Sunday, October 9, 2011

Five science fiction books to hook new readers

Orson Scott Card's 1985 novel Ender's Game and its sequel Speaker for the Dead both won Hugo and Nebula Awards.

In an interview with Alec Ash at The Browser, he named five books sure to get new readers hooked, including:
Foundation Trilogy
by Isaac Asimov

Let's begin with Isaac Asimov and The Foundation Trilogy.

Isaac Asimov wrote many good books, but the one that stands as his finest, and the one that most rewards periodic rereading, is The Foundation TrilogyFoundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. (Yes, Second Foundation is the third volume of the trilogy.) Following Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in tracing the predictable collapse of a galaxy-wide interstellar empire, Asimov wrote with an episodic structure because each section was to be published separately in John W Campbell’s magazine Astounding.

The stories never feel fragmentary, though, because they are all woven together by the Seldon plan. Hari Seldon, at the beginning of the book, is a psychohistorian who predicts the fall of the empire – not a politically safe move to make – but instead of being executed for treason he is given safe passage to Terminus, a world at the edge of the galaxy. There, he and a team of scientists can work on the Encyclopedia Galactica, a compendium of all human knowledge, so that the dark ages following the collapse of the empire won’t take so long or sink so deeply into ignorance.

But it soon emerges that this is all a blind. Terminus is really a place for the successor empire to be seeded and grow in isolation, with Seldon’s plan marking great psychohistorical thresholds that the new empire will pass through. At each important juncture, Seldon himself reappears as a holographic image. But midway through the second book we run into something that even psychohistory couldn’t predict – a charismatic leader who throws a wrench into the works, derailing the Seldon plan and leaving the secret guardians of his future empire to scramble in order to put things back on track.

Foundation and its sequels show you the scope of first-rate extrapolative science fiction, and there is no better writer of the American plain style than Isaac Asimov. He never calls attention to himself as writer, but invisible as he is, he writes with such lucidity that everything is always clear and you slip through the story effortlessly. I loved it when I first read it at 16, and I loved it still when I reread it recently in my late 50s.
Read about the other books Card tagged.

Foundation is a book that inspired Paul Krugman.

--Marshal Zeringue