11. ‘Prelude to Foundation’ by Isaac Asimov

I was desperate to read Asimov’s Foundation series for ages, and I spent most of last year looking for Foundation books in every secondhand store I went into. In the end I had to borrow the first book, Foundation, from a friend, and I thought that was as far as I’d get for now. Imagine my delight, then, when I went to the library a few weeks ago (yes, I’m obsessed with the bloody library) and found the entire series just waiting there for me!

So I grabbed Prelude to Foundation, the prequel to Foundation, and spent a very happy week reading it (mainly in the bath – our shower cut out for several days so I was forced to wallow in the tub, poor me, poor me…).

prelude to foundation

Prelude to Foundation tells the story of Hari Seldon, the mathematician and founder of ‘psychohistory’ – a method for predicting the future – which made all the events in Foundation possible. In Prelude Hari is a young man who has just travelled to the central planet of the Empire, Trantor, to present a paper about the theoretical possibility of psychohistory. His ideas catch the attention of the Galactic Emperor and his cunning advisor, Eto Demerzel, and before Hari knows it he is on the run from various forces who wish to use him for his predictive theories. With the help of journalist Chetter Hummin and historian Dors Venabili, Hari must avoid people who would destroy or exploit him, while at the same time trying to work out whether psychohistory could ever really, truly work.

I thought this book was really enjoyable. It has a somewhat repetitive structure (go to place, get in trouble, flee), but Asimov furnishes every different location with its own history, geography, customs, taboos, prejudices, levels of sexism, even clothing and hair styles, so that every place feels real and unique. It’s also absolutely fascinating to see the human side of Hari, a character who comes across as nothing short of godlike in Foundation, and I loved how the epigraphs at the start of every chapter (extracts from the Encyclopaedia Galactica) give insights into the future beyond the end of this book, and signify how important certain characters will become.

The writing has the same thoughtful, clearly laid out style that I’ve come to expect of Asimov. His philosophy is rich and feels solid, and every thought and scenario is thought through, so that it’s easy to suspend disbelief and go along with some fairly ‘out there’ ideas. And the ending was excellent! There were some fairly huge revelations that I totally didn’t see coming. I basically spent the last few chapters with my hand constantly over my mouth.

This is an excellent prequel to Foundation – whereas that book was more like a collection of three stories, this one is a straightforward romp of a novel. I loved it.

“And against his will, and not knowing why, Seldon heard himself say, ‘I will try’. And the course of his life was set.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Want to read this? You can buy the book here.

What do you think?

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