Wednesday, December 18, 2013


In the June 1954 issue of Imagination Science Fiction, author and reviewer Henry Bott, in his review of Isaac Asimov's concluding volume in the Foundation trilogy, Second Foundation, set off a firestorm of controversy. He ripped the book up one side and down the other, defamed Asimov's ability as a writer and panned the book. Second Foundation needs no defense, and the elements Bott decried make it apparent that he perceived nothing of what Asimov was attempting to accomplish philosophically.  Bott was often perceptive in his book review column for Imagination, titled "Science Fiction Library." But less so in this instance, along with others who fail to perceive that the central them of the series lies in Mayor Salvor Hardin's assertion that, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." The original three books in the Foundation saga are about nothing else, showing various ways problems that seem certain to end in armed conflict can be resolved sans violence by an astute thinker with the right strategy via a kind of psychological and sociological akido. (Not surprisingly this was a theme close to the heart of the heart of the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, John W. Campbell Jr., who published the Foundation stories, and one that consistently turns up in the magazine's pages, as considered by many writers, throughout Campbell's tenure.) Asimov was understandably unhappy with such a slam review, and said so publicly in the popular fanzine, Peon. Bott and his publisher, William L. Hamling, would respond in the March 1955 issue of Imagination. The review that set off the controversy is below.

by Isaac Asimov. 224 pages. Gnome Press, New York, N. Y.
   It was with difficulty that this reviewer read this book and with even more difficulty that he wrote this review; certainly it will bring down the wrath of Asimov fans.
     Isaac Asimov is an ,educated, articulate man, but he is neither a writer nor a story-teller. Heavy-handed and ponderous, Asimov grinds out ream after ream of elephantine prose about his ridiculous "Galactic Empire," filled with endless philosophizing, (on a juvenile level) obscure sociological fantasies, and massive technological monologues.
     Hari Seldon, Bayta Darel, Han Pritcher and Arkady Darel'skitter about the Galaxy, involved in improbable activities in the improbable "Second Foundation" fighting desperately to save themselves from the villain to end all, the "Mule."
     Second Foundation is a sort of modern Graustark. Asimov's preoccupation with kingdoms and empires would have been quite fitting four decades ago, but now . . . What connection this has with science-fiction is hard to understand. Asimov's stories are the "soap opera" of science fiction. Not to be compared with the excellent "space opera" of Doc Smith or Campbell some twenty years ago!
    You might say, "Stop the vituperation—what's the story about?" I'll answer,. "Princesses and kingdoms, empires and galaxies and fairy godmothers. Even Mules! In short—nonsense!" Read it if you must, but don't say that you weren't warned — it's not a good book!
-Henry Bott 

 Asimov's disgruntled response in Peon, and. Bott's reply in Imagination, will be published here soon in a forthcoming blog post.

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