Discussion: Is "Foundation" No Longer a Classic?
So, I was reading Twenty Years Ago the Classics Were Different by James Wallace Harris, in which he says:
Twenty years ago I wrote an article about the classics of science fiction for the fanzine Lan’s Lantern – and later made the essay into a web site at the Classics of Science Fiction.... The final Classics of Science Fiction list wasn’t selected by me, but was assembled from the most frequently recommended books from 28 best-of lists and other sources dating back to the 1950s. Of the 193 books on the list, I’m not sure how many I would personally recommend today.
Well, I thought, this should be interesting. And at this point, I totally agree, classics should change over time, not only because new great works get written, but also because as civilization marches on, our attitudes about older works change and we see them in a different light.
But then he says this:
A few months ago I listened to Foundation by Isaac Asimov and I was appalled by how bad it was. I had forgotten most of the story. I had read the original Foundation trilogy back in the 1960s and accepted it then as a classic because everyone said it was so. Listening to it now it was obvious that it was a fix-up novel from a handful of Astounding pulp fiction stories.... It is well loved, but not by me anymore.
"Is this guy nuts?!" my brain wails. But then I start thinking, well, what is this guy looking for in science fiction that would make him say this, or, conversely, what do I look for in science fiction that makes me disagree with him. Since I am currently rereading Foundation (still in the first book so far), here's my take.
First, Foundation speaks to me because it is about how certain aspects of human behavior lead inescapably to the rise and fall of societies. As a result of Jared Diamond's book Collapse, this is somewhat of a recent fad in anthropology. In fact, I, myself, have succumbed to the temptation to write about collapse.
But more importantly, Foundation is an exemplar because no one has written anything like it since! By "like it" I mean that the story has well developed characters that move through interesting plot twists. Also, Foundation manages to do something that few other writers have ever done (Dan Simmons is one who has). Specifically, Asimov uses a vast scale but shows how we puny humans are still important, how we can be important by our thoughts, decisions, and deeds.
If that doesn't make for classic sci-fi then I don't know what does. :-)