Sunday, July 31, 2016

Book Review: Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov

The first book in the trilogy was a series of political episodes spanning for centuries. I was elevated by the series of upcoming crisis and how wonderfully and convincingly they were taken care. Then, with high hopes and hungry for more drama I went ahead to read the next book: Foundation and Empire. I can say I was not completely disappointed with this novel, but I had mixed feelings about it. I really did not feel much about it except for the twist in the end. It may be because of the expectations I had for the story.

Now just to make ends meet, I reluctantly picked up the third book: Second Foundation. During the ending of the first half, I was completely elated. Believe it or not, I started writing this review when I was at this point. Because the story began subtly and unfolded itself the reason and motive in a grand fashion! I felt this was gravely missing in the second book. In other words it would be better to say, in the second book a new concept was merely introduced make it explode in the third. Not only is it described nicely but it also gives scientific answers to "how" and "why" of the concept in a fictional way convincingly. It extrapolates the ingenious idea that Asimov gave birth: psychohistory.

The first part of the book is the fight between the Second Foundation and The Mule. Just when it seems that the other one is going to lose, the situation turns nicely. The concept which I mentioned is quite simple, but it teases your brains when you read it. For me it was like I knew about the concept all along but there were hardly any words to put my thoughts together. I will share the passages that got my mind rolling (I trimmed a few lines not to make this post look too long):
Bail Chanis said, "... It was a time of absolutes, of the great final generalities, at least in thought. It was a sign of decaying culture, of course, that dams had been built against the further development of ideas. It was his revolt against these dams that made Seldon famous. It was that one last spark of youthful creation in him that lit the Empire in a sunset glow and dimly foreshadowed the rising sun of the Second Empire."
The Mule: "Very dramatic. So what?"
"So he created his Foundations according to the laws of psychohistory, but who knew better than he that even those laws were relative? He never created a finished product. Finished products are for decadent minds. His was an evolving mechanism and the Second Foundation was the instrument of that evolution. We are the guardians of Seldon’s Plan. Only we!"
"Are you trying to talk yourself into courage," inquired the Mule, contemptuously, "or are you trying to impress me?... And in any case, poor fool, speak of the Second Foundation in the past tense, for it is destroyed."
The First Speaker of Second Foundation smiled: “Why, the man you call Bail Channis performed his mission well... I can see, of course, that you have mistreated him... He volunteered for this mission although we were able to predict mathematically the huge chance of damage to his mind—a more fearful alternative than that of mere physical crippling.
"Emotional contact such as you and I possess is not a very new development. Actually it is implicit in the human brain. Most humans can read emotion in a primitive manner by associating it pragmatically with facial expression, tone of voice and so on. A good many animals possess the faculty to a higher degree; they use the sense of smell to a good extent, and the emotions involved are, of course, less complex. Actually, humans are capable of much more, but the faculty of direct emotional contact tended to atrophy with the development of speech a million years back. It has been the great advance of our Second Foundation that this forgotten sense has been restored to at least some of its potentialities. "But we are not born with its full use. A million years of decay is a formidable obstacle, and we must educate the sense, exercise it as we exercise our muscles. And there you have the main difference. You were born with it."
Well, are you not seeing the level of standard in the language; and also the depth of thoughts expressed? They are at the highest level of literary discipline as opposed to classical literature. Well, here is another one to justify what I said: The second part of the book explains the origins of psychohistory, i.e. the Seldon Plan. What I really loved is the fact that it makes you believe that the idea really exists. Hitherto I thought that the plan is purely fictitious. So I had swallowed it because the concept seemed foolproof. This excerpt below tells us otherwise:
"Good," said the First Speaker. "And tell me, what do you think of all this. A finished work of art, is it not?"
"Definitely!"
"Wrong! It is not." This, with sharpness. "It is the first lesson you must unlearn. The Seldon Plan is neither complete nor correct. Instead, it is merely the best that could be done at the time. Over a dozen generations of men have pored over these equations, worked at them, taken them apart to the last decimal place, and put them together again. They’ve done more than that. They’ve watched nearly four hundred years pass and against the predictions and equations, they’ve checked reality, and they have learned."
You see there is realism in it. The story honestly admits imperfection; which is why you can relate to it closely. The portrayal of ideas is so futuristic that I was completely stunned by them. Also, the writing is very clever in the sense that the story flows in a subtle way; all the details are not just thrown to you; you have to read between the lines. And there are instances where it will become clear in the later chapters. So you will devour the pages all the way until the reason for your hunger is completely satisfied. My mind went restless when I was nearing the end of the novel as it got electrified by intense suspense backed up by high-octane science. Indeed, it was as good as a roller coaster ride for me!

Ah, I think these doses are quite enough. I am not here to spoil your party so early; not in the least! Now I understand why there was a slight dip in my excitement about the second book: Foundation and Empire. I guess it was a deliberate move by Asimov as he wanted his fans to rejoice the third book. Thus, making it a fantastic trilogy!

