by Donald Kingsbury



349pp/$25.95/October 2001

Psychohistorical Crisis
Cover by Donato Giancola

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Donald Kingsbury's novel Psychohistorical Crisis grew out of his 1995 novella "Historical Crisis*."  The story is basically set in Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" Universe, 2,500 years after the Founder was exiled from the Galactic Capital, here called "Splendid Wisdom."  Kingsbury's use of Asimov's world and history is not meant to make his world creation easier, but rather to pay homage to Asimov and explore many of the themes and ideas Asimov introduced in the Foundation novels.

Kingsbury creates several plotlines which he must follow and interweave.  The ostensible protagonist of the novel, Eron Osa, begins the book as the defendant in a lawcourt.  Found guilty, his fam, an electronic brain enhancer which is common throughout this distant future, is removed and he must start learning all over.  Kingsbury quickly jumps back to Eron Osa's childhood to show him as an ambitious student and pawn to those who have their own ambitions.

Unfortunately, many of the characters who Kingsbury describes seem to be variations on the same theme of scheming power-mongers.  Kingsbury does little to differentiate between Hyperlord Kikaju Jama or Hiranimus Scogil.  Their attributes run together as Kingsbury flits between their storylines.

Kingsbury does do many interesting things with psychohistory which Asimov never attempted.  His characters discuss the mathematics behind psychohistory, even going so far as to reveal one of the study’s basic equation.  Astrology is also tossed into the mix to show the correlation between the predictive ability of psychohistory and astrology, one of which predicts for the masses, the other for the individual.

Psychohistorical Crisis has a rich feeling of galactic history, partly because it is clearly based on Asmiov’s creation, but mostly because Kingsbury fills in the ever present past with history and texture of his own.  Much of this background is mere window dressing, but Kingsbury introduces the enigmatic organization of the Oversee, which was created nearly two and a half centuries earlier as an intellectual organization which desired to free itself first from the Galactic Empire and later form the second empire that took its place.  The Oversee, including Scogil, is attempting to recreate psychohistory, which is kept as the province of the Pscholars.  While the Oversee uses math in its quest, Jama and his cohorts are trying to devise psychohistory from an astrological basis.

Unlike Asimov’s Foundation series, the denizens of Kingsbury’s galaxy are aware of the Earth, which they call “Rith” as the cradle of humanity.  They even have knowledge of terrestrial history which is strange and spotty.  Although they believe, for instance, that Abraham Lincoln was a slave who led a revolt, Eron Osa seems to have a pretty firm knowledge of Ancient Egypt.  While spotty knowledge of history is believable, the manner in which Kingsbury presents it, and the knowledge retained, does strain credulity.

If Psychohistorical Crisis has a single underlying fault, it is that much of the novel is stylistically overwritten.  One of Asimov’s strengths was his clear writing style, which did not intrude on the reader’s enjoyment of the story and ideas.  Kingsbury, on the other hand, frequently makes use of very complex sentence structures to create a novel which is as stylistically complex as its plot is, creating a feeling of convolution    Despite this fault, Psychohistorical Crisis ranks as one of the best Foundation novels not written by Asimov, along with Brin’s Foundation’s Triumph.

While Kingsbury’s writings won’t make anyone think of Asimov, his ideas, characters and locations are reminiscent of the early Foundation stories with the addition of a more complex explanation of psychohistory which includes alternatives and some deconstruction of the science created by either Hari Seldon or the Founder.

*Published in Far Futures, edited by Gregory Benford, Tor Books, 1995


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