The Elements of Science Fiction in Asimov's Foundation

Topics: Foundation, Isaac Asimov, Hari Seldon Pages: 5 (1706 words) Published: October 23, 2005
The Elements of Science Fiction in Asimov's Foundation

The Elements of Science Fiction in Asimov's Foundation
[This essay explores those characteristics of the novel Foundation, which are peculiar to the genre of Science Fiction.]

The most fundamental and obvious element of Science Fiction is its dependence on imagined technological advancements. The SF writer exploits the gap between scientific theory and practice to create a world, or at least circumstances, very different from our own reality and yet very believable because of the scientific ‘logic' behind it all. The SF writer must provide some kind of scientific explanation as to how the fantastic things that are being talked about have been made possible. Asimov, in his novel Foundation, introduces hyper-spatial travel based on the concept of hyper-space, to make the existence of the Galactic Empire possible. Nuclear power supplies the energy requirements and the use of coal and oil, as Salvor Hardin says in the novel, is considered ‘barbaric'. Trantor, the capital of this futuristic Empire has gone a step further to ‘make use of the temperature difference between the ground level and a couple of miles under' to supply all the energy required. The ‘glorious' picture is completed in the first few pages with Gaal Dornick following a light beam for a guide and taking a taxi which rises straight up into the air. Because of this creation of a new, invented world, it becomes essential that the reader be informed about many things that the inhabitants of this world take for granted. This feature of ‘info-dumping' is quite peculiar to Science Fiction, as writers of other genres need not explain such things as how people travel and which fuels they use. A good SF writer does not get carried away by the brilliance of his innovative ideas, thereby disrupting the flow of the story and burdening the reader with too many facts. Instead, the information is provided in small capsules as and when possible with the least intrusion. Asimov uses various devices for info-dumping to avoid monotony. The first one that we encounter is the use of metatext, the Encyclopedia Galactica, which not only informs the reader but is also the ultimate point of reference. Extracts from this invented encyclopedia introduce some characters of the novel and give glimpses of the kind of world, with its social and political milieu, in which they live. Also, the use of an encyclopedia strikes the reader as a scholarly approach, in keeping with the ‘logic' strategy, while serving an important narrative function. The second device is the most commonly used one; that of the authorial voice, but Asimov takes care never to overuse it. Instead, he uses conversation, where at least one of the characters is either young and inexperienced, or does not conform to the prevalent ideas of that society. Gaal Dornick is a provincial boy who is visiting Trantor for the first time and (like the reader) does not know much about it. It is natural for him to ask questions and the answers that he gets inform the reader as well. He and the reader are thus together informed that the people in Trantor hardly ever see the sun or the open sky and actually have to buy a ticket to do so. In another instance, Salvor Hardin disagrees with the notions of the Encyclopedists and the resulting argument is informative, while contributing to the sequence of events at the same time. Having established a scientific base for the course of events described, SF is not pre-occupied with the concerns of science but the effects that the changed circumstances of the invented world, have on the human society. Alternative visions of the world order can be explored through the world of the novel. In Foundation, though we have the technological advancements as the essential backdrop, much more important is the creation of the field of ‘psychohistory' in the novel – a branch of mathematics which can be used to predict ‘the reactions of human...

Bibliography: Isaac Asimov: Foundation. London, Harper Collins, 1995.
Maxim Jakubowski and Edward James: The Profession of Science Fiction.
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