Foundation - by Isaac Asimov
I will make no attempt at a critical review, in the traditional sense, instead I will just describe my experience of this the first book in the Foundation Trilogy and hopefully be helpful to you along the way.
If you do decide to read this book, and I definitely hope you do, there are some things you really need to know. Foundation was originally published in 1951, as a culmination and compilation of several short stories published previously in Astounding Magazine. As a result, it still carries some of the form of a serial work: there is frequent repetition of main themes, reminding the reader of what they may have forgotten between issues of the magazine. For us with the benefit of the completed book, it may feel repetitive.
In fact, I’ve read many reviews where the reader was apparently suprised by the format and were thusly disappointed. I see no reason for that. Just as we must pay attention to whether we read poetry or prose, we must be aware of whatever form a story is crafted in and respond accordingly. So what I chose to do was read this book as if it was a serial. I would read a segment of it, set it down for a day or two, and then continue reading so that I could experience it in the same way as the original readers.
Not only was this incredibly effective, I had more of a nostalgic feeling while doing so.
In addition to the historical/textual context, it helps to know that this is Hard Sci-Fi. If you are new to the science fiction genre, you may have heard of this distinction between hard and soft but not know what it really means. In short, hard sci-fi explores the scientific details and conjectures behind the story in exquisite detail whereas a Soft story may be more focused on the interpersonal exchanges. Foundation is clearly hard sci-fi and, without giving away too much information, is made more challenging by having an abstract protagonist. If you are used to cheering for the hero space marine, this will be a more difficult book.
Read the Whole Thing!
Without reservation I give this series my highest recommendation…but not without a caveat. Foundation is but the first part of the story, so if you think you might put the book aside and not read the rest if you struggle with some of the difficulties above, then it may not be for you. I found that the series as a whole was made richer by each book, so you really do need to read all three if you commit to reading the first.
If you do you will be richly rewarded by a series which even beat Lord of The Rings at the 1966 Hugo!