Isaac Asimov’s SF Masterpiece, Once Deemed Unfilmable, Takes Center Stage.
February 7, 2021—Already 2 months into 2021, and with an onslaught of new media content coming at us after a dismal 2020, it is no surprise that one of the most ambitious and significant Science Fiction adaptations of all time has become somewhat of a sleeper agent. While fans and critics discuss and debate the future of massive creative franchises like Marvel and Star Wars, and brace for the coming final seasons of groundbreaking series like The Expanse based on the James SA Corey novel series, and staple sci-fi tales such as the 2017 reboot of Lost in Space, Apple TV is set to take on a challenge nearly 70 years in the making.
It is understandable that there’s not a lot of chat about this project, though, as so much of fandom has been consumed by more well-known and highly anticipated projects. The long awaited “Big Screen” or at least cinematic return of Frank Herbert’s Dune, for example.
But also expected in 2021, one of the Science Fiction Genre’s most ambitious adaptations in modern film history is coming from what many may see as an unlikely source, Apple’s Apple TV+ streaming service. That’s right, the computer mega force that brought us the iPhone, iTunes and branded its Mac computer company as a juggernaut of futurism is poised to bring to life a science fiction story that aptly named, set the very “Foundation” for the themes and tropes of modern science fiction storytelling.
In 2021, Apple TV+ will release 10 episodes of its new series, Foundation, based on world renowned Science Fiction legend Isaac Asimov’s seminal world building series of the same name.
First published as a series of 8 short stories released from May, 1942 to January of 1950, in the wildly popular Astounding Science Fiction Magazine, and published as a novel in 1951, The Foundation Series is one of the genre’s first full scale explorations in large scale world-building, an almost universal process in modern Science Fiction writing. In his epic universe, Asimov introduces one of the genre’s most enduring tropes: an interstellar Empire in decline, and the human consequences of it.
Asimov himself, born mysteriously sometime time between October, 1919 and February, 1920, a child of the Russian Revolution, whose parents fled the infant soviet startup for America, is largely credited as one of Science Fiction’s most influential and evocative writers. Self-establishing his date of birth as January 2, 1920, Asimov was drafted and served briefly in the U.S. Army before being discharged due to a clerical error and serving throughout World War II as a civilian chemist at the Philadelphia Ship Yards. Prior to the U.S. entry into World War II, Asimov had already begun what would become one of Science Fiction’s most Prominent writing careers, having regular meetings and collaborations with Astounding Magazine editor, John W. Campbell, and it was on his way to one such meeting in 1941, when the idea for Foundation struck the iconic author.
In 1941 Isaac Asimov, already an undergraduate chemist, was also an avid reader and consummate student of history and literature, was reading Edward Gibbon’s “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” the definitive history of Rome’s fall. Unprepared for his coming regularly scheduled meeting with Campbell, a world altering notion fell upon the writer. “What would be the outcome of such an imperial decline of an interstellar empire of this nature?” Simply put, Asimov took the “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” deleted the word “Roman,” and added “in Space” to his supposition, and pitched his idea to Campbell. He then began to rough out a series of stories that would quite literally set up archetypes that would be adapted and reimagined for generations to come, while introducing new ideas that in the 21st Century have still not been completely explored.
The story of Foundation is set not merely in the future, but in a fully developed galaxy more than 50,000 years into the future. Asimov’s technologically advanced Galactic Empire encompasses and governs as many as 25 million worlds through the known galaxy, and is poised at the precipice of imperial decline. The futurist author first introduced readers to the concept of what we today know as mathematical predictive algorithms, or what he termed Psycho-History. Asimov envisioned Psycho-History as the ability to collectively use psychology, sociology and mathematical statistical analysis to accurately predict future events.
Using his psycho-history predictive model, Asimov’s central character, Hari Seldon, presumably predicts the decline of the galactic empire and a 30,000 year long dark ages. He then sets into motion a series of events to prevent or at least reduce this dark period to a thousand years, and to lay the foundations for the galaxy’s second great empire. Seldon’s predictions and his subsequent actions and those of Asimov’s extensive list of characters swirl around the formation, evolution, and transformation of “The Foundation.” The Foundation is set up as a group of “encyclopedists” gathered on the planet Terminus, collecting and recording the sum total of the collective knowledge and wisdom of all humanity to stave of the darkness after the decline and fall of the galactic empire’s capital plant of Trantor.
The story of the establishment, rise, evolution and eventual transformation of Seldon’s realized vision unfolds over a staggering 1,000 years, and the epic tale dares to envision an imagining of how, why and if an empire in decline can overcome the weight of history through the sheer will of one person’s vision.
The nothing less than epic timeline, combined with the political intrigue and almost unimaginable calculations needed to ensure the contrived continuity of human civilization despite or, in fact, because of the predictably inevitable gravity of cyclical history, makes the successful adaptation of Foundation into a visually compelling and entertaining cinematic property a monumental task.
Since the introduction and continuation of Asimov’s great experiment in advanced world building, it seems almost every successful and memorable science fiction book, television or film, owes at least a large part of its success to these fundamental and now staple ideas. In Foundation, Asimov examines the role of religion in civilization and empire building, a notion later leading to another of the genre’s greatest tales, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and later Asimov’s contemplation of the role of space and distance and their role in cultural and social development are explored in James SA Corey’s “Expanse Series.” Simultaneously, the use of the epic forces of dark and light with a space based Empire would become the setting for the Star Wars Saga, George Lucas’s exploration of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” set in space.
Known best perhaps for coining the term “robotics,” establishing his famed 3 laws or “Asimov’s Laws” and exploring the consequences and rewards of technology, futurist writer Isaac Asimov’s impact on Science Fiction, and his inspiration of generations of writers, scientists and inventors can hardly be overstated. This, when added to the lofty and pioneering goal of setting to digital celluloid, the epic story that the HUGO science Fiction awards recognized in 1966 as the Best All-Time Series (beating out famed and almost fabled J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy) make’s the Apple TV+ series one of the most difficult and aspiring in cinematic history.
This is a challenge that show producers and show runners David S. Goyer, Liegh Dana Jackson, Victoria Morrow and in collaboration with Isaac Asimov’s own daughter, Robyn, who is listed as the show’s executive producer, understand completely, as the idea has, until recently, failed to make its way to the screen with decades of filmmakers starting and failing.
Now, 70-years after first introducing his revolutionary ideas to audiences around the globe, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation is set to debut on Apple TV+ in 2021, and while much ado has not been made around the project, it is poised to tell a story upon which some of the most prolific and popular science fiction has been based, and make even the most discerning sci-fi fan question everything they know about the origins and history of their most cherished intergalactic tales.
Foundation is coming, and if Goyer and company are successful, it is upon this rock that a new temple of fandom may rest for generations to come.
But, no pressure!
Reprinted with permission from Hangin With Web Show TV News. Listen to the Hangin With Web Show Radio Hour here on SCIFI.radio Thursdays 7 pm Et / 4 pm PT / 3 am GMT, Saturdays 7 am ET / 3 am PT / 3 pm GMT.