Thoughts on HBOs Attempt to Adapt Isaac Asimov’s Foundation for Television

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series has long been one of my favorite pieces of science fiction. I know that there is a lot to criticize about the series. It has an unadorned writing style. It has continuity problems. These are elements that I’ve learned not only to embrace, but to love, the way one comes to love a scar from childhood. The Foundation series were among the first science fiction novels to really capture my imagination. That I read them early on was a coincidence, but a happy one in my mind.

During the mid-1990s, when the Second Foundation Trilogy was authorized by the Asimov estate, I really hesitated to read the three books by Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, and David Brin. But how could I not? Each one, I thought, was better than the last, and David Brin’s ending of the trilogy was a stroke of simple genius. So I’m glad that I read them.

On television or movies, however, I’ve long been torn. Being such a fan of the Foundation series, I’ve often rooted for its success in Hollywood. On the other hand, I’m not really a movie or TV person, and I am not a fan of science fiction films on the whole. So when I heard yesterday that HBO was planning to adapt Asimov’s Foundation series for television, I had mixed reactions. But after some consideration, I’ve decided that I’m happy for fans that they are adapting it.

It took time, but over the years I’ve learned that adaptations are an art form themselves. They are an interpretation of a work, altered for the medium in which they are produced. Rarely are adaptations completely true to the original story, but that’s okay, because adaptations are not the original story. Regardless of how well or poorly an adaptation of the Foundation series is done, I can always pull the books from my shelves and read them in their original form.

Where adaptations have a bigger impact on me is the characters. I have an image in my mind of Hari Seldon. How would an adaption alter that image by substituting an actor’s face for the one I picture in my mind? Well, there’s a chance that it might alter it, but is that really any different than reading the original Foundation stories in the Astounding and then, decades later, seeing Hari Seldon rendered by Michael Whelan on the cover of one of the books?

I’d guess that an adaptation of the stories would do better as a television series than as a movie for the simple reason that the original trilogy was a “fix up” of a dozen or so stories that first appeared in Astounding Science Fiction between 1942 and 1950. The stories themselves were episodic, often ending in cliff-hangers, and that seems a natural fit for television dramas today.

I’d have to imagine some alterations to the plot of the stories. More than likely there would be some mysterious secret running through the entire series, as this seems to be what television dramas like to do these days. It’s just one of the reasons I can no longer bear to watch dramas, but understandable give the short attention span of audiences and all they have to distract them.

I haven’t decided if I will watch an adaptation of the Foundation series, but gut says no. Not because I think it will be done poorly, but because I’ve lost interest in the medium of television (and to a large extent, movies as well). Also, I’ve read the Foundation books a dozen or more times and know them very well. I think there would be deviations in even the most true-to-form adaptation that would irk me, and why put myself through that?

So, while I am glad to see that these novels are finally getting attention from Hollywood that might help bring them to a larger audience, I am, nevertheless, unlikely to see the adaptations myself, not because I don’t like the idea or think they won’t be true to the story, but because television and movies just aren’t my thing. For the countless fans who love television and movies, I’m delighted that they will get a chance to see Foundation brought to life on the screen.


  1. Well, I think it’s pretty cool. I loved the Foundation books growing up, and re-read them a couple of years ago. I think they are what made Asimov one of my favorite authors as a child.

  2. I watched the PBS Roosevelt series, even though I thought I knew enough about them. Boy, was I wrong. I have now started reading books about them, gathering an understanding of their impact on the world so many years later. TV inspired, yes. Sometimes, it can work.

    I don’t have HBO, so I will have to wait for it to be available somewhere else. I have already added it to my “Movies to See List” in Evernote.

  3. The issue with adaptations is, I think, the major one of quality. If the filmed/television version is confused, idiotic, non-sensical or such (as they often are) then the uneducated audience is left with the impression that this fantastic, awarded, honored story that all those crazy nerds talk about all the time is crap. They’ll never read the original (cause it’s obvious crap) and we’ll once again lose a huge chunk of potential fans to the wasteland. We need an approved by fans seal of approval for this kind of stuff….


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