Friday, August 14, 2009

A Strong Foundation

(One of the roughest things about blogging, I've found, is coming up with titles regularly; hence my heavy use of colons. So if that title makes you groan at all, terribly sorry. I know I groaned.)

I recently re-read Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. (Specifically, the original Foundation trilogy, that is, Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation.) Not terribly surprisingly, while the series was written in the '40s and '50s, it's aged very well. It once won the Hugo for "Best All-Time series," whatever the heck that means, which is a sure sign it's quality. (Read the Wikipedia article for a serious discussion-I'm about to digress violently.)

There are things in it, though, that date themselves to greater and lesser degrees. When private messages must be carried from place to place, they're put in sealed capsules which can theoretically only be opened by the intended recipient. This is fine; less fine for the modern reader is that the enclosed message is on paper. (Of course, those clever Foundation scientists figured out how to make paper that automatically oxidizes in air, so the security issue isn't that bad...) Or take the device called the Lens. The Lens is a device used in hyperdrive navigation, making it far quicker and easier than it would be otherwise, with a computer-controlled three dimensional simulation of the galaxy's stars, allowing for what is essentially point-and-click navigation. The odd part? It was brand new, and today there's a multi-platform freeware program called Celestia which does the exact same thing.

Of course, the sharp edge of advancing technology always manages to screw up science fiction; it's all but unpredictable.

The other thing I've been considering is how one might try adapting the Foundation series to other media.

Just looking at it, it'd be hard at least. Foundation is cerebral, concerned with thoughts and ideas rather than things like action and personal interaction. If I were to pick out only a section of it to make a movie out of, it'd almost certainly be the parts surrounding the Mule, but that would be stupid because the Mule's actions don't make sense outside of the larger framework.

But the potential for a great movie or three is in there. Just because Asimov didn't write the framework for one into it doesn't mean it isn't. Therefore, the real question is, how much can be carried over successfully, and what would the central focus of any such work be?

I know how purists get, but I'd tend to say that, other than Hari Seldon and the Mule, there really aren't any important characters in the Foundation series. (The original one, I mean.) The scope of the series is centered on history, and it is the distinct position of the books that it isn't the figures in history, but vast historical forces that generally determine events. And, of course, it is the very rare individual, such as Seldon or the Mule, who disrupts historical forces.

Then, of course, there's the issue of the Second Foundation. The Second Foundation, in case you don't know, is a group of expert psychologist/sociologist/psychohistorian telepaths, whose mission it is to chart history's flow and try to gently tweak it just so to keep the path to the Second Empire in place. These people are rightly resented by the Foundationers, who eventually realize they're being tweaked and set out to get rid of them. But the Second Foundation being what it was, it managed to fake its own death quite effectively, and was still pulling the strings. (And if you're wondering, the Second Foundation felt it was better to fake its death by allowing many of its volunteers to die, than to let the First Foundation believe it still existed, because the First Foundation acted wrong whenever it thought the Second Foundation was acting on it.) Asimov presents the whole thing as part of the flow of history, neither particularly wrong or particularly right... but the Second Foundation was clearly being set up to become the elite of the Second Empire, and that's pretty sick.

Ultimately, the Foundation series isn't particularly likely to be made into a movie, but then again, the Lensman series is getting (another) movie based on it, so anything's possible.

-Signing off.

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