Foundation #2 (Foundation and Empire)
Less episodic than the first (Foundation), which was a plus. But it makes all the more apparent Asimov’s complete inability to create memorable or sympathetic characters. This means that each of the two halves read like over-long short stories. Part I is a suspense-thriller, solved by a ridiculous and anti-climactic deus ex machina, while Part II telegraphs its twist-ending so far in advance that the last few chapters are simply redundant.
There’s no arguing the brilliance of Asimov’s ideas — on science, politics, economics, war, etc. — all of which come into play in these stories. But his writing itself borders on horrendous. Dialogue is unrealistic and the lover’s language in Part II was particularly stilted and corny, although this could have just been a product of being written in the 50s. Transitions are nonexistent, making some of the scene-jumps confusing at best. A simple empty line would have helped a lot to show the change of scenery (perhaps a problem only of the old edition that I read). Last, the aforementioned characters are poorly developed.
It’s one thing for Asimov to utilize his normal style of enigma/suspense followed by solution/resolution. This style works well for short stories even if they get monotonous after a while. But when stretched over 100 pages and combined with characters that you don’t care about, it makes for not much more than a mildly challenging brain teaser: interesting to be sure, but ultimately rather unfulfilling.
All this would normally combine for two-star status, but I grant it a third in deference to Asimov’s genius and the sheer scope of the enterprise he created with this series. He was clearly an idea man, worrying much less or not at all about the literary aspect of his works. I can respect that, even if it doesn’t make for a very satisfying novel.