It looks like Apple's Foundation series will come at the perfect time

Apple released a new trailer for its upcoming adaptation of Foundation, and it looks as though it'll fit with a larger genre trend: critically examining the cost of imperialism and colonization

It looks like Apple's Foundation series will come at the perfect time


I'm going use today's issue as a bit of an experiment: I've been thinking of upping the publication tempo for the subscriber-locked posts. Last week, I published a post about Octavia Butler, and another about Amblin's deal with Netflix, both locked to paid subscribers.

I've been reading a bunch of case studies about newsletters and building them up into a regular, reliable source of information, and I feel like I'm at a point where I can make Transfer Orbit into a bit more of a useful tool for you and your fellow readers.

My thinking here is that I'll begin sending out an additional post or two each week for paid supporters (obviously, depending on the news cycle and other posts in the hopper) that goes a bit more in depth on the news of the week: a bigger lead story and a couple of select stories that catch my attention. The regular Friday roundup will remain in place (as well as bigger reviews / interviews, book lists, etc). This feels like a natural progression for Transfer Orbit.

This post is basically how that might look — I'm leaving it unlocked (and sending it out to everyone) to show off the idea and get some feedback — let me know what you think? Is this format something that would be useful or interesting to you?

It looks like Apple's Foundation series is coming at just the right time

Apple finally released a new trailer for its upcoming adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Foundation on Monday, and a release date: September 24th, 2021. That's a fun date: it puts it just ahead of Warner Bros.' premiere of Dune (October 22nd), and it looks like it'll be an interesting, exciting take on Asimov's book.

I've been meaning to give Foundation a re-read for a while now, so while painting today, I downloaded the audiobook and dove into it. I forgot how much I enjoyed this story, and while listening, I realized that if Apple is looking to pick a story that's deeply relevant and globally appealing, they probably couldn't have picked a better story than Asimov's book, or a better time to be releasing it.

That's not a take that I would have expected from a book published 70 years ago: Asimov's stories haven't always held up with society's progress, and while stories about galactic empires are durable space opera staples, the idea of preserving them isn't necessarily something that you see a lot of people advocating for these days, for good and understandable reasons.

For those of you who haven't read the books, here's a brief overview: Back in the 1940s, Asimov, then an eager-to-please newbie writer, was meeting with John W. Campbell Jr. (his editor at Astounding Science Fiction) and wanted to get some ideas for another story. Having recently read The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, he thought that the idea would work nicely in space. Campbell agreed, and set off to write the first stories for the editor, the first of which hit stands in 1942.

A copy of Isaac Asimov's Foundation, with a bookshelf in the background.
Image: Andrew Liptak

In this distant future, Asimov envisioned a vast galactic empire that rules over thousands of inhabited worlds and more than a quintillion human subjects. At the start of the story (Asimov wrote four short stories for Astounding, and along with a fifth, published them as a single "fix up" novel in 1951), we meet a young mathematician named Gaal Dornick, who's summoned to the galactic capital of Trantor to work with a legendary mathematician named Hari Seldon.

Over the course of the first couple of chapters, we learn that Seldon's being investigated by the Imperial government for his theories: that the Galactic Empire is destined for a quick fall, which will leave the galaxy in dark age that'll last tens of thousands of years. There's nothing that can be done to stop it, but if they make some preparations — in the form of a compendium called the Encyclopedia Galactica — a compilation of all of humanity's knowledge — they can shorten that dark age to just a thousand of years. From there, they get to work. Seldon and his followers are exiled, and as the story jumps years and decades, as we watch the Empire fall and unpredictable things begin to happen.

Asimov wrote two direct sequels — Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation in quick succession, and later returned with great fanfare years later (he took an extended break from writing science fiction) with Foundation's Edge, Foundation and Earth, Prelude to Foundation, and Forward the Foundation. The early books were enormously influential, helping to shape everything from Dune to Star Wars, and fans bestowed the trilogy with a special Hugo for Best All-Time Series in 1966, and the later books also earned similar honors over the years.

