Apple, a secretive organization staffed by technological visionaries able to predict the future of technology, has ordered a television series based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels, an epic saga about … a secretive organization staffed by technological visionaries able to predict the future of technology. There is one major difference between the two: Apple is located on the edge of the continent, while Asimov’s tale takes place on the edge of the galaxy.
Foundation is considered one of Asimov’s masterpieces, right up there with the Robot series, which merged with the Foundation series later in Asimov’s career. Unlike some other classic sci-fi, Asimov’s work has mostly resisted major studio film adaptation, with only the underwhelming Bicentennial Man in 1999 and I, Robot in 2004 to his name.
Asimov’s works are quiet and philosophical compared with those of his contemporaries, and Foundation is probably the most challenging one to choose to adapt. Whatever Apple and showrunners David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman decide, the finished product likely won’t stick to the structure of the first novel, which consists of five short stories taking place over hundreds of years with no major recurring characters except a dead man whose holographic recordings show up every once in a while in a time capsule. It’s an unenviable task to try to turn such a novel into a character-based epic, one that might make Dune look like a straightforward adaptation in comparison.
It’s potentially heartening to see Apple take on such a high-risk project as it moves into the world of premium television. If they can pull it off, there are a lot of themes in Foundation that are potentially resonant: fatalism versus free will, the relative values of hard and social sciences, and tech prophets who want to save us all from ourselves. I’m skeptical, but maybe they can see something I can’t.
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