Postscript

Today, in the age of science we have abundant knowledge and information at the tip of our fingers. Sci-fi movies are made using CGI to depict the film maker's ideas on the screen; and we're often awed by it. Just imagine, back in the 1950s resources were limited and science was budding. These great writers: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke et al had already transcended jet age. These men with their vivid ideas driven by profound imagination made people live in space age only by words. Their work is truly commendable. Hats off! On the lighter side of things, I am happy and proud of myself because so far this is the only trilogy I read as a book series. I am glad it was an enjoyable journey all along.

Further reading: Second Foundation quotes by Isaac Asimov

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Featured in Creative Talents Unleashed

Hello Friends,

I would like to share my joy with you today because my poem, Face of Many Mirrors got featured in the online literary magazine: Creative Talents Unleashed. Click here to read it. Thank you so much for your kind support.

Warm Regards,
Amit


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Science and Religion

I finished reading Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov recently. Its a second novel published in the Foundation series. It was an enjoyable read, but not as enjoyable as the first one. Lets see if the third book strikes the right chord. Well, this post talks about the cloud of thoughts that gathered around me when I read these beautiful lines from the books:

Foundation

It is the chief characteristic of the religion of science that it works.
It is remarkable, Hardin, how the religion of science has grabbed hold. Treating the problem sociologically, it would seem that when the old Empire began to rot at the fringes, it could be considered that science, as science, had failed the outer worlds. To be reaccepted it would have to present itself in another guise—and it has done just that. It works out beautifully.
Foundation and Empire
The Foundation has secrets. They have books, old books - so old that the language they are in is only known to a few of the top men. But the secrets are shrouded in ritual and religion, and none may use them.
Aren't these lines more to us than meets the eye? They compelled me to reflect upon the things that I could relate very dearly. I mean, look at the holy books presented to us by our great ancestors. The text in them are so complex that they cannot be understood in simple terms. It will take years just to study one volume of it.

Look at religion from a slightly different angle. Think of it as pure science - a branch of discipline that is so overwhelmingly powerful that our minds just out-rightly reject it, only because we fail to understand its secrets. Now what happens if the same thing is preached as religion? We accept it as a Heavenly blessing. We believe it; live it. Our ancestors were smart enough to preach science as religion, so that the people of today - who question everything with their half empty minds - follow it without doubting much. They always want us to have faith in it. Because the generation in which we all live is utterly incapable of realizing the true potential of it. Since we do not comprehend its virtues, we draw our own "home-made" interpretations out of it. Thus, either we end up following our customs and rituals because of our faith in them or we do not follow them at all! Sometimes, its mixed. I follow most of it, not all of it. You know, I am spiritual but not so religious! On the whole, as many generations passed, science became religion, and religion became faith.

I will corroborate what I just said. The Hindu calendar, just like the English calendar, has more than just days and months in it. It tells you about the future. Solar and lunar eclipses are foretold accurately well ahead of time (one, two or a few years before) with the exact time-stamp. How? There are mathematical calculations to deduce the times of their occurrences. We just don't know it yet. Another best example is horoscope - the destinies of people described based on their birthdays. There is more in Hinduism. Priests use horoscopes to calculate the compatibility between a boy and a girl if they want to marry. Ultimately its mathematical science expounded in religious ways. I am familiar with Hinduism and I am sure there are similar aspects of science in other religions also.

Asimov used science fiction as a clever device to explain religion through science in his Foundation novels. I really admire his intelligence. Way to go, Asimov!

The Great Isaac Asimov

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Beast

The Beast

Image courtesy: The Silence of the Lambs

... and here it comes again; it has awaken
Breaking the shackles wound around it
Into splinters of violent pandemonium
This untamed being; the abhorring brute
Looming inside me with a devious smug
Unleashes itself triumphantly with a roar -
A wicked roar that bursts sardonic laughter

To experience the long awaited freedom;
Freedom of being deviant once again
And being uncouth and mischievous
This happens only when you are gone
So I can be the king of all the spoils
I earnestly wish you to return after eons

Mindless about the depletion inside
By being unwise about its actions
The mind is poisoned to the core
By a plague of heathen thoughts
Causing devil-may-care perversion
To the point of wild palpitation
Thus, after a long run of satanic fun
Finally the beast succumbs to repose

I couldn't open my eyes when the sun was up
As it was the grim sight of a great disaster
My mind was numb; my soul - obliterated
I was vanquished by the wretched monster,
The devil inside me which I had given birth
Of which I am the father and its rightful master

Oh, is there anything less painful than
To get torn apart between my mind and soul?
It is this regret that nags me with teasing cry:
Was there something I should have done
When it was growing inside the womb?
Oh, why did I embrace it with open arms
When I knew about its repercussions?

After a long struggle to concede my defeat
That has stained this haggard look upon me,
I kneel down, ashamed, to beseech you:
Wherever you are, please come back soon
Only you can help me bring myself back;
Help me find myself for I am lost in wilderness
And rescue me from this dreadful creature

Before it gets lost from me forever
Please, I am begging you to bring it back -
The harmony between my mind and soul
Which left me without saying, "Goodbye"
Be a guiding light and I will bridle the beast
Let my righteousness be the strength to hold it firm
And I pledge to take it on the path of morality
Then it will never be called as The Beast ever again

April 23, 2016