While listening to the book this morning, I was struck at how some of the story seems to hold up nicely: Hari Seldon tells Gaal Dornick (there's a lot of talking in these books) that he's being persecuted because his findings undermine the Empire's credibility, and it's desperate to do anything to stop him.

We see this in the trailer for Apple's series: the Imperial line has been holding onto power by way of cloned successors (a genetic dynasty), the conflict between Seldon and the Empire looks to be in full force in the show's first season, a conflict over the nature of power and how systems will hard to try and hold onto credibility and project an outward facing image of strength and stability.

That's something that feels more relevant than ever these days: for the entire time that Foundation has been published, the US has been a dominant source of power in the world, and that's begun to crumble in some respects. Not just because of the last four years of erratic foreign policy decisions, but because a steady decline in trust thanks to protracted wars and conflicts that we seem unable to extricate ourselves from. The idea of the US as a declining force in the world is not uncommon, especially when we see reminders of corruption, failing infrastructure, racial divides and conflicts, and abuses of power at all sorts of levels of our society. It's a troubling time, made all the more ironic when leaders try to downplay these problems.

The world in Foundation is showing this same sort of decline: entrenched power systems become more interested in maintaining their hold on power, and less on the things that would make things better for the people that they are supposed to serve and bring stability to. Seldon and his followers are one puncture in that image, and that system is moving to try and reduce the threat they pose.

There's another line that stood out for me in the trailer: Lee Pace's version of the Emperor intones that "the might of the Imperium has brought peace to thousands of worlds."

Stories deconstructing the destructive nature of colonialism certainly weren't big in the pages of John W. Campbell Jr.'s Astounding, and Asimov certainly wasn't concerned with writing a story about the impact of colonization. Foundation sidesteps this issue neatly by keeping the empire entirely populated by humans, but it looks as though this series is going to be playing with the idea in a bit more depth, especially as we see that quote overlaid with images of the Imperium exerting its might against various colonial worlds. It isn't called an Empire for nothing.

Starships shooting in space
Image: Apple

What's interesting here is that Apple's Foundation comes at a time when we have lots of books focusing on the idea of colonization and the inherent problems that come with it. I just finished P. Djèlí Clark's A Master of Djinn, in which this topic is front and center, and a handful of other books that I've read or am reading, such as C.L. Clark's The Unbroken, Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis's 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, Micaiah Johnson's The Space Between Worlds, and Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace, Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Mexican Gothic, Christopher Brown's Failed State and plenty of others are specifically examining the economic, environmental, racial, and social costs that the industrial revolution has wrought on the world.

And it's not a pretty picture: it's wrecked the planet's biosphere, created massive wealth inequalities, and killed untold millions over the centuries. Those novels I just listed are taking stock of the impact as characters challenge the constraints that are placed upon us by those systems, or which are otherwise trying to imagine ways to mitigate or escape from them.

Foundation, as told by Asimov, has always felt a bit regressive in that regard (it's been years since I've read the book and I could be misremembering that), given that it's about a group that's looking to preserve the Empire and all that it brings. At one point, Seldon talks about the benefits of preserving the Empire: they'll face a violent dark age of tens of thousands of years. Not a good situation for anyone.

But preservation of an ideal is always something that's a bit one-sided: people remember the benefits, like the roads that you build, but they don't necessarily remember (or just outright ignore) the downsides, like the cost to preserve those power structures. I imagine that there's been plenty of scholarship that shows that Rome's collapse wasn't so much a dramatic fall as it was an evolution, and that much of that was self-inflicted over the course of decades and centuries.

From the looks of things, Apple is going to be taking an introspective and transformative approach with this adaptation, and while it looks faithful to the events and characters, the trailer shows off a show that looks like it'll be examining some of the unexamined ideas in Asimov's stories. That's not necessarily a bad thing — adaptations don't need to be slavishly faithful to their source material to succeed on their own. I think that's a good thing in this instance: an overly faithful adaptation probably wouldn't play as well in 2021 as it might have in 1951. And, from my re-read, it's not entirely out of step with the themes that Asimov was exploring in the original novel: Foundation is a book that looks at the power of governance, even if he doesn't appear to be entirely interested in interrogating some of those underlying assumptions.

