Recently I was feeling like my credentials as a reader of science fiction weren’t up to snuff. There are certain books and authors that are classics in the genre that I haven’t read and sometimes, especially being a female who likes to read a genre that has been dominated by males for a very long time, I feel like I’m not quite legit. My latest feelings of insecurity did not come from anywhere specific, they just sort of bubbled up from who knows where. But I think they are feelings we can all relate to as readers because no matter what we read there are always going to be books we have not read, big gaping holes even, that will leave us insecure about whether or not we can consider ourselves well read. It’s like saying you love Victorian literature but you’ve never read Wilkie Collins, that sort of thing.
From insecurity and curiosity, I decided it was about time I read Isaac Asimov’s first Foundation book. I’ve read one Asimov book before, Fantastic Voyage, and quite liked it. So with Foundation I was expecting something adventure-y. I was also expecting a novel. The book is neither. It is a collection of short stories. Okay, I can adjust to that. But instead of adventure we get politics and the collapse of an empire and lifting up of science into a religion.
The political maneuverings are really the only thing keeping me going. The book was published in 1951 and the stories had appeared in a magazine at various times before making it into a book. The science is amusingly dated. Psychology has been elevated to the heights of being able to predict the future. Nuclear power is considered clean energy. And this group of scientists have been tasked with writing an encyclopedia and a good deal of their research is done using microfiche which is supposed to be the gold standard for reading and research technology. And back in the day it was. But this book takes place so far into the future that humans have spread out to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and Earth either no longer exists or is uninhabitable and has become a mythical place lost in time and history.
All that is just fine and kind of amusing. What is not amusing is that there are no women in the book. All the scientists are men, all the politicians are men, every single character is a man. Women aren’t mentioned as wives or mothers to sons or even buxom love interests. It’s like they don’t exist. As I am reading along and trying to not grind my teeth I am suddenly reminded, oh yeah, this is why I haven’t read a lot of the “classic” SF books! And this is why women have felt left out of the genre for so long.
I’m about halfway through the book and I can tell you right now that I won’t be reading the rest of the books in the series. I’m not going to let myself feel insecure about that either. Because really, it doesn’t matter whether I have read them or not. What matters is that I enjoy the books I read and not worry about what others might think.