Foundation by Issac Asimov - coverFor almost a year now, I’ve been playing an online game based on the Foundation series by Issac Asimov. It is, strangely enough, called FoundationGame (or FondationJeu in its original French) and can be found here (and here for the French version).

I started playing because John introduced me to it. He had read the series and was enjoying the game, so got me to sign up too. I was reticent at first: the rules/instructions seemed really vague, with no guidance for newbies. I also felt I would suffer because I hadn’t read the books. But my obsessive gaming streak won through in the end so here I am, a year later, and it’s the first site I visit each time I get on the web. I have a higher threshold for annoying bits of games and bad interfaces than John – he gave it up after a couple of weeks.

This game has become a big part of my online life now so last week I decided to take the plunge and start reading the books. I’ve only read the first one so far – I’m just having a minor Iain Banks break (re-reading Espedair Street and Whit) then will crack on with the others.

My thoughts so far:
It’s, well, not the best thing I’ve ever read. Sure, the field of psychohistory and the resulting Seldon Plan are very interesting ideas, and the way the merchants take effective control of planets by forcing them to rely on the Foundation seems very familiar. Also, as I sit here surrounded by pointless paperwork, the idea of bureaucracy and administration bringing down establised civilisation seems very, very possible.

But the book just didn’t grab me. It seemed very formulaic: hero-figure has run in with those in power, encounters enemies, all hope looks lost but on the brink of defeat, something the hero figure had put in place earlier saves them just in the nick of time, then the hero is held up to be a hero by the whole society. That happened pretty much in each of the four parts of the book.

It reminded me very much of (admittedly, the only) other Asimov book that I’ve read: Azazel. This was a collection of short stories about a guy who could summon up a little devil, Azazel, and ask him to solve a predicament – but Azazel’s method of solving it would inevitably lead to further mishaps and problems. Every story, and there were at least a dozen in the book, followed the exact same pattern.

Repetition like that just doesn’t do it for me. If a book is going to be a selection of short stories or just separated into distinct parts like Foundation, then I want a bit of variety: perhaps one of the heroes loses one time, or we have the perspective of someone who wants the opposite of the others (in this case, say, to return to the collapsing Empire), or a technology isn’t conveniently invented by the author to cover up a plot hole or save a losing hero at the last minute.

I’ll plod on with them though: just because it is interesting to see how the game has been structured from them and also, maybe, to clue me in on what the next two levels (Second Foundation and maybe the Mule) will bring if I decide to go that way in the game (this is the only time I feel I’ve need any knowledge from the books – and that’s only because they’re “secret” levels).