Recently HBO announced that they were pursuing the option to make Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series into a TV show.
Honestly, this fills me with as much dread as it does happiness.
Asimov is one of the big names from Science Fiction’s Golden age—he spans a bit of the gap between the literary soft fiction of Robert Heinlein and the harder science of Arthur C. Clarke. And, while the Foundation series is considered the high point of the golden age science fiction, it is a series more about ideas than characters—as was common in Asimov’s work.
Reinterpretations of his work have not been very successful in adapting the basic ideas of his work or in modernizing his views (I, Robot anyone?). He can be rightly criticized for under-characterization and 0ver-reliance upon unornamented language better suited to non-fiction. Still, he’s one of the most widely read of the era; many writers of today’s science fiction grew up reading his works. During most of his career he was as widely known for his works outside of Science Fiction as he wrote across many scientific and academic genres authoring texts books on Biology and Chemistry as well as reader’s guides to the Bible and Gulliver’s Travels. This ability to write concepts and ideas clearly and concisely was put to good use in his fictional works.
His Foundation Trilogy was originally published in magazines as a series of short stories that he later edited together into book form. The basic story is that the huge Galactic Empire, a far distant place on the same timeline as his Robot novels, is stagnating as huge and ungainly bureaucracies will. And into this stage a group of scientific heroes steps to save the day. Except, unlike other science-fiction standards, this science that will save the day is called Psycho-History, and it consists of the hardening of two relatively soft disciplines sociology and history and a bit of fantastical human psychology.
Understanding of the greater movements of history has been developed into a mathematical based certainty, and (mild spoiler!) the psychiatry has been developed into an almost magical understanding of the way a human brain works that allows a kind of telepathic nudging of individuals that is used to maintain the desired path of history. It is these deviations from the desired path that dominate the later plots, while the earlier plots revolve around how individuals react to the predicted courses of history.
Each act along the way represents a turning point in the quest to shorten the time between the fall of the old Galactic Empire and the rise of a new, more vigorous Galactic Government, which will better govern all of humanity. Different types of characters are involved at every step a politician, a rogue trader, an empathic young woman, a willful teenage girl. There’s no true villains, just people hanging onto the vestiges of the old empire, the common sort of despots, and even the greatest antagonist in the series is more of an anti-hero who is brought down by the most basic human need—affection—rather than by any twist of science or technology.