Originally published in the 1950s, Foundation comes from an earlier era of sci-fi that grew under the shadow of the Cold War (my senior year of high school I wrote about that historical context and Ray Bradbury’s stories) where humans were in charge of rapidly developing technology approaching space travel abilities, full of wonder but also our capabilities of destruction to each other with the nuclear arms race. I honestly don’t follow current sci-fi as much as I would like to in theory (in reality, I struggle keeping track of the plot and characters amidst my busy life, much like the TV shows)…but one thing I’ve thought about is how with the current data and rate of change of climate change, we simply do not envision a future with humanity even present, nevermind spread out across the Galaxy, because we simply don’t have the time to do that (unless you’re a billionaire, apparently).
Foundation, then, is an interesting case of assuming (and actively predicting) humanity will endure for millennium, even if there will inevitably be a “dark period” that could last 30,000 years. The series’ premise is that Dr. Hari Seldon, using “psychohistory” that can predict the large-scale future of societies based on behavior (largely influenced by Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), and this has led him to conclude that the Galactic Empire will inevitably fall soon and enter that 30,000 dark age. He strikes a deal to work to pre-emptively shorten this dark age to “just” a millennium by corralling researchers to a distant planet to make the the Encyclopedia Galactica (basically, what The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy did an absurdist parody of) and rules for a future empire. The story takes place over 1,000 years; I am not sure how long the first season will go (10 episodes), but the writers want to tell the story over eighty episodes.
So what we have is a story about imminent doom, but not mass extinction. Dark moments, but set across the beauty of space. Those moments where it’s just a given that humans are going to survive, that they can travel and work together…that’s honestly a lot of hope amid the circumsetances. Did I understand every moment? No, I don’t think so. But did it give me a sense of wonder and fear? Yes.
From what I can gather, the TV series has already deviated from the books–understandable, considering they are collections of short stories with few recurring characters, much less character development. Our main character, a young woman named Gaal, is briefly in the first book as Sheldon’s biographer. The heart-thumping plot twist at the end of the second episode (the last one currently available) does not appear to have happened. The cloned emperors aren’t in the book either, but maybe are amalgams of various leaders? The whole thing fascinates me: at what point does the adaptation become less about specific parts, and more importantly about the broad ideas, themes, and atmosphere? Regardless, the Foundation series recognizes that amid the math and philosophy there needs to be human characters so we can follow them and care that they care about the future of the species.