We'll find out how the show ends up when it debuts a couple of months from now: but the fact that it appears to be examining these issues strikes me as a good thing, and I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Other notable news

Rogue Squadron gets writer

Lucasfilm has hired The Invention of Lying screenwriter to pen the script for Patty Jenkins' upcoming Star Wars movie, Rogue Squadron. The Hollywood Reporter broke the news on Friday, and it's a good indication that the film is progressing along nicely.

The film's in development, and while LFL put together a nice, splashy reveal for it in the form of Jenkins suiting up in an X-Wing pilot's costume, that doesn't mean that it'll get all the way through the pipeline through to a finished feature film. (That said, I'd hope that if they went and did that, they'd be pretty certain that it's well on its way.)

According to THR, not much is known about the project, but notes that sources have told them that "he is currently furiously keyboarding away on a draft," and that the film is expected to go into pre-production this fall, production next year, and debut in December 2023.

I'm particularly excited for the potential that this project holds: the X-Wing novels by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston were some of my absolute favorites in the EU, and it sounds as though Jenkins is well aware of them and has drawn some inspiration from them, which is a good start.

In somewhat related news, Del Rey Books announced the next round of novels to get the re-release treatment (part of their "Essential Legends" trade paperback collection) will include Rogue Squadron, the first book in that series. It'll be out on September 7th, and I imagine that the impending movie will help boost their sales. Given that the rest of this latest batch of books includes the rest of Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, I can't help but wonder if we'll see the rest of the installments follow suit in 2022 and 2023.

George R.R. Martin says that his ending for Song of Ice and Fire is different from Game of Thrones

George R.R. Martin has been making the interview rounds lately, and a point that he's been making has been picked up by a bunch of outlets in recent weeks: that he had never expected the TV adaptation of his Song of Ice and Fire series to overtake his writing.

That's been a contentious point over the years, especially as he still hasn't completed the sixth book in the series, Winds of Winter. Now, we can add in a new quote, thanks to WTTW Chicago, which interviewed him earlier this month:

"Looking back, I wish I had stayed ahead [with] the books — my biggest issue there was when they began that series, I had four books already in print, and the fifth one came out just as the series was starting in 2011. I had a five book head start, and these are gigantic books...I never thought that they'd catch up with me, but they did. They caught up with me and passed me, and that made it a little strange because now the show was ahead of me and the show was going in somewhat different directions. I'm still working on the book, but you'll see my ending when that comes out." [Emphasis mine]

Back in April, I wrote about the 10-year anniversary of the series, and how one point in particular from the showrunners (As relayed to James Hibbard for his oral history, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon: Game of Thrones and the Official Untold Story of the Epic Series) was how creatively, the show took on a momentum of its own, and pushed them in their own direction. Martin had relayed a rough roadmap with his intentions, and while they followed that a bit, it sounds like they took a lot of their own initiative when it came to telling the story of the show and how it ended.

That ending was pretty decisive, but as they noted (and I somewhat agree with this), those harsh reactions will likely soften with time. At the same time, Martin has his own ending, and I figured at that point that he was a) sort of unhappy with how the series progressed and the corners that they had to cut over the years, and b) that his ending might follow a similar path, but he's not someone who extensively plans things out, and I can imagine that the books will end up somewhere completely different. We'll find out whenever Winds of Winter ends up hitting stores. (This year? Next year? Who can say?)

So, format: let me know what you think? I'll likely move forward with a version of this framework in the next couple of weeks, and if you think it's something that you'd find useful / interesting, please consider signing up as a subscriber: every little bit helps. If you can't at the moment, that's totally fine as well — sharing on social media, leaving a comment, or forwarding it to a fellow reader is also really useful.  

That's all for today — stay cool and hydrated!