Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Classic, The Foundation Trilogy, Dramatized for Radio (1973)

Tire­less New York Times colum­nist and Nobel-prize win­ning Prince­ton econ­o­mist Paul Krug­man has long played the role of Cas­san­dra, warn­ing of dis­as­ters while the archi­tects of pol­i­cy look on, shake their heads, and ignore him. I’ve some­times won­dered how he stands it. Well, it turns out that, like many peo­ple, Krugman’s long view is informed by epic nar­ra­tive. Only in his case, it’s nei­ther ancient scrip­ture nor Ayn Rand. It’s the Isaac Asi­mov-penned Foun­da­tion Tril­o­gy, which Krug­man, in a recent Guardian piece, dis­sects in detail as a series that informed his views as a teenag­er, and has stayed with him for four and a half decades.

The hero of the tril­o­gy, Hari Sel­don, is a math­e­mati­cian, whose par­tic­u­lar branch of math­e­mat­ics, called psy­chohis­to­ry, allows him to make mas­sive, large-scale pre­dic­tions of the future. This sci­ence informs “The Sel­don Plan” that silent­ly guides the com­ing of a new Galac­tic Empire thou­sands of years into the future. If it sounds a bit arid in para­phrase, it isn’t, even though Asimov’s char­ac­ters tend to be thin and his descrip­tions lack in poet­ry. “Tol­stoy this isn’t,” Krug­man tells us.

But the nov­els work as bril­liant spec­u­la­tive fic­tion, teth­ered to the famil­iar his­to­ry of West­ern civ­i­liza­tion by res­o­nances with ancient Rome, mer­can­tile Europe, and old New York. Instead of space opera or fan­ta­sy, Krug­man describes Asimov’s fic­tion as anti-action, anti-prophe­cy. The protagonist’s “pre­science comes from his math­e­mat­ics.” And this, believe it or not, is fas­ci­nat­ing, at least for Krug­man. Because for him they func­tion as reminders that “it’s pos­si­ble to have social sci­ence with the pow­er to pre­dict events and, maybe, to lead to a bet­ter future.” Krug­man writes:

They remain, unique­ly, a thrilling tale about how self-knowl­edge – an under­stand­ing of how our own soci­ety works – can change his­to­ry for the bet­ter. And they’re every bit as inspi­ra­tional now as they were when I first read them, three-quar­ters of my life ago.

He admits that the sen­ti­ments of Asimov’s fic­tion present us with a “very bour­geois ver­sion of prophe­cy,” but then, eco­nom­ics is a very bour­geois sci­ence, most­ly con­cerned with one emo­tion, “greed.” Nonethe­less, Krug­man believes in the pow­er of “good eco­nom­ics to make cor­rect pre­dic­tions that are very much at odds with pop­u­lar prej­u­dices.” And we could all do with few­er of those.

Asimov’s Hugo-win­ning tril­o­gy was adapt­ed for eight, one-hour radio-dra­ma episodes in 1973. Lis­ten to the first install­ment above, and down­load or stream the remain­ing episodes at the links below:

Part 1 |MP3| Part 2 |MP3| Part 3 |MP3| Part 4 |MP3| Part 5 |MP3| Part 6 |MP3| Part 7 |MP3| Part 8 |MP3|

Or lis­ten to the Spo­ti­fy ver­sion up top.

You can find this audio list­ed in our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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