Foundation

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Review of AppleTV+’s Television Series Based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

Some prefer to read the book first; others are drawn to the sounds and visuals of a television or movie adaptation. There will be discrepancies in the telling of the story with the transition from one medium to another and fans will champion their favorite version. But, avid disciples will take pleasure in any opportunity to immerse themselves in their favorite fictional world. If rooted in exploring the human condition, built around archetypal motifs, a tale’s emotional appeal will be timeless.

If a story is a bit older, less well-known to the current generation, reintroducing it visually can be more successful. I’ve heard of the science fiction trilogy, Foundation, but never known enough to entice me to read it. Big mistake on my part, I suspect!  At least that’s how I’m feeling now having seen the first part of a brand-new television adaption of the story. Just as the trailer for Star Wars captured my attention back in 1977, it was the trailer that lured me in.

Eagerly anticipating last Friday’s premier, I allocated a portion of my Saturday toward sitting too close to the screen, volume high to watch the first episode. AppleTV+’s Foundation trailer had haunted my imagination for weeks with glimpses of beautiful imagery of otherworldly skies, dominated by multiple moons, differently colored suns or planetary rings. I was not disappointed. The style of the costuming and set design felt authentic; organic. The intro sequence conveyed a sense of grandeur and modernity reflective of the art from the early twentieth century art deco movement.

Isaac Asimov, along with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein, is consider a member of sci-fi’s “Big Three”. These authors popularized science fiction, while setting the standards for the genre. This was my first exposure to Isaac Asimov’s, Foundation Trilogy. I instantly fell in love. Despite reading one of his first novels and enjoying it, I never read any of his other writing. I was simply overwhelmed by his prodigious collection of work. I wondered to myself, should I read his books as they were published or according to the fictional chronology of the galactic empire he invented. The former path felt choppy; the latter was honestly difficult to map out. Just browsing through Asimov’s bibliography can be daunting.

As a budding author myself, I am beginning to understand a writer’s ideas, plots and characters often take control, dictating what is to be written next. Asimov appears to have explored his universe from a myriad of angles, using various unconnected plots and a multitude of characters. I propose fictional writers act as pseudo-archeologists sifting the sands of the mind, hoping to uncover clues revealing unknown worlds. This first ever adaptation of Foundation for television helped me discover how desperately I want to read more of Asimov’s novels.

The first episode commenced with introducing Gaal Dornick, a young mathematician, living on a planet governed by a theocratic society outlawing the pursuit of science. Gaal is punished, excommunicated and sentenced to death for solving an enigmatic mathematical problem. Offer of aid comes from a famous, off-world scientist on Trantor, the imperial capital planet. The Galactic Empire has reigned for 12,000 years, developing an advanced futuristic society. The immensity of the empire is possible due to its ability to warp space and time, allowing people to jump the vast distances between star systems. Gaal travels to meet her scientific idol, psychohistorian, Hari Seldon. Believing she has found a safe environment to further her mathematical studies, she quickly learns she has come too late. Imperial authorities may support, fund and celebrate scientific discovery, but not when the facts predict a future unpalatable to those in power. Seldon’s recent work warns of a looming, catastrophic collapse of civilization across the entire galaxy. Empire, the supreme ruler, who in reality is a trio of clones, refuses to accept the science behind Hari Seldon and Gaal Dornick’s work. Arrests are made, court and legal proceedings are held and both are charged with treason.

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If you have followed my blog from the beginning, you know I view storytelling, as a means to exploring life, because fiction is always reflective of the real world. From the onset, this story felt incredibly relevant to our world’s current situation. Amazingly, Isaac Asimov started work on Foundation during the middle of the last century! But, it still seemingly anticipates today’s clash between governments and the scientific community. On one side, scientists are sounding the alarm, warning action needs to be taken to avert devastating, changes to our planet. An opposing group of multinational corporations and politicians, fearing loss of profits and control of society, challenge the legitimacy of scientific reports. The battle over what is fact and what is fake is relentlessly. The end result is a confused and conflicted populace longing for a clear, unbiased insight to inform their own decisions and actions. I haven’t read or seen the entire Foundation Trilogy yet, so I don’t know how it ends. Of course, none of us knows how the current conflict over global climate change will play out either.

