompetent," but many factions and characters are all too willing to kill, on the personal and planetary scale, to grab and keep power. Kids who are not already science fiction fans may find this a bad place to start, as character development and action often take a back seat to philosophical debate and speculation.
What's the story?
Tens of thousands of years into the future, humans have colonized planets throughout the Galaxy, and the colossal Empire reigns supreme. Foreseeing that the Empire will soon collapse under its own weight, leading to millennia of chaos and misery, scientist Hari Seldon develops a plan to minimize the damage and bring about a restored Empire in a relatively short period. Part of this plan is gathering the Empire's knowledge into the Encyclopedia Galactica by what becomes known as the FOUNDATION on the planet Terminus. Another part of the plan involves a mysterious Second Foundation, location unknown. In the centuries following Seldon's death, he periodically appears as a hologram to advise leaders of their proper course; meanwhile, patriots, opportunists, warlords, religious zealots, and entrepreneurs look for ways to guide things their way as the Empire disintegrates.
Is it any good?
While there's enough interesting conversation to evoke a spacefaring My Dinner with Andre, many young readers may find Foundation long on talk, but short on action and intriguing characters.
Science fiction is the turf of big ideas; Asimov, with a genius IQ and a broad range of interests, had more big ideas than most, many of them on display here: Is it possible to predict and/or manipulate the future? What about free will? What's the relationship of science, religion, politics, and money? Who's really in control here? Who should be? The downside is that characters, many of whom appear only briefly, are almost exclusively defined by their wise sayings and long speeches, and don't so much develop as tenaciously hold their positions as events unfold.
Hugely influential, the Foundation Trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation) received science fiction's Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series in 1966, the only year the award's ever been presented.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Foundation is regarded as such a classic of science fiction. How does it compare with other science fiction you've read?
Why do you think there are no significant female characters, and also no non-human ones, in Foundation? How do you think this affects the story?
What was the world like when Asimov wrote these stories in the 1940s? How do the issues of his day influence futuristic tales?
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