It is a maxim among some writers that all science fiction, no matter how varied and diverse it may be, can ultimately trace its lineage back to the so-called “Golden Age” of science fiction literature. Despite this being far too reductive a statement for my personal taste, there is some genuine erudition to be gained by examining it as the era’s signature works are indeed fundamental inspirations for a particular approach to writing science fiction that defines early Star Trek (or at least they way Star Trek is perceived) and the intellectual tradition it’s a part of.
Some background: The Golden Age of Science Fiction, as it has come to be known, is a period (roughly spanning the years between 1938 and 1953) during which marked interest in futurism and the potential of scientific and technological breakthroughs influenced authors to craft stories set far into the future featuring, and often explicitly about, technology written to feel plausibly extrapolated from that of the time of writing. This approach, and the intellectual tradition that comes out of it, is often referred to as “Hard” sci-fi in an attempt to stress its focus on scientific realism and to distinguish it from (and in more than one instance tacitly imply a superiority over) other “pulp” or “fantasy” inspired science fiction. Indeed a great many sci-fi writers claim that this is the defining feature of science fiction: That it portrays a future that can reasonably be expected to derive from real-life science and technology. This is a very pervasive attitude and one that will crop up on more than one occasion on our journey, so it’s best we take a look at it here.
In many ways then Foundation is the text best representative of the Golden Age style, at least as it pertains to Star Trek: A sprawling attempt at a space epic spanning multiple generations that chronicles the decline, collapse and rebirth of humanity’s galactic empire written by Isaac Asimov, already famous as one of the leading lights of the period for his Robot short stories. The Foundation and Star Trek series are not directly connected, but there are enough superficial similarities between the two and Asimov’s influence on later science fiction is ubiquitous enough it merits a discussion.
Perhaps the biggest point of comparison between Foundation and Star Trek is that both franchises started out as one self-contained work that very quickly snowballed into a series of sequels, prequels, retcons and continuity-laden spin-off works handled by first, second and third generation fans. In the case of Foundation, the, er, “foundational” work in question is a series of short stories Asimov wrote for Astounding Magazine in the 1940s and then edited and re-published as a trilogy of standalone novels in the early 1950s under the titles Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. While Asimov himself went on to write four additional novels in the series during the 1980s and 1990s (two sequels and two prequels) for the sake of brevity, scope and chronological relevance I’m only going to be looking at the original trilogy here.…