Apple’s Foundation Series: Virtue Signalling or True Adaptation?

Asimov Foundation


Apple TV has brought Isaac Asimov’s epic ‘Foundation’ series to life. This guide explores why that’s so exciting and what viewers can expect. 

Apple have brought an ambitious adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ book series to their streaming service.

The series is being helmed by David S. Goyer, known for his work on ‘Man Of Steel,’ ‘The Dark Knight Trilogy,’ and ‘Batman V Superman.

The adaptation is expected to be told over eighty hours worth of television, divided into multiple seasons. It has been in development in some form or other since 2017 and producers experienced difficulty finding the right way to bring it to life.

That’s not surprising as Asimov’s original series, and certainly the first book, was very talky, talky. Not much by way of action or description. Even when there was significant slices of action, they tended to happen off-stage.

Not an easy thing to adapt as a modern TV show.

Asimov And His Impact On Science Fiction 

The Foundation book series was written by one of the most widely praised science fiction writers of all time, Isaac Asimov. Indeed, the author was considered one of the big three science fiction writers of his lifetime and Hollywood has already adopted various pieces of his work. This includes ‘I, Robot’ starring Will Smith as well as ‘Bicentennial Man’ with the late Robin Williams

Asimov was often seen as a pioneer of synoptic thinking. With nearly 500 books, he wrote about a variety of topics including science, history, literature, and most notably, science fiction. Asimov was inspired by other writers including Martin Gardener. He famously met Gardener and told him this to which the author replied he had been inspired by Asimov’s work. 

Foundation Explained

The ‘Foundation’ series is often thought of as Asimov’s most famous piece of science fiction writing. Indeed, the first three books in the series won the Hugo Award. The books were originally published as short stories before being republished as collections and expanded upon with both prequels as well as sequels. 

The story explores the final days of a future galactic empire when mathematician Hari Seldon attempts to develop a theory of psychohistory. Using his theory, Seldon predicts the fall of the empire and the fact that it will take 30,000 years before a new empire rises. While the fall cannot be prevented, Seldon develops a plan that will change events and ensure that the gap between empires only lasts for 1000 years. Seldon then creates the Foundations. These are two groups of scientists and engineers at different ends of the galaxy. They must keep the spirit of science and civilization intact. 

An issue that the series addresses which has been accepted in reality is the uncertainty principle. Essentially, if a population understands their predicted behaviour, then the actions of the collective become unpredictable. 

As Seldon strives to prevent a dark age that will last 30,000 years, he gathers the top scientists and scholars of the galaxy on a bleak, remote planet. However, Seldon’s prediction misses several challenges including an intense barbarism from the outer realms and a creature with mutant intelligence that could destroy everything he builds. 

What Can We Expect From The New TV Adaptation?

A key point about Foundation is that it has more discussions and debate rather than a lot of action. This is partly why many people believe that the early years of Star Trek were inspired by the tale.

It’s a more thoughtful piece of science fiction, which can be tough to adapt to a visual medium. Given that Goyer’s action-orientated screenplays tend to encompass bombastic storytelling techniques, it’s likely that this adaptation will attempt to add more action elements, but hopefully without losing the core of the original series. 

The creators behind the series will have a lot of leeway in choosing their own designs and ideas when bringing it to life. Critics have noted that while in the novels the dialogue is fantastic, the descriptions are lacking, leaving much of the work to the reader’s imagination and own creativity. 

Those interested in Foundation should certainly explore the books. Check out Isaac Asimov Collection 6 Books Set (Prelude To Foundation, Foundation And Earth, Foundation’s Edge, Foundation, Second Foundation, Foundation And Empire) available to buy on Amazon right now. 

I suspect the novels and the series will turn out to be markedly different beasts, which might lead one to wonder why you’d bother adapting something if you are not going to remain faithful to the source material.

For a lot of franchises these days, the answer to that is usually “because we’re more interested in virtue signalling than the source material”. But here, I think the changes might be valid.

The structure, pacing and writing of the source material makes it difficult to bring to today’s visual mediums without making substantive changes just to make it work. Provided the core concept remains true to the source, Apple’s adaptation is just that — an adaptation.

We’ll have to see how the series plays out before judging if it is a successful one.

For now, it may be as well to adopt a mental disconnect between novels and TV show – provided the core concept is there in the new version, it may be viewed as just another way to tell the same story.  

At time of writing, Foundation is being broadcast by Apple TV+.

(Disclosure: Some of these links link to products on Amazon. If you make a purchase there, I get a cut of the purchase price. This helps to support me as an independent author and allows me to bring you content such as this, as well as continue to write and publish my fiction. All contributions are hugely appreciated. Thank you.)

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