Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Review - Foundation's Edge

Foundation's Edge
by Isaac Asimov
1983 Hugo Winner for Best Novel

Hey kids, here's a few warning signs that a book may be terrible:

It is the continuation of a series by an author who has not done anything with that series in more than ten years.

It is even more likely if it's an author at the end of their career revisiting their biggest success.

It attempts to combine two or more separate series by the author into one.

It is the fourth (or greater) book in a series that was originally set at three (or fewer) books.

If you see these warning signs put the book down and go get something else. Yes, I know you liked the author's previous work. Yes, I know you've read all the previous books. If it's any good then people will mention it and it will still be there to read. If it is terrible then you can be smug when people complain about it and say, "Oh, I stopped while it was still good."

So that's a long way of saying that you can tell that Foundation's Edge wouldn't be very good from a long way off. Reliving past glories decades later? Check. Tries to merge series? Check. Fourth book in the trilogy? Check. So was their a miracle?

No. Not even close. Foundation's Edge is terrible. (So is Heinlein's The Cat Who Walked Through Walls for the same reason, but at least they didn't give that one a Hugo.)

In the book a member of the Foundation suspects that the Second Foundation is hiding somewhere in the universe and is still manipulating events to rebuild a galactic empire. These statements bother the current government so they exile him under the pretense of searching for the Second Foundation. Meanwhile the Second Foundation realizes that there is a third group manipulating events but doing too good of a job at it which is making people suspect the continued existence of the Second Foundation. They send an agent of their own out to assist the exile as part of their own hunt for the manipulators who they suspect is on humanity's lost home world.

There's three things wrong with this book: the plot, the characters, and the prose. (Substitute "the characters" with "the people" if you feel a need to be alliterative.) There isn't a lot of plot here. Despite being one of the shorter novels that won this could have easily been compressed to one third the length. There's large tracts of people talking in circles, explaining things the reader already knows over and over again filling pages. Many long, pointless digressions that wear the reader down until you're just shouting "Get on with it!" Not that getting on with it would help since the book is predictable with events telegraphed so far in advance you have to wonder why the characters don't realize it themselves.

The characters themselves are paper thin and exist only to move the plot forward. Protagonists are perfect, antagonists are are mustache twirling, ineffectual twits. Our perfect protagonists effortlessly wander the universe and solve their problems while they tweak the noses of the villains. These characters are as interesting as drying paint.

Particularly annoying is the way that Asimov tries to cram in thirty years of advancement into Foundation's Edge to justify the future presented in original trilogy. He attempts to merge in his Robot stories while justifying the lack of robots in the Foundation universe before. Since the low technology of the original setting can't really be justified except in the metatextual way of just saying, "It was science fiction written in the 1940's," trying to justify it is an exercise in frustration.

The result of this whole thing is unsatisfactory at best and just a terrible novel at worst. While I can give a hesitant recommendation for the original trilogy based on its importance this follow-up is better forgotten. It's a case where the Hugo voters picked their selection based on the name of the author rather than the quality of the product and it makes Foundation's Edge one of the biggest shames of the Hugo Awards.