Old fan of the Foundation series?
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, fret not, my friend: you are going to love this book in any case.
If, like I am...
You’re an old fan of Isaac Asimov’s stories about foundations and robots…
And if, like I am...
You’re a huge fan of Gregory Benford’s books…
Old fan or not...
Brace for impact, because Foundation's Fear will deliver treat after treat.
If you've read Benford’s books before, you can imagine what I mean: the whole story universe gets a thorough refurbishing; it is built again from the ground up with new, vivid, up-to-date scientific and technological depiction, and a whole new palette of imaginative storytelling colours.
This is quite an achievement, and Benford does it while remaining faithful to the original stories by Isaac Asimov. No betrayal going on here, only celebration.
(Wikipedia) Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy is one of the high-water marks of science fiction. It is the monumental story of a Galactic Empire in decline, and the secret society of scientists who seek to shorten the inevitable Dark Age with the science of psychohistory. Now, with the permission -- and blessing -- of the Asimov estate, the epic saga continues. Fate -- and a cruel Emperor's arbitrary power -- have thrust Hari Seldon into the First Ministership of the Empire against his will. As the story opens, Hari is about to leave his quiet professorship and take on the all but impossible task of administering 25 million inhabited worlds from the all-steel planet of Trantor. With the help of his wife Dors and his alien companion Yugo, Seldon is still developing the science that will transform history, never dreaming that it will ultimately pit him against future history's most awesome threat.
In Foundation’s Fear, we meet Hari Seldon in a different context. He is much younger than we’ve been used to see him in the Asimov stories. Physically active and fighting, in love, struggling with pre-fall galactic empire politics, not quite having yet fully formed his new, revolutionary ideas about psychohistory, travelling the galaxy, falling into traps and fighting his way out, barely escaping murder plots…
How much better can this get?
Well done, Gregory Benford.
Here's a fun fact. I invite you to think about it, if only for a minute...
In Foundation’s Fear, amongst other adventures, we follow young Hari Seldon and his wife Dors Venabili as they visit a planet called Pandora where they end up mind-piloting wild monkeys while their human bodies lie unmoving in sarcophagus-like caskets.
Keep in mind that Foundation’s Fear came out in 1997, more than a decade prior to Jame Cameron’s movie Avatar (2009)—which I also love, mind you, and which I still watch over and over to this day, and in which universe, each time, I never fail to immerse and lose my soul.
The two stories are thoroughly different in all other aspects, and both are just as riveting in all kinds of unique ways, but this one ressemblance felt pretty uncanny to me when I first stumbled upon it.
After a bit of reflection, I still like to fancy that Benford’s ideas might have been seminal to Cameron’s work. If this ever was the case, then well done again, Mr. Benford.
Don’t get me wrong here, this has nothing to do with plagiarism, not at all, and in fact, quite to the contrary.
Artists and inventors of all venues have always influenced, or should I say, enriched each other’s creative lives and works, since good-old Lucy burned a toe.
There is no escaping it: any work of art, invention or story will always bear similarities to other works. Sometimes drawing from them, oftentimes building upon the shoulders of the giants who came before it.
For the sake of curiosity, here’s an article about Avatar and its similarities to many other stories, and why they don’t matter much in the end. (The article forgets to mention The Last Samurai when it compares Avatar with Dances with Wolves: all three stories use a similar colony-soldier-falls-in-love-and-goes-aboriginal-then-fights-his-own-army kind of plot. I suspect we could keep finding new similarities until the end of time.)
Back to the case at hand: Foundation's Fear by Gregory Benford.
The idea of people (or computers, or aliens, etc.) remote-controlling other creatures—or robots, or shared dreams, or even other people—with their minds is certainly not a new thing in the world of science-fiction.
But there is a good reason why it’s a popular theme: it's because we love it.
I’m always looking forward to a story that uses it in a new, beautiful, creative way like Gregory Benford does so well in Foundation’s Fear.
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Gregory Benford (born January 30, 1941) is an American science fiction author and astrophysicist who is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Irvine. He is a contributing editor of Reason magazine. Benford wrote the Galactic Center Saga science fiction novels, beginning with In the Ocean of Night (1977). The series postulates a galaxy in which sentient organic life is in constant warfare with sentient electromechanical life. In 1969 he wrote "The Scarred Man", the first story about a computer virus, published in 1970.
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The book we discussed today is part of the Second Foundation Trilogy:
Foundation’s Fear (Gregory Benford - 1997)
Foundation and Chaos (Greg Bear - 1998)
Foundation’s Triumph (David Brin - 1999)
This trilogy by Benford, Bear and Brin is part of a much larger universe.
Foundation and Empire (1952)
Second Foundation (1953)
Foundation’s Edge (1982)
Foundation and Earth (1986)
Prelude to Foundation (1988)
Forward the Foundation (1993)
In 1964, The Rest of the Robots was published - all of the short stories in that collection are found in The Complete Robot, and the novels The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun were published separately (see below)
"Mother Earth" (1948) - short story, in which no individual robots appear, but positronic robots are part of the background
"Mirror Image" (1972) - short story about R. Daneel Olivaw and detective Elijah Baley
The Caves of Steel (1954) - first Robot series/R. Daneel Olivaw novel
The Naked Sun (1957) - second Robot series/R. Daneel Olivaw novel
The Robots of Dawn (1983) - third Robot series/R. Daneel Olivaw novel
Robots and Empire (1985) - fourth Robot series/R. Daneel Olivaw novel
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