Sunday, March 28, 2010

#3: The Foundation Trilogy, # 77 The Invisible Man

The Foundation Trilogy:

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” 
“Now any dogma, based primarily on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never be turned on the user.”
“The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.”  
“The laws of history are as absolute as the laws of physics, and if the probabilities of error are greater, it is only because history does not deal with as many humans as physics does atoms, so that individual variations count for more.” 

Foundation is undoubtedly one of the cornerstone works of science fiction. It traces the decline and fall of a galactic empire, partially based off Gibbon's esteemed history, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The trilogy is made up of three books, Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. It is often a chart-topper on SF lists, and is mentioned in the company of works like Dune, Childhood's End, Stranger in a Strange Land, 1984, and Brave New World.
This trilogy has to do with how psychohistorian Hari Seldon predicts, through advanced psychology, history, and science, the events of the next few hundreds of years. His predictions (which turn out to be mostly accurate) yield the fact that the Galactic Empire will fall. He is accused of treason, but not before he manages to set up two secret Foundations, centers of education, art, and knowledge, at opposite ends of the universe.
This series traces the Foundations' struggles while the Empire falls apart around them. In the first novel, simply titled Foundation, Seldon's new science of psychohistory is shown to be correct again and again, despite the attempts of certain individuals to sway the course of history which has been predicted.
The next book in the series is called Foundation and Empire. The first half of this novel mainly concerns the dying Empire, based from Trantor, and one of its generals, who is intent on destroying the First Foundation. The second part of the novel is where psychohistory is thrown a curveball: This part concerns an unforeseen villain, the Mule, a mutant who rises from the ashes of the Empire to challenge the first Foundation's newfound supremecy in the Galaxy.
In the third and final novel, Second Foundation, the heroes of the First Foundation battle against the Mule with some help from the mysterious, behind-the-scenes psychics of the Second Foundation. Finally, Second Foundation concludes as the people of Terminus, the First Foundation, embark on a quest to find the Second Foundation, a host of mental supermen who apparently have been pulling all the strings more than anyone thought.
Asimov's writing in this trilogy is very straightforward and entertaining. He throws in intellectual and scientific discourse as well. Yes, he's not exactly Shakespeare or James Joyce as a writer, technically speaking, but he still gets the job done.
Foundation is undoubtedly one of THE classics of SF, and if you had to read ten sci-fi books to get a feel for the genre, Foundation would have to be on the list. This trilogy has immense sentimental value for any science fiction author growing up in the Golden Age of SF. The Foundation Trilogy is simply an intelligent, well-paced tale of space that should not be missed by any serious fan of Sci-fi. It's possibly the most beloved work of science fiction ever produced, and there's a reason it was named the best series of all time by the voters of the Hugo Award, beating out The Lord of the Rings. 

The Invisible Man:

“All men, however highly educated, retain some superstitious inklings.” 
“The Anglo-Saxon genius for parliamentary government asserted itself; there was a great deal of talk and no decisive action.”  
“I went over the heads of the things a man reckons desirable. No doubt invisibility made it possible to get them, but it made it impossible to enjoy them when they are got.” 

The Invisible Man is H.G Wells' story of a mad scientist who finds a way to make himself invisible and subsequently wreaks havoc all over England --and it's a classic of early science fiction. The story is quite straightforward and decently written, and undoubtedly an important early work of SF. I wouldn't call it great, but its certainly a good read, and a decent introduction to Wells. This is the kind of imaginative detail which made Wells one of the first real science fiction authors.
A key element of this novel that must be noted is the fact that Griffin, the mad scientist, cannot become visible again. He chooses to be swathed in bandages, and tries to find a remedy for his invisibility, but the curiosity of the people around him is what eventually drives him to madness. They bring about their own fate by disturbing the man who just wants to be left alone. Wells conveys the wide-eyed stupidity of the average Brit, with their coarse accents and such, and contrasts it well with Griffin's not-to-be-trifled-with attitude.
Wells' descriptions at first paint Griffin as somewhat of a villain, but those that he attacks are so bumbling, meddlesome, and incompetent that they become hard to root for. In one part of the story Griffin even confides in a friend, and hopes that the friend will not give him away to the authorities searching for him. You end up feeling sorry for Griffin towards the novel's conclusion, but it becomes evident that his death is the only way to end the story. Griffin's interference with the fabric of nature turn his fellow humans against him, and he ends up quite mad --but it is also the lack of levelheadedness in the people around him that drives Griffin to his sorry mental state.
There's no doubt that The Invisible Man is a must-read for H.G. Wells and Jules Verne fans; it's truly a bona-fide classic of early Sci-Fi. For the general science fiction reading audience, I'll offer this: The Invisible Man is a short, easy, enjoyable read --I'd say have a look at it especially if you're just starting out reading sci-fi. It introduces the reader to a lot of themes you'll find present in other SF books, because of Wells' immense influence on the genre.
Like many of Wells' other science fiction novels, this comparatively conventional Sci-Fi tale is probably a better starter than the genre's more demanding works like Philip K Dick's mind-bending novel, Now Wait For Last Year, or Olaf Stapledon's exquisite, complex work, Star Maker. 

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