Isaac Asimov’s work also harkens back to elements found in human history. The name of the story Foundation comes from a line spoken by the character Hari Seldon. When asked if the crisis can be averted, he explains the looming catastrophe is inevitable. But, he offers a glimmer of hope. Seldon explains steps could be taken to build a repository of all the most treasured aspects of civilization. This cache of essential information would act as a foundation on which survivors of the empire’s collapse could build on. The goal being to shorten the times of darkness. In essence this was a role played by religious monasteries throughout Europe during the Dark Ages preceding the fall of the Roman Empire. Even the famous library at Alexandria is alluded to in Foundation. Hari Seldon recognizes that when the collapse comes the Imperial Library on Trantor will burn, just as the real life Alexandrian library did. 

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Graham Handcock, a modern day scholar theorizes a similar, tragic erasing of a civilization happened on Earth. He argues an unknown ancient society existed far earlier than mainstream historians and archeologists allow. His books, Fingerprints of the Gods and Magicians of the Gods, lay out his proposed evidence of a forgotten, advanced, global civilization destroyed by a cataclysmic event. Scrutinizing clues found in myths, ancient texts and architecture, he believes survivors from this forgotten civilization, safeguarded their knowledge, hoping to pass it on to the less advanced remnants of humanity. He argues the theme of a helper race of gods or angels is present in all of the world’s mythology. Approaching this idea esoterically, Edgar Cacye, a clairvoyant in the early twentieth century, famously claimed to have remotely viewed a secret chamber beneath the Sphinx in Giza, Egypt. The existence of a subterranean room beneath the Sphinx has been confirmed with modern, remote-sensing equipment. Interestingly, no requests to explore it have been approved by Egyptian authorities. Cacye declared the chamber held lost knowledge leading humanity to the Atlantean Hall of Records. This mystical repository of knowledge is rumored to provide access to technology more advanced than what we current possess today. Yes, strange as it may sound, there are intelligent, serious people ] searching for a real “Foundation” created by a destroyed, advanced, prehistoric human civilization.

I have no idea if there is any truth to tales of Atlantis, but the story itself is rich, full of hope and a jumping off point for the imagination. Presumably, Isaac Asimov knew of this well known myth told to us by Greek philosopher, Plato. Perhaps, he had even heard of Edgar Cayce’s clairvoyant work. However, I do know Asimov was a scientific thinker and serious scholar gifted with an imaginative mind. This scientific background coupled with a vibrant imagination makes Isaac Asimov’s work authentic, informative, and enjoyable. I suspect, he would agree that pretending, thinking outside the box and wondering about impossibilities leads to amazing real discovers. Fiction does truly empower creativity. I entreat you to read it, watch it, write it and dare you to challenge the limits of what is possible. 

Flash Fiction: Arch nemesis

Espresso, tobacco, an old grudge and a chance meeting. Daydreaming About Mesoamerican Indigenous Folklore.

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Everything was quickly settled into the new apartment. Qochata’s lifestyle was simple; uncluttered. He changed locations often to avoid the inevitable questions.

“How do you do it? You haven’t age a day. I must have your secret.”

Qochata would smile, demurely attributing his perpetual youth to good genes and a healthy lifestyle.

“Abuela and Abuelo, both past one hundred, still run our family farm. They work hard, rest well and eat humble home cooking.”

The lie never worked. Once someone remarked his agelessness, the wary looks and whispers began. He’d soon moved on.

His new, small studio in a historic, Mexico City building came furnished. He required only a bed, a nightstand, a comfortable chair and a lamp for late night reading. A large brass bird cage hung from the ceiling, empty with the door ajar. Each wall was entirely lined with crowded, newly installed bookshelves. The numerous books, his sole material burden, formed towering piles about the room. The kitchen table held a terrarium; home to a red coffee snake. Qochata reached in and stroked the reptile. 

“Ah, Café. It’s been centuries since we’ve been to Mexico City.”

A cawing, keel-billed toucan flew in and perched upon Qochata’s shoulder. 

“Yes, Pluma. I was waiting for you to return before beginning.”

With each relocation, Qochata felt at home, only after preparing his favorite dish; a sweet corn cake made with masa harina. Centuries ago, he had travelled far, working his magic to acquire the maize plant for the Mexica people. His patronage had helped humans conquer famine. Qochata taught the Mexica to live peacefully in magnificent cities filled with art, music and scholarship. It had been a happy time.

“Now let’s begin.”

