Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Probably this political subtlety was at the heart of the enormous appeal of the series when it first appeared. There was something particularly daring about such suggestions in the late 1940’s, just after a great war had been fought for democracy (though with many unanticipated side effects). Asimov also clearly exploited the strong 1940’s interest in atomic power and its meaning for the future of humanity. In his story, the Foundation gains its power originally because it holds on to the knowledge of atomics while all the surrounding kingdoms are back to oil and coal. He never quite succeeds, however, in explaining how interstellar flight remains possible after knowledge of nuclear power has been lost; many of the minor technological items in the series also now seem dated, not because they are too grandiose but because they are too trivial. Who would ever need an “atom flash” for tipping ashtrays into? Calling a light bulb an “Atomo” bulb really tells the reader very little about it. Nevertheless, it could be said that at the heart of the sequence there lies, connected, a strong belief in unlimited technological progress, an equally strong awareness that this has no connection with political stability or maturity, and a wish for the cataclysms of war and history to be made sensible and predictable, instead of merely chaotic. The Foundation series can, it is true, be faulted on several grounds, such as failure of cultural imagination or overcomplexity of plot. Still, Asimov deserves great credit for having resisted, in his time, strong pressures toward ideological conformity. He rejected the temptation to...

(The entire section is 661 words.)