Though I was told before I started reading this book that it made more sense to start with Foundation, I always find it interesting when authors decide to compose full-fledged prologues such as this one for long-running series or famous works, and as such, I tend to look into those first. (Robert Jordan’s New Spring is another such novel I’m currently reading in this regard.)
In the case of this story, it covers a time 47 years before Foundation begins, where Hari Seldon is brought before the Galactic Emperor to detail a new kind of math called ‘psychohistory.’ Essentially, the ability to use mathematics and sociology to, in theory, foresee the future. The idea was an interesting one, and it makes sense given what we know of trends, statistics and the like.
From his meeting with the Emperor, which doesn’t end well, Hari winds up going from place to place on the world of Trantor, eventually with a scholar, Dors Venabili, in tow and with the Empire on his tail.
In terms of the places they go, each one was quite amusing to read about. The only one that felt slow to start was Streeling University, the first place Hari is brought to and where he meets Dors. From there, he goes to three other places — Mycogen, Dahl and Wye — each time because of an event that involves him, and each time to continue his work on psychohistory. What these events are, I won’t say, but each one was an amusing read, and the ending twist played a part in that.
Because this is my first Asimov novel, I cannot compare it to anything else he wrote. As such, if I was to take this novel as an individual work, with no ties to later stories of his, I think it could stand on its own. It ends on a strange note, but the plot proceeds smoothly and the revelations of the last five chapters had me smiling throughout.
This story is also very heavy on dialogue versus descriptions, something I understand Asimov was known for, but this is my preferred type of story since I play a lot of games where dialogue is the crux of the gameplay, or at least a cornerstone of it. (Fallout: New Vegas for one.) It’s also not the only prequel, as I’ve come to learn, so if you start with this story, be aware that Forward the Foundation succeeds it, and then comes Foundation.
To end, this is a very good story. It held my attention, which I wanted, but didn’t blow me away, which is fine. Not all stories should do that. Dampens the impact, I think. How much I remember of it after the next novel I read will be the true test of its staying power, however.