Qochata gathered ingredients. He set out butter to soften and began mixing together cornmeal, masa harina, sugar, salt and baking powder. Shucking ears of corn, he carefully cut off tender kernels to add to his mixture. 

“Now, for the cream.”

Qochata opened the refrigerator. Moving items about, he saw no heavy cream or milk. Frowning, Qochata rummaged about the cabinets. 

“Mierda! No condensed milk either. Don’t worry my pets. There’s a corner market nearby.”

Grabbing keys and his wallet, Qochata donned a white, felt, stetson. Encircling the hat was a silver band, styled as a rattlesnake, holding a solitary eagle feather. 

“Be right back.”

Qochata crossed the street to the market. Stopping in front, he regarded the placard above the entrance.

Tchondee’s Shop.

The sign depicted the caricature of a jaguar smugly sipping espresso, smoking a cigar. Hesitating, Qochata glowered at the sign. He distinctly disliked jaguars.

Sneaky, brutish cats! Lazing about or devouring the weak.

Bells jangled as he entered. The store was split in two. The right side contained shelves of groceries with a small refrigerated section along the back wall. The other half was dedicated to a large espresso bar. Lining the wall, behind the counter, was a selection of cigars, loose tobacco, cigarettes and pipes. The individuals working behind the counter greeted Qochata warmly. Noticing the comfortable, leather chairs set out for patrons to lounge in as they enjoyed a smoke or cup of coffee, he decided to sample the espresso.   

“A solo espresso, por favor.”

“Coming right up, señor.”

Settling down in a chair, Qochata flipped through an abandoned newspaper. A barista approached with a demitasse and saucer. 

“Your solo. Enjoy.”

“Gracias.”

Qochata cupped his hand over the tiny cup, feeling the steam tickle his hand. Lifting it to his nose, he inhaled deeply. Murmuring approval, he slurped his espresso. The rich flavor was smoothly bold with hints of caramel and brown sugar. He swallowed, savoring the rush of smokey, bitterness. The espresso was exquisite.

“Excuse me? Where do you source your beans?”

“The owner is a connoisseur of coffee. He owns a plantation in Chiapas. He cultivates new varieties and tinkers with the processing and roast.”

“Interesting.”

“Yes, I find his work with tobacco in San Andreas even more fascinating. I’ve never smoked anything close to the tobacco he imports from his own properties.”

“I would very like to meet with him. Is your boss in?”

“Yes, he’s out back. One moment.” 

Qochata finished his espresso. He walked about inspecting the hanging photographs. They were all pictures of Mexican soldiers and scenes from famous battles. 

He seems to be a military buff as well.

Qochata hated conflict. 

Gazing out the window, waiting, he heard someone approach from behind. 

“Señor, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tchondee. Welcome!”

Qochata turned around to make his introduction. Both men’s smiles melted as their eyes locked in recognition. No handshake was made. They stood still, sizing one another up. Qochata spoke first.

“Thought you were in Afghanistan or Syria nowadays.”

“I was. But, with everything winding down, it’s just a dull routine now. I had a hankering for home.”

“Yes, me as well.” 

“I see. Espresso is delicious isn’t it? You enjoyed it?”

“I suppose. I really must go. I was looking for heavy cream. I came to the wrong place.”

Qochata made to pay his bill and leave. 

“What name are going by now?”

“Qochata.” he grimaced embarrassingly. 

“Ha. White man, huh? Fitting.”

“As is Tchondee, brother. You always enjoyed tobacco with its smoke and death.”

Tchondee simpered, holding his hands out with a shrug. 

“Look, Quetzalcoatl. It needn’t be awkward. The days of importance and power are over for both of us.”

“Perhaps, but you still relish stirring up trouble. My people have suffered terribly.”

“How long are you going to hold that over me? I am what I am. However, I’ve been trying to broaden my perspective.”

“Ha! That’s rich! What? Focusing on more subtle ways to kill? Cancer, addiction?”

“You wound me, brother.”

“As I said, I was just in need of a carton of cream.”

Qochata turned away, reaching for his wallet. 

“Yes, sweet corn cake. I know.”

Qochata stopping, turned to watch Tchondee retrieve a carton of heavy cream. He held it out to Qochata. 

“Here. It’s free, as is the espresso.”

Qochata looked down at the offering, deliberating. A few seconds passed and he took the carton.

