Apple TV released the first trailer for their adaptation of Foundation. I've included it below. The first season of the series comes out in the fall, and I will probably watch it. Having read the Foundation books, I'm actually surprised that these could be made into something watchable. From a reader standpoint, they were barely entertaining, with no main characters having any emotion or likeableness, and spanning a length of time that is absurd by modern-day fiction standards. If you haven't read them, imagine getting a slice of a character's day...perhaps heated dialogue with another character...and the rudimentary dressings of what Asimov believes will suffice to "set the scene." And then there's a break, and the next scene takes place fifty years later. Those characters are now dead, and their descendants find something that remotely connects back to that argument that took place fifty years prior. That's how Foundation lurches its way forward in its narrative.
The characters in Asimov's famous work are not really the story. It's the idea that this immense galactic empire is collapsing and that one man can foresee and prove that it will happen to the doom and detriment of all the civilizations that form the empire. So the empire IS the character. This doomsayer prophet using math and science doesn't convince many people. But those whom he does convince become his army to essentially work toward making sure that there is only a dark age that lasts a thousand years instead of thirty thousand years by preserving knowledge. This future-seeing man is Harry Seldon, and he checks in every once in a while with preprogrammed holograms of himself that provide instructions to people so that they can go about the tasks of ending the Dark Age of the galaxy within a single millennia.
But I read from a standpoint that characters are what make a story interesting. Without them, the story is just a summary of the rise and fall and resurrection of a galactic empire containing billions upon billions of people that I don't really care about. Asimov essentially asks us to care about civilization in these books, and the question I always have while reading is: why should I care? It's like being asked to care about a thousand people getting wiped out by a plague in Bangladesh. We gasp at how horrible that sounds, but none of us actually shed a tear (or very few at least). We don't know those people. It's just a number. "Oh...did you hear that a thousand people were killed in Myanmar?" It's that kind of thing. We never know more than the headline.
Look...you know I'm not a scientist. I'm not an archeologist. I don't really have an interest in studying the rise and fall of a fictional civilization. But therein is probably the audience for this kind of thing: scientists and archeologists. It's clear that Asimov wrote this book for those people, who read science fiction and were blown away that someone would write what is essentially a summary of the Roman Empire with an added "we're back" hook that takes place over so many centuries that the characters involved in the story are just footnotes. It's the "what if" scenario. "What if there was this huge civilization, and someone saw it was falling, and then they took steps to preserve knowledge so that the horrible barbaric period only lasted a thousand years instead of thirty thousand? Wow! Wouldn't that be interesting!" And it undeniably is to some people. For me, the hang-up is just that huge timeline. It's too big for me as I never get to know a character other than in the five pages they exist.
I can see the likes of astrophysicists like Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson waxing poetic about Foundation. Though these people are super smart, they also wax poetic when talking about Earth history and cosmological time. "In this collection of a billion years...trees evolved...and there were no microorganisms that could digest the wood pulp when they fell because they hadn't evolved yet. So, it all got buried under volcanic ash and earth and became petrified...giving us vast petrified forests today." I mean...scientifically...it is interesting. But I don't really care about those trees, and it's hard for me to care about any animal that may have lived at that time. I just don't. That's what Foundation is...more or less.
Asimov as a writer has been compared to being the worst of the great writers. More than one person has pointed out that he has thin characters whose only spin is that they face and overcome intellectual challenges that Asimov poses through his writing. You can see that Asimov was amused over his plot twists and his big ideas every time you read Foundation or any of its sister books. I will say this about him: he writes very clearly, and all of the things he says are easy to understand. But his prose isn't pretty.
This all leads me back to the trailer for Foundation. Does it make me want to watch the series? Yeah...I will watch it. But they are going to have to depart from the books a lot, because successful television requires a "soul." And you only get that through emotional connection to characters. So they are going to have to slow down the narrative of the one-thousand years to give us characters whom we can slip into in order to see the events of the collapse of the empire, which are essentially just glossed over in the book. I mean...it's pretty much just a steady decline that is narratively talked about on just a few pages. This happened, followed by that, and now we will focus in on a world on the fringe that now finds itself by itself and in need of government, because government has collapsed. Hmm...what happens next for these poor people? Oh! A hologram from Harry Seldon left fifty years ago will provide clues! Some people watch said video...and then you never hear from them again because another fifty years has passed. But they did things with that knowledge that will be built on by others.
In other words...it's kind of boring.
It's weird that something like this could get published and lauded as so amazing. Foundation as it stands feels like a really well-developed outline. You know how you outline a book's plot? Well think of Foundation as that only being like 240 pages in length. That's what it feels like when you read it...an outline. But in it's age, there was nothing else like it. It was like Asimov was the greatest world-builder ever, but he never got past the world-building stage to build a story that took place in real time. So all you get is world-building. And there's pages and pages of it, telling you about all the things that happened and when. Imagine all the Star Wars stuff and its immense history being boiled down to 240 pages of outline, telling you when Order 66 happened, when the emperor was defeated, what Jango Fett did, etc. I mean...it'd be great world-building, but you wouldn't care about any of those characters. That's how Foundation reads, more or less. It's a summary of things that happened.
How on Earth is any of that going to translate into a watchable television series? Our first clues are in the trailer embedded below: