Isaac Asimov - Foundation

For it is the chief characteristic of the religion of science, that it works... (p. 124)
Wow! What an engrossing book! I had trouble putting it down. The only reason it took me more than a day or two to finish it is because I had to sleep and go to work--what disappointments those tasks have been for the past few days.

The brief summary from the publisher (below) is more than I will divulge on the plot for a work of fiction. However, I will note a couple of things. The subject of religion completely dying out in the future and then being resurrected by scientists in order to 'control' others (for supposedly just purposes in this case) is intriguing to say the least. As one of the heroes points out, however, all systems of control, regardless of their hidden, underlying, positive aspects, can ultimately fail.

Any dogma, primarily based on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never by turned on the user. For a hundred years now, we've supported a ritual and mythology that is becoming more and more venerable, traditional--and immovable. In some ways, it isn't under our control any more. (p. 206)
Asimov aptly demonstrates how faith can be a powerful driving force. It is also readily apparent that more knowledge than what faith allows is needed if you really want to get things done.

Perhaps my biggest problem with fiction is its frequent expositions into things too unbelievable. I tend to get turned off to works (books, movies, stories, etc.) that go beyond the possible and into the realms beyond belief. While Foundation generally stays within the scope of good science fiction (i.e. fiction based on what science may someday be able to accomplish)--especially in light of the fact that it was written in the 1950s instead of the 1990s--there are a few items that pushed the envelope a bit far for my personal tastes. One is the notion of 'psychohistory' which allows one to predict historical events far into the future to a great degree of certainty. I don't care how many current facts you currently know and can analyze, there are still far too many variables for Seldon's brand of psychohistory to work as it does in Foundation.

Another minor problem is the number of characters and time periods covered in the relatively brief number of pages. This keeps the book lively but may add some confusion if you don't read very carefully. These minor criticisms aside, Foundation is as enjoyable to read as any other work of fiction. Some of the subtle, and not so subtle, philosophies and ideas add to an already entertaining story told well. I highly recommend it.

All this mysticism and hocus-pocus of the missionaries annoy me, and I'm glad you refuse to countenance it. It makes you more my type of man. (p. 178)
Other books in the Foundation series (in order of original publication) include:
Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation
Foundation's Edge
Foundation and Earth
Prelude to Foundation
Forward the Foundation

from the publisher:
For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire had ruled supreme. Now it was dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, could see into the future - a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that would last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathered the best minds in the Empire - both scientists and scholars - and brought them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. He called his sanctuary the Foundation.

But soon the fledgling Foundation found itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind's last best hope was faced with an agonizing choice: Submit to the barbarians and be overrun - or fight them and be destroyed.

The first installment of Asimov's five-part epic of a galactic empire.

"This is one of the greatest science fiction books of all time. Everyone who likes sci-fi should read it."