Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"The Galaxy is going to pot!"

I'm reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation. Classic of science fiction, blah, blah, epic and political, I never had any interest. Plus its daunting reputation, the bigness of it, a TRILOGY, the titles often all caps, as if it really were the foundation of something.

Well, a friend pressed it on me. And it's so small, Foundation is just over 200 pages. And me between reading plans, and looking to augment my sci-fi education. So here I am.

In all these years, how come nobody ever uttered the words "Encyclopedia Galactica"?

The back cover is all empire and warfare, blah, blah.

Had somebody told me "Encyclopedia Galactica," and explained "foundation" as in "research foundation" to assemble a repository of all human knowledge, I'd've been all over this years ago, even if the project is just a pretense.

We all know that one respect in which the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy scores over the Encyclopedia Galactica is that it has the words "Don't Panic" inscribed in large, friendly letters on the cover. The publishers of Foundation should learn a lesson from this. Every edition of Foundation I've ever seen has the opposite of large, friendly letters on the cover. They usually bear large, imposing letters, self-important, sometimes angry, sometimes mocking, god-like. On the cover of the book I'm actually reading, the title is small, but still unfriendly all caps, overly confident; the gold foil makes it brash. If it looked friendlier, if it soothingly assured me everything was going to be alright, I'd've warmed to it much sooner.

I'm about a third of the way in. To this point, Foundation:
  • Brings a whole new level of understanding and humour to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I never knew how much the Guide owed to Foundation — an awful lot, with regard to theme, plot points, and structure, it seems.
  • Defines psychohistory as "that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli." Which ties in very nicely with my reading of late (neuroeconomics, two-system thinking, black swans, etc.), as well as setting the stage for an infinite improbability drive.
  • Takes a piss at academia — indeed, the University structures are "almost ivory in color." Hands-on research is eschewed in favour of the scientific method: book-learning.
"The Encyclopedia first," ground out Crast. "We have a mission to fulfil."

"Mission, hell," shouted Hardin. "That might have been true fifty years ago. But this is a new generation."

"That has nothing to do with it," replied Pirenne. "We are scientists."

And Hardin leaped through the opening. "Are you, though? That's a nice hallucination, isn't it? Your bunch here is a perfect example of what's been wrong with the entire Galaxy for thousands of years. What kind of science is it to be stuck out here for centuries classifying the work of scientists of the last millennium? Have you ever thought of working onward, estending their knowledge and improving upon it? No! You're quite happy to stagnate. The whole Galaxy is, and has been for Space knows how long. That's why the Periphery is revolting; that's why communications are breaking down; that's why petty wars are becoming eternal; that's why whole systems are losing atomic power and going back to barbarous techniques of chemical power.

"If you ask me," he cried, "the Galaxy is going to pot!"

1 comment:

Stefanie said...

OMG! I had no idea! I've always been turned off by the imposing covers too and thinking it was all about space battles and planetary settlement. Clearly I am now going to have to read this and give my husband a talking to for not telling me what the books were really about!