Luke warm reviews have greeted this new Apple TV+ show, the first two episodes of which dropped on Friday. First episodes are hard and while I don’t know how many have been given to the press, I’m mindful that Ted Lasso was given two stars by the Guardian (and that the papers seem to champion shows that I generally can’t be arsed with).
Foundation is based on the works of Isaac Asimov, whom I have generally found to be unreadable. I have devoured a lot of science fiction in my time, and I remember trying several times to read a paperback copy of the original book in my youth, starting and giving up every time. Those Golden Age writers are a mixed bag, anyway. Heinlein seemed to me to be mainly writing to pleasure himself. Arthur C Clarke was all about the ideas but not terribly strong on plot (and I don’t want to think about what he was up to in Sri Lanka). Asimov came up with his robotics laws (well done) but his actual robot stories… yawn. Great magazine, though.
In the case of this TV show, however, I think we have to put our trust in the showrunners, who are in this case David S Goyer and Josh Friedman, both of whom have worked on science fiction and comic book properties, including yet another forthcoming Terminator film. Most of what they’ve worked on isn’t really to my taste, but they do know how to tell stories, even if Isaac Asimov didn’t.
One thing they’ve done which gives you immediate heart is switch the gender of a main character because (doh!) Asimov quite forgot FOR SOME REASON to include any women in the first story. They’ve also replaced the Committee of the first book with an emperor who is a clone — or rather three clones, at different life stages, who are all cloned descendants of their original. This idea is a brilliant shorthand for the congealed, static white privilege of a doomed empire that is resistant to change. There’s also a space elevator, which is a proper science fiction idea.
Lee Pace is the middle-aged emperor, and he’s great, and Jared Harris plays the brilliant mathematician Hari Seldon, who predicts the Empire’s fall. Lou Llobell is Gaal Dornick, the only other person capable of understanding Seldon’s maths. She arrives in the centre of the empire only to find herself threatened with arrest because she is connected with Seldon, whose theories are a rebuke to the frozen empire.
As with Chernobyl, there’s a companion podcast which is well worth a listen, and might give you faith that the series will work out. They have an eight year plan, which it would be a shame not to complete.
It’s better than the books, anyway.