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Prelude to Foundation (Foundation, Book 1)

Title Prelude to Foundation (Foundation, Book 1)
Authors Isaac Asimov
Publisher Bantam Books
Date 1989-03-01
Pages 512
ISBN 0553278398

Most of the time I read serious literature тАУ either computer technology books or Russian classics. On the other hand, there are lots of books that I wish I had time to read, and science fiction books definitely belong to this category.

In the past, I have read Tom Clancy (Red October), Arthur Clark (2001: Space Odyssey, Fountains of Paradise), and recently I have read a book of Isaac Asimov titled Prelude to Foundation, the first in the foundation series. Science fiction often raises important technological and social questions, but it takes a would-be approach, as compared to realistic novels of other writers.

The main topic of this Foundation novel is the new approach to predicting future that a scientist Hari Seldon has conceived. It is interesting that this approach relies on processing vast amounts of information. It looks as if this scientist has come up with an equation that takes all the inhabitants as input variables and generates their next moves as output. Hari complains that this approach is impractical because it would take too long to account for each human being, so the need for vast processing power is clearly indicated in this novel. Do I need to say that mining large quantities of data is a hot research topic nowadays? With all the available clusters and super-computers and advances in machine learning algorithms, inferring consistent patterns from large data sets is more feasible than ever.

Isaac Asimov was definitely right when he was able to spot this trend 30 years ago. Science fiction writers often try to predict what kind of technology people will use in the future. Some of their predictions come true while others fail. In this novel Asimov predicted the ubiquitous use of fusion transportation. He was wrong тАУ we are nowhere close to using fusion energy. Humanity is still driven by petrol. What a shame.

On the other hand, Asimov predicted holovision тАУ holography used in communication, and we do approach this target. Just a few years back weтАЩve got 3D television brought to masses (even at a bit expensive cost so that not everybody can afford it), and with all the advances in telecommunication we should see 3D telephony in the next 5-10 years. ThatтАЩs my forecast, even though I am not a science fiction writer.

But Asimov goes beyond technology. His narration describes the kind of solar system in which each planet is inhabited. But the cultures and customs on each planet are drastically different. Throughout the book Asimov describes the history of this civilization and mentions that it all began on a single planet (Earth) but then people have spread out and their cultures and traditions became more distinct than they used to be. For that to happen, we donтАЩt need to move to another planet. Even though the world is more unified than ever nowadays, I have read in some other science fiction novels that people will separate into smaller and drastically distinct groups eventually. This will happen when abundance of resources will happen, that is when people will have enough food and shelter for every body (robots will build the houses and grow the crops for everybody). At that moment, people will start pursuing their own interests. Those who enjoy pleasures and partying will do that all the time, but on the other hand some smarter people will seek retreat in academies and universities where they could conduct their research without external interruption.

Another important topic in AsimovтАЩs novel is the concept of robot тАУ a powerful all-mighty creature, a monster that once upon a time controlled the world. This concept is quite similar to HAL of Clark, a super-computer located on some planet but which nonetheless is able to govern the Earth. As you can see, there are many similarities between American science fiction writers of 20th century. Still, this particular novel is a lot of fun to read тАУ it is well written and contains a mix of action, philosophical questions, and bold predictions many of which can come true.