Reading | Prelude to Foundation (Asimov)

Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1988)

Rating: 6 out of 10.

I’m sticking with a strong science fiction motif for this year’s reading list.

So far, at least.

When Prelude to Foundation was first published I was in the seventh grade and was about to have my mind blown by the writings of Isaac Asimov. I went through a personal friendship renaissance in junior high and ditched the kids I’d been hanging out with for a few years to find a whole new friend clique that would define the remainder of my time in education all the way through University and beyond. One of my new junior high pals (who is still the guy of think of whenever someone mentions “child genius”) remembered my November birthday and tho we’d only been friends for a couple months gave me a crisp new paperback copy of The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov and said “read this, you won’t be disappointed.”

(…or however teens in the 80s spoke. I assume all my memories of this time period have been overwritten by binge-watching episodes of Stranger Things.)

Thus, I was introduced to the worlds of author Isaac Asimov, whose books became the de facto science fiction yardstick by which I measure all robot-based or space-based literature.

It’s also very likely about the same timeframe in which I came into possession of the first edition hard cover of the novel Prelude to Foundation which I found on my bookshelf as I was thinking about what to read next.

As it was, I had just in the past hour plucked my way through the concluding chapters of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem. Over the week I’d been reading that particular tome, I had ordered and received the third and final book of the trilogy and was pondering the trio of books on my shelf as I united the first with its companions. The Three-Body Problem had gripped my attention as the pandemic holidays of the 20/21 season wrapped, but reading about the impending doom of the human race (at the hands of a nearby alien culture slightly out-competing with us for our precious resources) demanded a break between instalments.

The word “Foundation” caught my attention.

Talk about a worthwhile re-read. Why? In parallel to all this reading, I’ve just binge-listened the whole of the 1973 BBC radio adaptation of the Foundation trilogy for what is likely the tenth time through. The eight episodes are a mix of “someone just invented synth sound effects” paired with solid British acting, but if you can tune your ears past the cacophonic clash the underlying story is still the genius work of Asimov brought to life in one of the few dramatized versions of his work worth its salt.

And then there it was, the prequel (or specifically the Prelude) sitting on my bookshelf as a first edition hardback novel I’d bought when I was younger than my daughter is right now. I’d certainly read it then, but unlikely have I touched it since.

I have however steeped myself in the breadth of Foundation stories frequently since.

Plucking through the official introduction and backstory of Hari Seldon, the character-who-is-barely-a-player in the main series, but who is also the man whose action set the course of the whole tale in motion, that instantly seemed like a fantastically interesting prospect for my second read, NOVEL.2021.02, of this year.

Reading | Dune (Herbert)

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

Rating: 9 out of 10.

It is as though there are certain novels that need more than one read-through to appreciate in full.

I don’t recall exactly who said it, but… I was listening to a podcast this summer. The guest (to whatever particular show it was I was listening) suggested giving oneself permission to read novels in a different way. This is particularly true if you have had a little trouble getting into a book.

Open it up to the middle, she said, and read three random chapters. If it still doesn’t get you, then read the last three chapters. What have you got to lose, after all? Worst case, you have spoiled a book you were going to put on the shelf and never then return to. Best case, the middle bits or the exciting conclusion sparks your interest enough that you dig back into it and (re)start again on page one.

This reminded me of Dune. Why? It reminded me for one simple, clear reason. On my first read (which was already half a decade ago) I had found the first quarter of the novel impenetrable.

Then, I got into it.

I finished it. I liked it. I even wrote about it.

I’ve been reading Dune by Frank Herbert for the better part of a month, and the seven hundred page monstrosity has been both a slog and a glorious tale that has wend its way around my heart.

Me, the last time I read Dune

My parting thought was that I should (probably) go back and re-read the first quarter of the novel again … someday … and that Dune was worth the effort.

Some people read thick, heavy books many times because the story takes a few attempts to get settled in your head in the right way. It takes many reads before the characters, plot, and everything about the novel becomes comfortable… becomes enjoyable to read about. I assume this is what makes other popular fiction “easy” to read. It often falls back on tropes and familiar settings. Those books are already comfortable from page one.

I’ve been (re)reading Dune recently. I am enjoying it much more this time. At page two hundred (of about seven hundred) I know in advance where the story is leading me. It twists through the machinations of a traitorous overthrow of an empirical duke and his family for reasons of greed and money and power. Dune, it seems, improves with persistence.

I wrote just yesterday that I was going to try and read twenty books in 2021. I have a couple weeks off over the holidays and my goal is to clear my docket (or in other words, finish reading Dune.) This is so that I can dig into some other novels I want to read (or re-read) next year. When I recently picked up Dune again I knew that I was stepping back into something that had burrowed into my brain. It was living there like a sandworm, settled for the last five years and biding it’s time. Also, I knew I was seeking comfortable and enjoyable reads, especially during this weird time of pandemic lock-downs and social uncertainty.

My many readings of Dune is giving me a little better appreciation not only of the novel but also of the idea of finding peace and clarity in familiarity. That is something particularly tough to find these days. I don’t know if that sought-for comfort will shape my reading choices next year, but I can’t help but think it will play a partial role.