Review – Prelude To Foundation by Issac Asimov

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.

First Look At – Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia

I’ll be honest: The first time I heard the name Larry Correia was during #GamerGate, when the subject of the Sad Puppies came up thanks to one Daddy Warpig. Since then, I’ve kept an eye on the man’s work, but not read much of any one book of his beyond a few samples here and there.

Until yesterday.

Monster Hunter International starts with the protagonist, Owen, saying how he got to live the American Dream of pushing his dick of a boss out a fourteen story window. A sentence that immediately made me chuckle.

From that sentence, I had a feeling Owen’s boss was going to be the catalyst for his introduction to MHI, the group which this novel series is named for. (A private family business to boot, which is rather amusing.) What I found more amusing was how quickly Owen resorted to fighting back once he felt something was wrong, and how. In his case, using an ankle stashed revolver to fight back against his newly turned werewolf boss, after he makes a crack at the no-weapons policies in workplaces.

Given that Larry’s bio on Amazon points out how much he loves guns and B-grade horror films, the prose and choices for details fit snuggly into that mold. Admittedly, at times I was thinking, ‘That doesn’t sound right’, or the description of something is a bit thin, but after a couple of chapters, I started getting more of a feel for his style.

Owen, the protagonist, is a bit of a mixed bag to me, though. While his actions early on did show him to be the type of hero one would normally see in pulp or B-grade stories, some of his dialogue felt out of place. There is, however, one observation he made towards the middle of the fourth chapter which did strike my interest, and I’m itching to see what it leads to.

The rest of the cast is very much the type one would expect to find in stories with similar premises, my favorite being Harbinger, but the strength of the narrative thus far seems to be in having an amusing story and world rather than breaking traditions or focusing on minutia or social messages. (The story does take jabs at real-life things, such as the aforementioned workplace laws, but not so much that I’d consider it pushing a message. More like using what’s there to help make on-topic jokes.)

Granted, this novel is almost a decade old, but compared to other stories I’ve looked at that released over the past two or so years, such a focus on story over all else is getting harder to find. It’s a more, pardon the pun, novel concept in 2017.

Overall, I’m liking this one. Looking forward to reading the rest.

First Look At – The Corroding Empire by Johan Kalsi

This book came to my attention thanks to Castilla House author Vox Day back on the 13th of March.

The description of Kalsi’s writing in the post as ‘more Asimovian than Asimov himself’ made me think ‘parody’ when I saw it. (Kalsi is likely a pen name under which, if my reading is correct, several Castilla House authors wrote for this book.)

As it happens, the true parody of the book relates to The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, someone whose work consists of ‘re-imaginings’ of works from older authors, which the titles and cover art, like The Android’s Dream, often give away, or in the case of Redshirts, fan-fiction. A type of writing that, since my high school days in the early 00’s, has been frowned upon by many, when published for monetary gain or not.

Best example: the response to the Fifty Shades trilogy from people who know it’s Twilight fan-fiction, just with the character names changed.

Concerning The Corroding Empire itself, for the first few chapters, which make up one of the four ‘books’ this novel contains, this feels like an homage to Asimov’s Foundation. The earliest example of this is how every chapter starts with an Infogalactic Entry, not unlike the Encyclopedia Galactic entries Asimov wrote.

And then there’s the homage to Hari Seldon, the man who would found The Foundation. In that series, he was a mathematician and psychohistorian, someone skilled in numbers and what they could mean when applied to the social order and potential events. The first person we see for a long period in Corroding Empire is First Technocrat Jaggis, someone whose job it is to study and analyze the algorithm systems that govern billions of lives. His current issue? Anomalies within those same algorithms, and what those could do to society and many other aspects of life if left unchecked.

These same early chapters also introduce Servo. (Not that one.) A medical robot that was given sentience due to an accident and, at the time he’s introduced, is written as one who is obsessed with the anomalies Jaggis is also looking into.

The drama and dialogue between them is pretty good, and something I expect in good sci-fi that deals with AIs and humans. Both characters could be considered homages to Hari given what they do, though I think Servo will have more life, so to speak, than Jaggis for the whole of the book. If so, then he’s the more likely homage to Hari.

Overall, liking it so far. Looking forward to the rest.