Classic science-fiction tales from the likes of H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and Philip K. Dick are in the midst of a revival, thanks to streaming-video series such as “War of the Worlds,” “Brave New World” and “Man in the High Castle.”
Now one of the sci-fi world’s best-known sagas, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, is being reimagined for an Apple TV+ series due to premiere in 2021.
The saga had its genesis almost eight decades ago, and the action is set more than 10,000 years in the future. But the themes of the work — centering on the decline and fall of a high-tech empire, Machiavellian machinations and unintended consequences — are, if anything, more relevant than ever in the here and now.
That’s what makes the Foundation series the perfect literary work for the revival of the Cosmic Log Used Book Club.
The CLUB Club goes back to the foundation of Cosmic Log. In contrast to book clubs that promote pricey new publications, our aim is to highlight books with cosmic themes that should be available at used-book shops as well as local libraries.
Over the past 18 years, we’ve issued more than 60 CLUB Club selections — many of them suggested by Cosmic Log readers. And to celebrate the return of the CLUB Club, we’re giving you the full list at the end of this item.
We’re also presenting a book giveaway, so keep reading!
“Foundation” dates back to a series of short stories that were published in Astounding Magazine starting in 1942. In the 1950s, those stories were published as a book trilogy — and in the 1980s and 1990s, Asimov produced two sequels and two prequels.
The key concept is psychohistory, the idea that the mass behavior of billions of people can be predicted and shaped centuries in advance. The series’ foundational character, Hari Seldon, uses psychohistory to foresee the fall of a galactic empire. He also comes up with a plan to reduce the resulting dark age from 30,000 years to a mere millennium.
That idea may have seemed far-fetched in 1942. But in this age of micro-targeted messaging, demographic data analysis, disinformation campaigns and social-media groupthink, the concept is less weird and perhaps more worrisome.
The latter half of the Foundation Trilogy highlights another concept: the potential for one individual with a talent for inspiring loyalty and fear to throw the course of history on a different track. That concept is as relevant today as it was in the midst of the Second World War.
Asimov’s masterwork ended up having an influence on luminaries ranging from conservative politician Newt Gingrich to liberal economist Paul Krugman. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk thought so much of the Foundation Trilogy that he agreed to tuck digitized copies of the books aboard the Tesla Roadster that was launched toward Mars on a Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018. “They’re amazing,” he tweeted.
Who am I to argue with Elon Musk on this?
To celebrate the revival of the CLUB Club, as well as the centennial year of Asimov’s birth, let’s have a trivial giveaway. This giveaway is “trivial” not only because it involves a trivia question, but also because there’s a relatively trivial sum at stake.
The prize is a $4 Amazon e-gift card that can be put toward the purchase of the Foundation Trilogy — or, frankly, any other purchase. I’ll send that amount to the first person answering the quiz question correctly in a comment below, based on submitted time stamp.
Here’s the question:
The Foundation series features a fictional reference work that has also popped up in books written by Carl Sagan and Douglas Adams. What is the two-word name of that reference work?
Update: We have a winner! Congrats to Kathy Coyle… The answer is “Encyclopedia Galactica.”
In case you’ve already gotten all the way through the Foundation series, here are 66 other CLUB Club selections you can check out using your e-gift card or your library card:
- “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell (June 2002 selection)
- “Alice in Quantumland” by Robert Gilmore (July 2002)
- “Mr. Tompkins” series by George Gamow (August 2002)
- “Manifold: Time” by Stephen Baxter (September 2002)
- “Dreamer” by Richard L. Miller (October 2002)
- “Earth” by David Brin (November 2002)
- “Roadside Picnic” by A. and B. Strugatsky (December 2002)
- “Strange Matters” by Tom Siegfried (January 2003)
- “Out of the Silent Planet” by C.S. Lewis (February 2003)
- “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert A. Heinlein (March 2003)
- “The Copper Crown” by Patricia Kennealy (April 2003)
- “Dragon’s Egg” by Robert L. Forward (May 2003)
- “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene (June 2003)
- “Contact” by Carl Sagan (July 2003)
- “A Skywatcher’s Year” by Jeff Kanipe (August 2003)
- Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson (September 2003)
- “Book of the New Sun” series by Gene Wolfe (September 2003)
- “The Best of AIR” by Marc Abrahams (October 2003)
- “Flare” by R. Zelazny and Thomas T. Thomas (November 2003)
- “Mother of Storms” by John Barnes (November 2003)
- “Mars: Uncovering the Secrets of the Red Planet” by Paul Raeburn (December 2003)
- Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher (January 2004)
- “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs (February 2004)
- “Bad Astronomy” by Phil Plait (March 2004)
- “The Spirit of St. Louis” by Charles Lindbergh (April 2004)
- “Angels and Demons” by Dan Brown (May 2004)
- “The Man Who Sold the Moon” by Robert A. Heinlein (June 2004)
- “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by P.K. Dick (July 2004)
- “Idlewild” by Nick Sagan (August 2004)
- “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe (October 2004)
- “Science and Theology” by J.C. Polkinghorne (November 2004)
- “Evolution” by Stephen Baxter (December 2004)
- “Krakatoa” by Simon Winchester (January 2005)
- “Killing Star” by C. Pellegrino and G. Zebrowski (February 2005)
- “The Forge of God” by Greg Bear (March 2005)
- “Short History of Nearly Everything” by B. Bryson (April 2005)
- “The Red One” by Jack London (May 2005)
- “N.Y. Times Book of Science Questions and Answers” (June 2005)
- “Heavy Weather” by Bruce Sterling and “Forty Signs of Rain” by Kim Stanley Robinson (August 2005)
- “Chaos” by James Gleick (October 2005)
- “A Brief (or Briefer) History of Time” by Stephen Hawking (and Leonard Mlodinow) (November 2005)
- “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle (December 2005)
- “1491” by Charles C. Mann (January 2006)
- “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card (February 2006)
- “The Gnostic Gospels” by Elaine Pagels (March 2006)
- “Prey” by Michael Crichton (April 2006)
- “Hellstrom’s Hive” by Frank Herbert (May 2006)
- “Inferno” by Jerry Pournelle (August 2006)
- “This Place Has No Atmosphere” by Paula Danziger and “Countdown for Cindy” by Eloise Engel (September 2006)
- “Orbit” by John J. Nance (October 2006)
- “Time and Again” by Jack Finney (November 2006)
- “God in the Equation” by Corey Powell (December 2006)
- “Conversations on Consciousness” by S. Blackmore (Jan. 2007)
- “Everyday Life in New Testament Times” by Bouquet (April 2007)
- “Supernova” by Roger Allen and Eric Kotani (May 2007)
- “The Twilight of Briareus” by Richard Cowper (June 2007)
- “The Traveler” by John Twelve Hawks (July 2007)
- “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut (August 2007)
- “Flatland” by Edwin A. Abbott and “The Fourth Dimension” by Rudy Rucker (December 2007)
- “The Year 1000” by D. Danziger and R. Lacey (November 2009)
- “Creation” by Randal Keynes (January 2010)
- “In Search of Time” by Dan Falk (February 2010)
- “Space” by James Michener (September 2011)
What’s your favorite cosmic reading matter? Pass your suggestion along in a comment, and it just might be featured as a future CLUB Club selection.