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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Foundation would be excellent reading for a history/philosophy class. Asimov's inspiration for the Foundation series was Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; the book is packed with conflicting philosophies and big ideas, along with Asimov's interpretation of how they play out in real life. However readers feel about business, religion, politics, and ethics, they'll find plenty to think about and discuss here.
Broadly speaking, good usually triumphs over evil, but, just as in real life, it isn't always clear what doing the "right" thing is. Power can corrupt. Religion can be used to control.
Positive Role Models
Characters range from violent, manipulative, and self-serving to steadfast, clever, and farsighted. While they remain more cartoonish than fully developed characters, Hari Seldon is a determined world-saver, and Terminus mayor Salvor Hardin and intrepid trader Hober Mallow use cleverness and vision to keep Seldon's plan on track, believing they're acting in the interest of saving the future. Characters use tricks and bribes, as well as science and religion, to gain control and stop people from questioning authority.
All lead characters are men. Women rarely appear -- one is briefly brought in to model a piece of jewelry technology, with no dialogue. The jewelry in question is referred to as "feminine flippery." Another has a small part as the wife of a high-powered man; he often tells her to "keep her wagging tongue still," and she calls him a "little pug-dog." A passing reference to women in the kitchen, using domestic appliances. Characters come from different fictional planets, though there's little depiction of diverse body shapes or skin tones. Those from planets of less means and education are referred to as "barbarians" by missionaries bringing science and religion to their worlds. This mirrors real-world treatment of developing nations and explores the relationship between power, wealth, religion, and colonization.
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Violence & Scariness
Interplanetary warfare abounds, in space and on the planets' surface. There's little to no gore, but key characters are often in danger of death, while others are forever threatening or plotting violence against their enemies. Passing mentions of being blinded, burns, scarring from radiation, cutting throats, cancer, explosions, execution, and death by gas. Characters use "blaster" guns, with a person dying via suicide with one. Threats include "beating the living hell" out of someone and "I'll tear out your stinking windpipe." A person is described as "bleeding, beaten, half-stunned." A marriage is featured with angry, sarcastic, and verbally threatening interactions between husband and wife.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Threats to send a man into space naked, and a man sunbathes, "stripped to the skin" in private.
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Language includes "hell," "damned," "damnation," "bull" in place of "bulls--t," and "nads" used for testicles. "Galaxy!" is the favored swear word, along with "for Seldon's sake," after a revered scientist. At one point, it's said that a character "swore violently," though the actual words aren't written. Name-calling includes "palsied, purblind idiots."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters smoke cigars and cigarettes and drink fine liquor. One person takes snuff on a number of occasions.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Foundation is the first volume in a science fiction series that eventually included not only a raft of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs by author Isaac Asimov, but also lots of tribute fiction from both fans and bestselling authors. First published in book form in 1951, it consisted of short stories that originally started to appear in 1942. Its influence extends throughout science fiction, notably in such blockbusters as Star Wars and Star Trek, and Foundation itself was developed into a popular TV series for Apple TV+ in 2021. It addresses many adult issues, including the rise and fall of empires, various forms of mind control, cutthroat political intrigue, and warring cultures. One main character 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 both the personal and planetary scale, to grab and keep power. This takes place almost exclusively between men, with women barely mentioned in the book. There's smoking and drinking, and a character takes "snuff"; occasional language includes "hell" and "damned." Teens who aren't already science fiction fans may find this a complicated place to start, as character development and action often take a back seat to philosophical debate and speculation.
Is It Any Good?
Young readers may find Foundation long on talk and short on action or intriguing characters. But science fiction is the turf of big ideas: Author Isaac 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 between 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.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.