Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On Researching/Teaching Asimov: Student Perspectives on Foundation

As you can see from a quick glance at the blog authors, I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Science Fiction course here at sf@SF. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them and what they learned by teaching it.

Here's the team that taught Isaac Asimov's Foundation.


Anonymous begins:

In preparing for the group project about Isaac Asimov’s Foundation I learned many things about the books, the author and his influence on science fiction literature. I was particularly interested in the way he put his story together, which was unlike anything, especially in the sci-fi genre, I had read before.

Originally I found Foundation to be kind of a boring book in comparison with the other books assigned for the class, but as I got further into the novel I became enthralled with the story. Asimov’s style is a little dry and I think the descriptions of both the characters and settings in Foundation are a bit flat, which is not surprising when considering the subject matter of his books. The political part of this story is what made the book so interesting, and the allegories for the fall of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages that followed are spectacular.

After gaining some background knowledge of the genre and the time period of Asimov’s writing I can see why the books are so influential in the science fiction genre. Apparently most science fiction writers of his time were concerned with writing space-adventure, a type of story Asimov himself rejected. His stories are more scientific, political and social. Also, he has written over three hundred books, a number which I found unbelievably impressive, and a huge number of articles, columns, and short stories.

Another interesting thing I read is that Asimov has a strange view on the destiny of humanity, which is reflected in his stories. In Foundation, and I am told this theme shows up repeatedly in his work, Asimov toys with the idea of mankind reaching a God-like state because of their achievements in science. Hari Seldon is a prime example of a character reaching a God-like status in his books, as he is almost completely omnipotent. He can tell the future of a society, but is incapable of predicting the future of an individual, which, as far as Seldon and his plan are concerned, is inconsequential. The conflict between individuality and destiny is an important theme in this book.

I am pleased with my group’s decision to research Asimov and present Foundation to the rest of the class. It’s no wonder that his storytelling is so influential to other science fiction stories.


Eric adds:

Isaac Asimov has an asteroid named after him--the 5020-Asimov--discovered March 21, 1981. This is only one of the many awards that Isaac Asimov has received. There’s a good reason why Asimov is regarded so highly. He is the author (and/or editor) of over 500 novels, and his legacy of science fiction and science fact is a legendary part of the sci-fi movement.

One of his most famous novels is Foundation, the first book in a trilogy (originally--it later became a series of 5 books). Asimov based his book loosely around the fall of the Roman Empire, and he makes a reference to many events from the historical time period. An interesting fact to point out is the inclusion of a pocket calculator in the novel. At the date of publication, 1951, the pocket-sized calculator was not a technological achievement yet, and would not be for another 20 years.

Asimov was born to Russian parents and raised under the Jewish religion. No one knows when he was actually born, not even himself, and he is quoted as saying that he celebrates on the second of January. He became an advocate for science fantasy during his 19th year, after discovering science fiction fandom. He earned a degree in biochemistry (a doctorate) from Columbia University.

Asimov doesn’t write science fiction that deals with aliens, either. His form of science fiction is a human-based one, where either the problem at large is robots or people themselves. Another little tasty tidbit: Asimov has a cameo in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Unfortunately even people must die, and Asimov died on April 6th, 1992.


Megan concludes:

Foundation... I had expectations for the novel that were probably unreasonable. It came to me overhyped from my boyfriend (I think he tried getting me to read it after we were dating about a week.) That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, cause I did. I just didn't enjoy it on the level I feel like I was supposed to.

Firstly, maybe because I'm an English major and a fan of thorough character development, Asimov's style didn't appeal to me. Hardin and the merchant guy were the only characters that felt real to me, and they were in essence the same character. The story was fun but not impressive; in many points it was predictable and boring even. The theory of psychohistory was interesting, but seemed an awful lot like sociology, so I don't know.

The main thing that grabbed me from the book was the concept of a cycle of Empires. The Galactic Empire is in a fall, much like the fall of the Roman Empire or British Empire which was going on around the time Asimov wrote the novel, and America's was on the rise. The idea that all Empires follow a certain pattern and that there will be a darkness in between the rise of the next Empire is fascinating. Perhaps he was even saying WWI and WWII were the dark age between the fall of the British Empire and the rise of the United States (who knows? just a guess). I like that view of history though because it suggests that history is predictable and not random. Which obviously is what psychohistory is all about.

From a theoretical stand point I think its a cool novel. But the story, characters, and writing style didn't really do it for me. I'm glad I read it though, it gave me something to think about.

And as a response to the teaching part of the project, it's different trying to talk about a novel from a significance stand point instead of from a literary point of view. I like it better.