“It was a fair fight, until you tricked me.”

“Yes. It was.”

“Your actions have been utterly reprehensible for an age now. What’s your angle? Should I move on?”

“It’s tiring always being evil. Guess, I’m feeling more neutral these days.”

“Neutral? Interesting. What about your new fascination with agriculture? You could use your talent for something actually helpful. Humans take readily to your influence. They’re destroying themselves and this world with your beloved smoke, smog and pollution.”

“Look. I don’t want this fifth age to end. We could see what we can do to save it.”

“Our days of being heroes are over.”

“There’s a bit of juice still left.”

Qochata considered his brother’s words. He walked to the door and stopped. 

“Tezcatlipoca, the sweet corn cake will be ready in about an hour. My apartment is across the street. Number 282. Bring coffee and cigars. And you can bring Colmillos, provided he doesn’t try to eat my toucan.”

Tchondee smiled, chuckling to himself, as Qochata walked out. 

“Thank you, brother.”

Word Count: 1193

Courtesy of Prompt Titled: Arch nemesis.

By THESOLITARYWORDSMITH at PROMPTUARIUM.

Great sources for writing prompts! Please go visit and subscribe to their website!

July, the Fair, a Phone and Aging.

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The amiable, carefree, grandeur of July consistently catches me of guard. August has yet to cover everything with its smothering, hazy oppressiveness. Gone is rainy June weather, typical of Cape Cod. Nights, still relatively cool, host clear skies affording amazing opportunities to stargaze along the shore. Constellations, Scorpio and Sagittarius, hang high in the south, while the Summer Triangle glimmers straight above. Arrival of the perennial onslaught of tourists, coupled with inexperienced summer help, had created utter havoc with local businesses a month earlier. Now, with kinks worked out, stores are moving and grooving, serving four times what they might at other times of the year. It’s the height of the season. A sense of hope permeates, promising plenty of time remains to squeeze all the fun in.

As a means to exploring the passage of a year, artists have richly painted scenes full of imagery detailing the stages of a human lifespan. I keenly resonate with this creative device employed to personify the seasons. Youth portrays the essence of spring. The prime of adulthood represents summer. Autumn is characterized by the newly retired, enjoying the fruits of years of labor. Old age depicts winter. Accordingly, July is the zenith of growth and vitality. Oxymoronic in nature, it is the crossroads where young and old meet. The festivities, annually occurring this month, echo this middling of the tides of time. Fourth of July is a riotous event displaying national pride, hope in the future and honoring the history of this great political experiment. Also in July on Cape Cod, the Wampanoag Powwow celebrates the continuation of the tribe, while paying reverence to an ancestral way of life. Lastly, July signals the arrival of Cape Cod’s annual county fair.  It has changed considerably from the agriculture event it was in days long past. Yet, enough exhibits of livestock and garden produce remain inducing a sense of nostalgia.  

A memory from visiting this county fair distinctly reminds me of an experience where I felt “old”. This wasn’t the first time I had reckoned with the reality of my age. I “died” a little when I realized my hair was thinning, reluctantly gave up my goatee because it was mostly gray and nearly fainted upon discovering my co-worker was younger than my kids. A younger me laughed listening to “Older” by “They Might Be Giants” Haven’t heard it? Check it out on Spotify or Youtube. See… I’m still hip. Maybe? The lyrics go something like: 

You’re older than you’ve ever been…and now you’re even older…and now you’re even older … and now you’re even older….” 

Terrifying, yet true!  Relax. Listen and take heart. The memory I’m about to share with you is an effective antidote against the downside of getting older. All the fuss about aging is due to our insistence on splitting every aspect of life into good or bad. Think of a time you struggled fitting a facet of life into one of two polar opposites. Usually, things are not that easily rendered down in such fashion. I enjoy pondering the adage, “There’s a thin line between love and hate.” Anyone who draws breath, walks this planet and shares their life with another will leap up and shout, “Amen!” My point? Most things lie on a spectrum. This includes getting older. I propose, if you look carefully, you will identify a key moment when you realized aging isn’t all loss and pain. There is joy in remembering the way things used to be. One becomes the steward of the stories, the perspective, the wisdom and the history.

Please click on the link to my historical writing portfolio page to read an amusing story about the time my twelve-year old son didn’t know how to use a telephone. Spoiler: the phone was avocado green, plugged into the wall, and used a rotary-style dial. Can you hear the disco playing?

