Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Forward the Foundation

It might surprise many people who know me today as a bookworm who sometimes can't manage basic conversation skills, but I was a delayed reader.  I didn't read until 3rd grade, when I read "The Hobbit."  Then in fourth and fifth grade I read many of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.  My parents wouldn't let me read the whole series because of some of its more adult themes.  But that didn't stop by fifth grade book report from being on "Foundation's Edge" which is the 6th book in the series.  I even had a sculpy clay statue of the spaceship from the picture on the front of the book to go along with it.

One of the books my parents banned me from reading was the second of the two prequels, "Forward the Foundation."  The main character's son marries a prostitute in a really non sexy sub plot, but edgy enough that they thought a little boy like me shouldn't be allowed to read it.  As a result, I knew so many of the characters introduced in "Prelude to Foundation" without knowing much about them or what became of them.  And after all these years I've come back and read the missing piece of the story.  And I find myself kind of mourning the characters.  These characters inhabited my imagination from a very young age- and I find myself having misjudged them at times, misunderstood them at others, or simply failing to understand their life's significance.

For example...

Somehow I missed that the main character had married an android robot.  Its only hinted at in the first book, but just enough that maybe I should have guessed.  I was always dissatisfied with Hari Seldon's relationship with Dors Venaboli- but I judgmentally thought that was because the characters were immoral.  To summarize, at the end of Prelude to Foundation Hari is desperately trying to keep his new found love from leaving him and asks Dors if she'd ever really wanted to kiss or sleep with anyone or if she had just done so because she didn't want to disappoint people.  When she confesses that she simply hasn't wanted to disappoint anyone and she finds that she wants him to kiss her, all my prudish teenage brain could come up with was that the relationship had a jarring lack of depth and all I could see was two people whose sexual side was getting the better of them.  The passage is jarring for a reason.  Dors, as a robot, has a somewhat limited emotional vocabulary and that does limit the depth of the relationship.  But when I read the passage where she lies dying- killed by an assassin trying to kill her to allow the government to kill Hari, and Hari has just barely consciously realized that she is a robot for the first time and she thanks him for making her human, my harshness towards her in my past judgements lies exposed.

I didn't read Prelude to Foundation until rather late in my teenagerhood- it originally having been on the banned book list but eventually I was allowed to read it.  So Hari Seldon was someone that I knew only as a hologram that would appear at critical moments to give prophecy and guidance to the future.  I did not know him as a man.  In Prelude to Foundation he spends his time being a puppet on a string to do the bidding of a telepath robot who mind controls him for the good of galactic mankind- so reading it didn't really help me get to know him that well.  Now I know his life story- how he grew old and died, losing almost every one that was dear to him until he ended dead slumped over in a wheel chair- the tools of his equations and prophecy in his hands.  Again, the limited perspective I had of him earlier is painfully embarressing.

And then there is Eto Demerzel.  The problem with diving into adult science fiction or fantasy as a child is that your imagination has to supply the missing parts that you can't understand.  I actually for a time believed that Eto Demerzel was a computerized hologram of emperor Cleon- made to look more handsome and impressive than the reality.  Since then I have read the Caves of Steel books, and I know all about the past and motivations of Eto Demerzel- Robot Daneel Olivaw.  Lets just say that I felt really emotional reading about the robot attending Hari's funeral, giving one and probably the only public thanks if you will to a life that was devoted to the good of the galaxy because of Daneel's vision for the future.

When I first read these books they were simply adventure stories to me.  Now I'm more mature and can read them more in their proper context because I'm filling in the holes in the story where I wasn't allowed to read when I was a child.  Reading them as an adult I can now fully understand the extent to which Isaac Asimov was a master of science fiction, and I'm thrilled to rediscover his writing.

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