Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Foundation's Edzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

In 1986 my homeroom teacher was Ms Michaelson. She was a severe, skinny woman who thought that being entirely unreasonable instilled discipline.

The class was English and Ms Michaelson insisted that we arrive 10 minutes early for class. For the first five pre-class minutes, we wrote in our journals; the next five minutes were spent reading a book of our choice.

A reasonable alternative to NyQuil
I really disliked Ms Michaelson. For one thing, if you were late for the pre-class, she'd send you for a late slip. This was insane. You'd end up arguing with some minor administrator -- or worse yet, secretary -- who would send you back without a late slip (because you weren't late). But by the time you'd get back to class, you would be late, and so you'd be sent down for a late slip again. For another, she was one of those people who told you that only boring people get bored. That is so not true. You know who gets bored? Smart people who are trapped listening to idiots all day and don't have a decent book with them, that's who!

I have no idea why I decided to bring Foundation's Edge as my book of choice. My parents' house is lousy with books. Books literally fall on your head when you open closets. I think I had originally brought Agatha Christie's A Cat Among The Pigeons, but that took me about a week to read. My guess is that I wanted something more challenging and that's why I picked up Foundation's Edge. But I was a teenager, so who the fuck knows what I was thinking.

Anyways, I did not like the book. I thought it was dull as all get-out until the last few chapters when something actually happened. 

And so the book remained at my parents' house, in the basement.

Until this past Christmas.

You know what happens when it's Christmas, you have nothing to do, you're sick, and you're at your parents' house? You make bad decisions. Decisions like reading Foundation's Edge again to see if it's as dull as you remember it.

Spoiler: it is.

A good 90% of the book is blahblahblah. And by this I mean that 90% of the book is taken up by exposition fairies. Exposition fairies take over every single character for most of the book. And they go on and on and on. Paragraphs of dialogue take up entire half pages! Who the fuck cares how the fucking spaceship works? I don't. I care about where you're going and why. Who the fuck cares about how you calculated the fucking coordinates of the dumbass planet? I don't. Maybe someone does. Maybe some überfanboy somewhere is keeping track of all the tech and making sure it makes sense. But that fanboy is not me.

I was too busy skipping over pages and pages of this blahblahblah to get to some part -- any part -- where someone talked to someone about something not tech. I swear there should be a Bechdel Test for science fiction. I'm calling it the Snad Test:
  1. There must be at least two "regular" characters
  2. Who have a conversation
  3. That is not about tech
Sweet Cheesus on a Cheesestick! I think I had to wait til the before last chapter or something for a climax and dénouement to happen. And when it did, it was totally antclimactic. 

Do you want a synopsis? Here's a synopsis:
Eons (millennia?) after the Seldon Plan, some guy named Golan Trevize decides that the Seldon Plan is going too well and that obviously the Second Foundation -- which was full of "scholars" with mind control abilities yaddayaddayadda -- had not been destroyed back in that other book (Second Foundation? Foundation and Empire? I don't know; I didn't read it.) and was still controlling their minds. So he gets booted off his planet and sent off to find these Second Foundation guys for reasons that are totally bizarre. Meanwhile, back on the farm, some guy from the Second Foundation gets attacked by a bunch of ruffians, and his Second Foundation buddies also send him off to do something because of Extra Tasty Contrivance. Oh, and Golan's bestie, whose name escapes me, is sent off to follow Golan because of Super Chocolatey Contrivance. Golan correctly guesses that his bestie is a Second Foundation operative, but that really doesn't matter. In the end, they all end up in the same place -- a planet called Gaia -- that is sentient or something. A whole lot of deus ex machina dust is sprinkled by the mind-control entity that is Gaia so that the entire implausible storyline makes sense. 
There ya go. 

Only read this book if you're suffering from insomnia and you find NyQuil distasteful.


  1. >back in that other book (Second Foundation? Foundation and Empire? I don't know; I didn't read it.)

    I think there is some truth to the suggestion that this book is written for the überfanboy. At the very least, it pays dividends if you are familiar with Asimov's previous novels about the Foundation and also his stories about positronic robots.

    >Extra Tasty Contrivance

    Mr. Extra Tasty is known as Daneel, a telepathic robot known to überfanboys. Unfortunately, Asimov does not show us the robot behind the Foundation curtain until the end of "Foundation and Earth", the novel that follows "Foundation's Edge".

    >a planet called Gaia

    It turns out that Daneel has been developing the Gaia project for the past 20,000 years. Why? Because Daneel is programmed to protect Humanity: this fundamental directive is known as the Zeroth Law. But how is a robot to know what is best for something as nebulous as "Humanity"? To satisfy the Zeroth Law, Daneel tries to engineer humanity into a single group mind.

    >Only read this book if you're suffering from...

    ...if you're suffering from a need to know how Asimov imagined the 1,500,000 words of his Foundation and Robots stories as a unified Future History. That's a good definition of Asimov's überfanboys.

    1. Daneel Olivaw isn't revealed as The Great Architect until Foundation and Earth, aka The Book In Which Everything Is Explained (and the universe of the Robot Novels gets tied into the Foundation novels).

      But because The Big Reveal isn't until The Book In Which Everything Is Explained, the end of Foundation's Edge is still a contrivance sundae with Deus Ex Machina sprinkles.

      If a book - even one in a long series - can't stand alone, then it isn't a good book. (Or at least it's a deeply flawed book.)