The Overpowering Logic of Isaac Asimov - A Review of Asimov's Future History

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Isaac Asimov has a special place in the hearts of sci-fi nerds everywhere. Ridiculously prolific, Asimov wrote dozens (hundreds?) of books and  short stories. He is arguably known for two major series of books. The first is called the Robot series which brought us the concept of the Three Laws of Robotics, whose influence has been felt in nearly all depictions of robotics in contemporary culture since it was first published in 1950. The second series, the original Foundation Trilogy and it's subsequent prequels and sequels, has been lauded as the greatest science fiction series ever. Focused on Asimov’s concept of Psychohistory (the mathematical prediction of the future for giant populations), it chronicles 500 years of a settlement trying to preserve learning and advancement for humanity 20,000 years in the future. 

Asimov died in 1992, but in the years before his death, he decided to link his near-future Robot series to his Empire series (which chronical the beginning of the Galactic Empire to the expanded books of the Foundation (which notate the Empire's fall and Rebirth). Ultimately, the full story of Humanity’s Future History is told through 15 books. This is the series below:

Robot Series

  • The Complete Robot (1982) and/or I, Robot (1950)
  • Caves of Steel (1954)
  • The Naked Sun (1957)
  • The Robots of Dawn (1983)
  • Robots and Empire (1985)

Empire Series

  • The Currents of Space (1952)
  • The Stars, Like Dust (1951)
  • Pebble in the Sky (1950)

Foundation Series

  • Prelude to Foundation (1988)
  • Forward the Foundation (1993)
  • Foundation (1951)
  • Foundation and Empire (1952)
  • Second Foundation (1953)
  • Foundation's Edge (1982)
  • Foundation and Earth (1986)

As a kid, I’d read the first Foundation book, but the majority of it went over my head. As an adult, I had heard about how great Asimov was but never got around to reading him. Then, I found the above list and decided to tackle the series. Luckily, the vast majority of stories where available as audiobooks and I would listen to them while driving or doing work around the house. Over the last two years, I read/listened to the various books occasionally and as of last week I finished the final book, Foundation and Earth, and COMPLETED THE SERIES! Fifteen books, over 20,000 fictional years, and now I NEVER HAVE TO READ ISAAC ASIMOV AGAIN.  

SHOULD YOU READ THIS SERIES: Um, no offense of to Mr. Asimov or his estate, but unless you are a diehard logician or classic science fiction geek I would suggest picking and choosing some of the better ones and calling it a day. From my own perspective I would suggest reading the first three books of the series:

  • The Complete Robot (1982) and/or I, Robot (1950)
  • Caves of Steel (1954)
  • The Naked Sun (1957)

...followed by the last five books:

  • Foundation (1951)
  • Foundation and Empire (1952)
  • Second Foundation (1953)
  • Foundation's Edge (1982)
  • Foundation and Earth (1986)

Partly, the difficulty of a series like this is that Asimov wrote them at vastly different times and for very different reasons. The initial Robot books were sci-fi detective novels, while the Empire series are relatively innocuous adventure stories written for paperback publication. All of them are extremely different from the Foundation series, which is largely a philosophical text on the nature of humanity wrapped inside a spaceship orbiting an alien world. 

Ultimately though, I would venture that 15 books can be too many to read from any one author (or, at least for me). Asimov had some interesting ideas, but his stories run on intellect and curiosity, and even his heroes seem to be incessantly eager to share their understanding of the mathematical certainty of the world around them. Unfortunately, this leads the characters who will actually say things like “By the advancement of your argument I have no choice but to surrender myself to you.” Well,  I should say that the guys say things that. The ladies of these 1950s science fiction stories do a lot of listening to menfolk and occasionally swooning at some logical treatise which is Asimov's version of flirting. "Oh, Gistandresteagard, if only father knew how brilliant you are! I love you." 

In conclusion, I'm not unhappy that I read the series. The Robot series is fun and was hugely influential on our culture. Additionally, the final books of the Foundation series does present some surprising and heartening ideas of our potential future. So, grab your Prime Radiant and plan a bit of time to check them out.

... just, maybe not all of them.