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Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, a Hugo Award winner for Best of All Time Series 1966, was inspired by an earlier work, The Decline of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbin. Asimov speculated that, as in the past, future human civilisations again powered a mighty empire of Galactic proportions and, like the Romans, experienced their kingdom's inevitable decline and fall.

But unlike the Romans, the Galactic Empire had access to the scientific power of ''psychohistory'', complex mathematics with vast predictive capabilities that could forwarn the empire of their decline with unerring accuracy. The inventor, Harry Sheldon, foresaw the signs of decay and predicted the empire's fall, which would result in dark ages many thousands of years in duration.

Seldon believed he and his ten thousand followers could significantly reduce the time before civilisation recovered from the inevitable decline if the empire allowed his team to finish their work. Instead, the realm took Sheldon and his followers to trial but, despite their suspicions, allowed them to continue their work, but at the far edges of the Milky Way galaxy.

Asimov's work is poignant to the twenty-first century, where modern civilisation faces a similar crisis, including the decline of the nation-state, the rise of China, and the global climate crisis. Will Western civilisation as we know it lose influence, giving way to a new world order?

This book's ''tell not show'' style is dated, given today's preferences for solid characterisation and action learning. The characters feel one-dimensional, given the many different protagonists spread over centuries, and seem similar, almost as if it were Asimov's voice applying the same logic to his characters and their challenges, from the Encyclopedists to the Mercantilists.

However, what's lacking in character development is compensated with intellectual power and creativity. Asimov wrote with freedom, using his gifted genius to express fundamental truths and big ideas rather than only entertain. Like all the great speculative fiction novelists, Asimov observes civilisations profoundly, making him arguably one of the greatest SFF writers. His work should continue to grow in stature as writers apply his ideas to modern storytelling. 5 STARS


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