Preserving Family Stories

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This past week began with the last Monday of May and consequently people throughout the United States observed Memorial Day. Ask friends, family and neighbors what they did over the weekend. Most will speak of cookouts, trips to the beach, or visiting their favorite summer time haunts for the first time this season. Local municipalities in all likelihood held a parade or other public event to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. But, this national holiday like many others has essentially devolved into another long-weekend allowing for rest, relaxation and partying. Traditional outdoor fun is expected and a poor weather forecast causes much consternation. The nation has in many ways strayed far from the original intent of the holiday. Some wonder why we memorialize those who died in military service at the end of May. Veteran’s Day is attached to the anniversary of the ending of World War One. I confess being under the illusion that Memorial Day must similarly coincide with the anniversary of the Second World War’s final resolution. Yet, surprisingly, the chosen date was selected for purely botanical reasons.

Memorial Day as a national day of mourning has its roots farther back than the wars of the early Twentieth Century. Growing up I remember my father staying up late watching old black and white John Wayne war movies. The mythos of the greatest struggle the world has ever seen reigned supreme. Most kids had toy army soldiers made of green plastic for the good guys and grey plastic for the bad guys. In college I was shocked to learn World War Two was not responsible for claiming the most American lives. Such dubious honor falls to a conflict entirely of our own making. The American Civil War is estimated to have claimed upwards of three-quarters of a million people. Considering the population of the country at the time was only around 35 million the number of lives claimed was staggering and far-reaching. I pause to consider this may have been the first time in the nation’s history war cemeteries of great magnitude were created. Even before the war ended communities on both sides were decorating the graves with flowers in May. The debate still rages amongst a score or more American towns and cities in regards to who started this practice. But, it is established that on May 5, 1868, General of the Grand Army of the Republic John A. Logan designated May 30 as Decoration Day. As to the earlier mention of botany, it is reported he chose the date because it would be a time of year when most flowers would be in bloom. It seems our general was a practical man who knew a thing or two about gardening. Not until 1938 was Decoration Day designated a national holiday and it was in the 1960’s when the name changed officially to Memorial Day. This made sense given much of the public already called the holiday by that name after 1945. A long weekend break was next guaranteed with the date of observance moved to the last Monday of May. Finally, President Johnson in 1966 waded into the controversy over the exact origins of the holiday by signing a proclamation recognizing Waterloo, NY as the birthday place of Memorial Day.

Now is it a bad thing to hold cookouts to mark the start of summer? I suspect not. Your average astronomer will surely point out, summer doesn’t commence astronomically until June 21. That’s a debate for another time. Memorial Day can be flexible enough to include a whole host of events serving a variety of purposes. We should remember until modern times summer was for humanity celebrated as a period of easy living. It was an age old symbol of health, happiness and abundance. If our ancestors fought to protect this boon for future generations then feasting and celebrating the advent of summer rightly aligns with remembering the debt we owe to those who died safeguarding it. Thankfully most labored throughout World War Two without sacrificing their life. My grandfather served during the war and survived to enjoy a long life passing in his sleep at the age of 80. I am grateful he was spared dying in battle. I like to think he would have risked his life if asked to. Yet, none of us know how we would react in eminent danger. I suspect there are a myriad of ways to show bravery. Placing the needs of others before yourself is probably key.

I have a keen interest in history. I enjoy learning about how I am connected to the past. With the advent of genealogical websites hosting vast databases of information more people are seeking to delve back in time to recover details of their ancestry. I applaud this. But, to truly connect with the names of past relatives one must understand how life was for them. I place my trust in the family stories, the details passed on, the facts that paint a more colorful portrait of the individual. Unfortunately, as in the same way the origins for celebrating Memorial Day have receded into obscurity, all too often the stories of our elders are forgotten. I find myself returning to what I know about my grandfather’s time of service in the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Forces. I cherish having the old photos in his scrapbook to peruse through. I can only wonder who exactly are all these people he knew. I am hoping one day to write a story loosely based on his experiences. Perhaps if I cast the net wide enough I will snare a few truths with good old fashion luck. I’ll never know in this lifetime if I hit the mark. To start this project I first endeavor to simply narrator what I know. With a bit of research I think I can reconstruct the circumstances of his life during the war. 

Click the link below to read about my grandfathers experience during World War Two.