Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

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Foundation and Earth, is the 5th book in the Foundation Series, written some 30 years after the original trilogy was published in the 1950s. The author, Isaac Asimov, recognized as one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, creates a powerful and believable rendition of an inhabited galaxy, more than 20,000 years into our future.

 

Asimov, in the Foundation trilogy, narrates the story of the Galactic Empire and its decay into anarchy, most certainly inspired by the Roman Empire. The set up of a centralized ruler, and the ineffectiveness of the regime over time to uphold its dominion over its territory, dooms both empires to go through the ‘Dark Ages’, with the Galaxy being given a lifeline of the anarchy lasting for a millennium only. This is made possible through the great scientist Hari Seldon’s science of ‘psycho-history’ that analyzes and predicts human behavior, an invention of Asimov. Towards this end, two separate ‘Foundations’ are established in the Galaxy to carry forth the ‘Seldon Plan’, which will lead to a Second Galactic Empire.

 

In the 5th book, the author analyzes a number of contemporary debates through his characters which are both philosophical and scientific in nature. Each of the characters represents a different viewpoint, which is presented to the readers through their dialogues. Individualism is championed by Golan Trevize, a member of the government of the Foundation. With his amazing intuitive powers he chooses the future of the Galaxy as a super-organism with a collective conscience but is deeply troubled about the loss of individuality this would bring, slowing down social progress in the absence of individual powers of dissent and self-interest.

 

The collective conscience is represented by the planet Gaia, which has its own awareness, in the same way that an aggregation of human cells carries a human consciousness. The author gives an automatic sense of direction to the collective conscience, of being capable of providing the largest good for society, a clear assumption of knowing the largest good, which contemporary debate acknowledges as ill-defined. At the same time he extols irrefutable virtues of collectivism in providing harmony for society, removing futile degeneration from the picture. Yet, he does not solve the debate about which system would be better, either for that society, or in fact for ours.

 

His morality of humanism, the belief in human reason and ethics as being the driving force for humanity, is contradicted in a sense by R. Daneel Olivaw, a humanoid robot, with powers extending to read peoples’ minds and give direction to them. The robot, acting under the robotic law of preventing harm to humanity, guides events towards the creation of a Galactic super-organism, giving credence to comparisons to God or an external being deciding the fate of humanity.

 

Asimov inter-weaves imagination with current world ideas without expansive use of vocabulary or figures of speech. He uses concepts such as social inertia, beliefs and superstitions, dissent against established rule changing social order to bring a sense of reality and create associations that readers will easily identify with. The novel ties the stories of his previous books on humans, robots and the galaxy together, but leaves no final judgments on the issues he has explored or the future of the Galaxy.

 

Udit Rastogi

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