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First published in 1951, Prelude to Foundation is a collection of short stories that veteran biochemistry professor-turned-author Isaac Asimov wrote from around 1942. It’s often regarded as one of the most influential science fiction novels, with its impact extending across the entire sci-fi spectrum. Most notably, it influenced such blockbusters as Star Trek, Star Wars, and Edward Gibbons’ The History of the Decline.
Asimov’s sprawling contribution to the genre includes a myriad of standalone jewels, such as I, Robot, Foundation, and Empire series, all of which form a huge circle of the rise and fall of an inter-galactic kingdom featuring an immortal robot companion called Daneel Olivaw. This robotic watchdog pops in almost every other millennium or so to remind the human race of how far it has come.
This orthodox classic is the prelude to the Foundation series, which introduces us to a utopia in which everything is based on psychohistory, a practice in which events of the past are used to precisely predict the future. As the name clearly hints, Prelude to Foundation is Asimov’s prequel to the series.
The year is 12,020 G.E. and Emperor of Trantor, Cleon I, is a bit edgy on his imperial throne. More than 40 billion people have built an impressive civilization of cultural complexity and leading-edge technology in the mega-capital of the Galactic Empire, where Cleon I is the ultimate ruler. Despite the vast leaps in technology and content civilization, Cleon I knows at the back of his mind that there are some people out there who won’t hesitate to bring him down and take over his throne … these are the people he could deal with easily if only he could see the future.
In the Prelude to Foundation, we meet young Hari Seldon soon after he finds out about psychohistory. The next move he makes is to go to Trantor to deliver his thesis paper on the subject matter in front of other scholars and leaders. Little does the young math genius know he has decided his fate and perhaps that of the entire human race!
For Hari Seldon has discovered the very tool for predicting the future, one of the things the emperor seeks the most, he becomes an immediate target by the imperial forces who want to keep the knowledge and power of psychohistory a secret. After all, Hari now holds the key to the Foundation, an apocalyptic power that won’t be forgotten forever.
This leads to a cat-and-mouse chase across the memorable Trantor, a mega-capital planet of the Galactic Empire. With Imperial forces hot in pursuit of him, Hari confronts several adversities and comes across many memorable characters on the voyage towards Foundation. One of the most memorable characters is his former girlfriend.
Hari also meets Dors Venabili at the Streeling University, where he almost died from hypothermia on top of the campus building. Together with Dors, they leave the university for Mycogen, a planet where all of the inhabitants are hairless, including women. Here the two fleeing scholars are almost killed by the fanatic locals of Aurora and only escape to the Dahl sector avoiding death by the whiskers.
In the Dahl sector, Dors becomes famous after defeating ten thugs at once in a fight. Unfortunately, the two are eventually caught and taken to the Wye sector, where they meet the mayor of the sector who, coincidentally, is on the verge of overthrowing Cleon I.
Asimov’s Prelude to Foundation is, in almost every respect, very much similar to the original Foundation series. However, it has some extract from the make-belief Encyclopedia Galactica. Even though slower than subsequent novels, the prequel is still quite thrilling and swift-paced.
The book addresses a whole bunch of themes that include warring cultures, competitive political intrigue, various kinds of mind control, and the rise & fall of empires. The novel also displays Asimov’s impressive character development ability. With the combination of a tense plot, great use of suspense, and strong, well-crafted characters, this may be the best reads and a great place to kick off your journey into Asimov’s post-apocalyptic, dystopian, and sci-fi adventures.
Between Dors Venabili and Hari Seldon, the title comprises some of the author’s best character constructs. Whereas the relationship between the two main characters can sometimes sound unrealistic, they are still compelling and fun to follow as they journey through the dark streets of the mega-city world. We’d highly recommend Prelude to Foundation to any science fiction lover, or any fantasy fan for that matter.