Do you remember way back in the mists of time that we used to call June 2020 when I penned my OMG! Asimov’s Foundation is Coming to TV! Blog? (OMG! Has it really been more than a year since then?)
As I noted at that time, the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov was (is) one of the most influential science fiction tales of all time. The overall premise of these stories as summarized by the Wikipedia is as follows:
In the waning days of a future Galactic Empire, the mathematician Hari Seldon spends his life developing a theory of psychohistory, a new and effective mathematical sociology. Using statistical laws of mass action, it can predict the future of large populations. Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting 30,000 years before a second empire arises. Although the inertia of the Empire’s fall is too great to stop, Seldon devises a plan by which “the onrushing mass of events must be deflected just a little” to eventually limit this interregnum to just one thousand years. To implement his plan, Seldon creates the Foundations — two groups of scientists and engineers settled at opposite ends of the galaxy — to preserve the spirit of science and civilization, and thus become the cornerstones of the new galactic empire.
Well, the first two episodes of 10-part Season 1 aired on Friday 24 September 2021, which is just a couple of days ago as I pen these words. Since this is an Apple TV+ original, many of my friends who haven’t subscribed to this service are asking me what I think. So, rather than say the same thing over and over again, I thought I’d gather my thoughts in this blog.
SPOILER ALERT! Stop reading now if you don’t want to see anything you will regret later.
Chapter 1 of the book starts by saying: “His name was Gaal Dornick and he was just a country boy who had never seen Trantor before” (where Gaal, who is a mathematical prodigy, comes from a solar system at the edge of the galaxy, and Trantor, which is a planet in a solar system close to the center of the galaxy, is where the Emperor lives and where billions of people act as the administrators of the galactic empire). That’s pretty much all we learn about Gaal’s origin and past history.
Well, in the TV series, Gaal is a girl, and we are presented with a much more satisfying back story than was provided by the book. Also, in the book, the spaceship carrying Gaal lands at the spaceport on Trantor. In the TV series, it docks with a space elevator — that is, an orbiting space station that is connected to the planet by a tether — and she subsequently takes the elevator from the station to the planet’s surface. When we say, “space station,” we’re not talking about something like our International Space Station (ISS) — this bodacious beauty is like a small city with around 150,000 inhabitants. And when we say, “tether,” we’re not talking about a relatively thin cable made out of carbon nanofibers — in this case we are talking about something hundreds of meters in diameter.
The point of all this is that the computer-generated imagery (CGI) is awesome — everything I was longing for. For example, Trantor is essentially a single vast megalopolis. The entire planet is sheathed in metal hundreds of layers deep — the only open land is a humongous park area that is the location of the imperial palace and the home of the emperor. In Apple’s realization, all of this was beautiful to behold.
The imperial library is awesome and Gaal’s initial interactions with Hari Seldon are pretty much what we expect. The first real surprise comes when we get to meet the emperor. In the book, this is Cleon I, who is destined to be the last Galactic Emperor of the Entun Dyntasy. By comparison, in Apple’s realization, Cleon I lived 11/12/13 generations in the past. Since his death, subsequent emperors have been clones grown from Cleon I’s original genome. At the time we join the story, there are essentially three emperors: Brother Dawn/Cleon XIII, who currently appears to be about 12 years old; Brother Day/Cleon XII, who is in the prime of his life and the one who actually makes the decisions; and Brother Dusk/Cleon XI, who is an older man. (The idea is that when Brother Dusk passes, Brother Day will become the new Brother Dusk, Brother Dawn will assume the mantel of Brother Day, and a new Brother Dawn will be “decanted from the clone bottle,” as it were.)
The next big surprise occurs toward the end of Episode 1 when Trantor’s space elevator is destroyed by apparent terrorists from the feuding Periphery kingdoms of Anacreon and Thespis, which is unfortunate for their delegations who just arrived to petition the emperor. Personally, I was heartbroken to see this happen but, once again, the CGI was awesome. I sat in awe as the tether crashed to the planet’s surface. This also prompted me to think, which I try not to do unless it’s absolutely necessary. If we assume that Trantor is roughly the same size and mass as the Earth, then the geostationary orbit altitude will be ~35,800 kilometers (~22,200 miles). The space station part of the space elevator has to be substantially farther out to counter the weight of the tether, so let’s say that the tether is 60,000 kilometers (~37,300 miles) long. Now, the circumference of the Earth at the equator is ~40,000 kilometers (~24,900 miles), which means that the falling tether would wrap all the way around the planet with some to spare (remember that, once the station breaks free, the planet will end up rotating under the tether).
After the excitement of Episode 1, I was happy to see that things slowed down a little in Episode 2 — at least in the beginning. Hari and his followers, including Gaal, are exiled to a barren world called Terminus, which is at the edge of the galaxy and the end of nowhere, so it’s fortunate that this is what Hari was hoping for in the first place. Things take a turn for the worse when Gaal finds her boyfriend, Dornick, fatally stabbing Hari — this didn’t happen in the book, so it took me unawares, although I have to admit that I never really trusted Dornick ever since we first met him. This episode ends with Brother Day ordering a public execution of the delegates from Anacreon and Thespis, accompanied by orbital bombardments of their home worlds, which is where we get to see the true might of the empire with its vast fleets of warships.
So, that’s where we are at the moment. I’m not happy with some of the changes that have been made, such as the assassination of Hari, but the overall look and feel (and the CGI) is all I could have hoped for, and I cannot wait to see Episode 3 this coming Friday.
How about you? Do you have an Apple TV+ account? If so, did you watch these two episodes (if not, why not)? And, if not, has what I’ve written here stirred your desire? As always, I welcome your comments and questions (especially if they are relevant to this blog LOL).