JT's Blog

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Dramatizing Asimov's Foundation

The front cover of my copy of Isaac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy which I got from the Science Fiction Book Club when I was 13

For years several different producers, writers, and directors have attempted to bring Isaac Asimov's sprawling Foundation series to the TV screen, and all those efforts have faltered, so I was delighted to hear that Apple had actually green-lighted a production with David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman as showrunners.

So this raises lots of questions in my mind. For example, are they going to adapt the entire series or just the Trilogy?

Asimov's Foundation series began life as a series of eight novelettes and novellas published during the 1940s in the pulp science fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction. When Gnome Press gathered them into three volumes in the early 1950s, Asimov added a ninth, the story that opens the first book, to give the series a proper starting point.

Then in the 1960s Doubleday acquired the rights and published the three books as one volume, and it's been known as The Foundation Trilogy ever since. When I was 13 and joined the Science Fiction Book Club, one of my initial books was The Foundation Trilogy.

Much later in the early 1980s Asimov published a sequel, Foundation's Edge, which did so well for the publisher that Asimov was cajoled into writing still more, which he did by writing several prequels and trying (not very successfully, in my opinion) to tie in his Robot Series with his Foundation Series.

Anyway for me Asimov's Foundation Series is basically The Foundation Trilogy (which I have now read, by my recent estimate, at least eight times) and maybe Foundation's Edge.

Astounding Science Fiction for August 1944 featuring The Big and the Little, the third published Foundation story

Now I have no idea what the producers and writers of the forthcoming Foundation series have in mind, but with Robyn Asimov (Isaac's daughter) signed on as an executive producer I have high hopes that whatever they do they will at least be faithful to the spirit of Asimov's work.

Recall that the original stories were written in the 40s, before there were computers, so even though the series takes place tens of thousands of years in the future, there are no computers in the stories. When the characters need to perform complex calculations to navigate their spaceships from one star system to another, they do so manually with the assistance of calculators, a process that can take days. When they want to purchase tickets for an interstellar trip, they insert cash into a vending machine and receive change, credit cards not having been invented yet, let alone hand held devices like iPhones. You get the idea. The technology in the stories is seriously out of date. So whatever the showrunners do, they're going to have to make a lot of changes.

Not only will they have to decide whether to dramatize all the stories in the series or just the Trilogy, but another challenge will be the vast timescale and changing casts of characters. The stories of the Trilogy alone take place over a nearly 400 year period, and most of the stories feature completely different sets of characters.

Back in the 70s, the BBC did an eight part radio serial based on the Trilogy and they kept it very true to the stories. That worked well for radio, but I'm not sure it would work for today's TV audience.

Anyway, here's what I would do. The final story introduces Arkady Darell, the fourteen year old daughter of Dr. Toran Darell; the Darells, father and daughter, are actually descendants of the leading characters of a previous story. When we meet Arkady, she is writing a paper for school which goes on to recap the events of the preceding stories for those coming in late.

So my proposal is to make Arkady and her father the main characters of the series and greatly expand their story, during the course of which she would be researching the history of the Foundation and the role that her ancestors played in it. So the preceding stories could be told as flashbacks, with Arkady acting as narrator and interjecting some sharp commentary from time to time.

I would stick primarily to the Trilogy, in that I would end the series where the Trilogy ends, but I might incorporate some material from the prequels (it's been awhile since I read them and I have little memory of them).

So that's my framing device for the series. Of course, that still leaves a lot of work to be done.