The science fiction writer of the last generation who has been in the public eye lately is Ray Bradbury. His rather silly complaint about Michael Moore's use of 'Fahrenheit' in the name of his movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, has gotten more ink than it deserves. I don't believe there is a copyright violation issue. Furthermore, the nod to Bradbury's novel, Fahrenheit 451, can be perceived as a compliment. But, the sci-fi writer who has had my attention for the the last two weeks is Isaac Asimov. Though I have read some Asimov over the years, I did not approach the Foundation cycle until now. I may have picked up the first book because I was stymied by Ursula Le Guin's Hain cycle. However, Asimov's Foundation books have their frustrations, too.
Asimov began the cycle in the early 1950s, when he was in his early twenties.
The time is millenia into the future. Humans have colonized the galaxy and reached an inventive zenith in which technology is well-dispersed, and mainly nuclear. Technological civilization is in decline, though few realize it because the process of decay is so slow. At the edges of the Empire, worlds have drifted back to using fossil fuels and wood as energy sources. The royalty of the Empire is not interested in seeing, hearing or saying any evil, that is, any acknowledgement that all is not well. Enter one Hari Seldon, the superhero of the Foundation series. He is a psychohistorian, a psychologist who can foresee the future by studying aggregates of people and determining their likely responses to stimuli. His goal is to soften the decline of the Empire into barbarism for 30,000 years he believes is inevitable. He plans a recovery that will take only 1,000 years. Seldon manipulates the emperor into setting up his dream laboratory — a planet where he can develop his theory to his heart's content.
Seldon and his followers are exiled to Terminus, a planet at the far reaches of the galaxy that they develop from scratch. The exile serves the government's purpose by eliminating dissenters who might disrupt the status quo. It serves Seldon's purpose by giving him free reign over a population that, at first, is fully dedicated to his ideas. The initial rationale given for the existence of the Foundation is that it will research and publish an encylopedia containing all of the knowledge of mankind. But, by the end of Foundation, the first book of the series, that rationale ifs revealed as a pretext. The Foundation exists to keep technology alive and innovative. While the Empire loses its technological sophistication, the Foundation will gradually spread its technology to surrounding planets. The initial method for spreading technology is religion. In return for inventions of the Foundation, other planets agree to allowing 'priests' from the Foundation to 'minister' medicine and other science.