• Yehoshua Paul

1951 - Foundation

1951. President Truman relieves General Douglas MacArthur of his command. Isaac Asimov publishes Foundation.

"A fire eater must eat fire even if he has to kindle it himself"

After the Chinese intervene in the Korean War, UN and US forces suffer devastating defeats and are forced to retreat. The Chinese and North Koreans retake Seoul.

General MacArthur then turns the tide and recaptures the city, giving him a popularity boost and President Truman hope that a ceasefire can be negotiated. MacArthur though wants none of that. He desires a more permanent victory, and before the President can issue his offer, the General lets the press know that in HIS opinion, the war should be expanded into mainland China. In doing so, MacArthur deliberately violates a direct presidential order requiring approval from the State Department for all communications with reporters.

MacArthur then writes a private letter criticizing the Truman Administration’s policies and priorities, which prefer diplomacy instead of active warfare. This letter ends up being publicly read in the House of Representatives.

And while all this is going on, President Truman learns from intercepted communications that MacArthur is conducting conversations with Spanish and Portuguese diplomats. The general plans to expand the Korean War into a major global conflict and he doesn’t want these countries to be alarmed.

General MacArthur is grossly overstepping his bounds and President Truman has had enough. After consulting with his joint chiefs of staff, the President relieves the popular general of his command, triggering a congressional inquiry, and a steep drop in the president’s approval ratings.

Civilian control of the military is reasserted, a global conflict with China is averted, and the Korean War continues to drag on, which makes sense to the future psycho-historians who will later study this period. They had read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and knew that individuals don’t have the power to change the course of history.

"Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right!"

A painting of Asimov on a throne by Rowena A. Morrill.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was an American writer and professor of biochemistry at the University of Boston. He was a prolific writer who wrote and edited more than 500 books and 90,000 letters and postcards in a wide variety of categories. His books have been published in 9 of the 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification.

Asimov grew up surrounded by newspapers and magazines. His parents immigrated to the United States from Russia when he was three years old. They settled themselves in Brooklyn, New York and opened up a succession of candy stores as a family business. Everyone in the family was expected to work, and that included Asimov who was provided with an unending supply of reading material a lifelong love affair with the written word.

His talent in writing was slow to blossom though. In 1938, at age 18, Asimov personally submitted his first story science fiction story, “Cosmic Corkscrew” (now lost) to Astounding Science Fiction editor, John W. Campbell Jr., who rejected it, and then rejected his next story “Stowaway”. Campbell encouraged Asimov to continue writing, and he took that advice to heart and sold “Marooned off Vesta” to Amazing Stories edited by Raymond A. Palmer who later purchased from him two more stories: “The Weapon too Dreadful to use” and “Trends”.

Over the next two years Asimov wrote 22 new stories, of which 13 were published, including some by Campbell in Astounding Science Fiction. By July, 1940 Asimov’s reputation as a writer was established and over the next several years he managed to establish the three laws of robotics, and publish his first Foundation stories. These stories established Asimov as one of the greats, resulting in him being ultimately recognized as one of the three biggest English language science fiction writers together with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein.

I was strongly tempted to include Asimov in my first run when he was just starting his career. He had more than earned a spot in Sefer HaOmer. However, as Campbell had already pointed out already in 1939, Asimov needed to keep on writing before he could become great. I preferred to represent him at his best, not his earliest, and that meant reviewing Foundation, the first book in the best science fiction series of all time (with the same name).

"Nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound true"

1966 WorldCon

In September 1966, 850 people attended the 24th WorldCon (AKA Tricon) which was held at the Sheraton-Cleveland, in Cleveland Ohio. The guest of honor was L. Sprague de Camp and Isaac Asimov was the toastmaster.

This convention was unique. Gene Roddenberry, premiered both pilot episodes “"The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before", for his upcoming NBC TV series Star Trek. And, the Hugo awards included a unique category: Best all-time series.

Five series contended for this honor:

Foundation was the series that won the prestigious title, surprising Asimov who expected Lord of the Rings to get the title. The category was subsequently discontinued, which means that to this day Foundation is still the greatest series ever.

There are three books in the core series:

  • Foundation

  • Foundation and Empire

  • The Second Foundation

The title was awarded to these three books. Asimov later wrote two sequels and then two prequels. You don’t need to read these books, but if you do make sure you read the core trilogy first, starting with Foundation, which in my opinion is the best book in the entire series.

"Only a lie that wasn't ashamed of itself could possibly succeed"

“For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme.

Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary

science of psychohistory, can see into the future -- to a dark age of

ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years.

To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best

minds in the Empire -- both scientists and scholars -- and brings them to

a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of

hope for a future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.”

This is the background to Foundation and it is the story that Hari Seldon used to convince 100,000 colonists to relocate to the remote planet Terminus at the edge of the Galaxy where they would work on creating the Encyclopedia Galactica, a compendium of all human knowledge.

Seldon was a psycho-historian. He had figured out how to use the laws of mathematics to predict the future. He foretold that this encyclopedia wouldwill eventually help humanity reduce the impending age of barbarism to a mere thousand years, making it the highest priority of the colonists on Terminus. Of course, they are are now cut off from the Galactic Empire and entirely dependent on trade from four hostile planets, but Seldon foresaw this. Didn’t he?

Does this plan actually involve an encyclopedia? Read the book and find out.

"To succeed, planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well."

I absolutely loved Foundation. The book itself is an easy read, which is impossible to put-down and requires several rereadings because once is not enough. I managed to finish it in under a day, and this was too short.

While reading, you are going to find yourself constantly being surprised by the twists the book takes, and the ideas it presents, including the different methods of establishing a functioning space empire that don’t require violent conflict.

The first mayor of Terminus, Salvor Hardin, had several famous sayings. One of these was: “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”. I felt this quote was very apt to the circumstances surrounding General MacArthur’s resignation. Hardin’s other quotes are the titles for each of the sections in this post. Planning was insufficient for a post about Asimov, and I needed to improvise. Hopefully, no one will point a nuclear blaster at me for this humble attempt.

Long live the Foundation!

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