Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov
I've gathered from various places online that Asimov's sequels to the original Foundation trilogy were received less than favorably. I didn't really notice any mention concerning the reaction to the prequels. I definitely understand why people might have gripes about the sequels, but honestly, Prelude irritated me a lot more.
The idea in itself isn't bad - a novel about Hari Seldon, the man that developed psychohistory and the decline of the empire that inspired his theories. However, Seldon was always such as distant figure that it wasn't necessary to have a backstory - he had kind of grown into a benevolent god-figure with the passage of time even if he was once a very gifted scientist that got the ball rolling. After reading this, the great man has become much smaller, and in my opinion, rather irritating and somewhat unlikeable. At one point, one of the other characters tells Hari that he is a good man. Based on what? Only minutes before that statement he had been acting like an asshole.
I get it, he has a big task in front of him but he gets so easily annoyed with people and things when they don't take him seriously enough. At one point, Dors and Seldon are on a part of Trantor that is slightly archaic compared to the rest of the world and while I definitely wouldn't be a big fan of their culture, either, he shows no respect for them at all, even though he is their guest. He doesn't agree with the way women are treated in that society but then bullies one woman around to get his way - as much as you might disagree with a culture, you still can't suddenly expect people to overcome their upbringing within a matter of minutes. Also, this is something that happened with Seldon in the novel but is of course an issue in the larger world as well: Seldon can easily judge the obvious sexism of that society but then ignores his own sexist actions because they are more subtle (he doesn't want to let Dors go into a dangerous situation with him because of her gender - just because he isn't as obviously sexist as the men that won't even let their women speak in public doesn't mean he isn't sexist). And maybe Asimov is focusing on the mathematician background and his sheltered life in the lab but Seldon is very quick to judge other cultures (actually, I think I had a similar complaint about some of Asimov's characters in the sequels).
Also, while Asimov might be able to write sci-fi well, romance isn't one of his strengths. The whole Hari - Dors story line just didn't feel very real. The other complaint I had about this novel I can't get into very much without giving major plot points away - unfortunately, because I think that was also one of the more interesting points to discuss because I feel like it took away from the whole series.
So I've discussed the issues I had with this novel, but let me just throw in a quick synopsis: Seldon delivers a lecture on the possibility of psychohistory or predicting the future. However, he also believes that as a science it would be rather impractical and he doesn't have the proper knowledge to make it happen. Still, his speech awakens the interest of a few important figures, the emperor included, and Seldon quickly becomes convinced by a humanitarian to try and develop his theory to its conclusion for the good of humanity. He tries to do this away from the clutches of the emperor and first tries this at a university, but has to change locations a few times because he keeps finding himself in danger (and he is rather good at finding it). Dors, a history professor, comes along with him to help and as they go from location to location, Seldon is confronted with the variety of cultures and life styles on Trantor alone, not to say the universe, making his task seem even greater.
I saw at Pajiba today that there are plans to make a film out of the Foundation trilogy which I just don't really see working due to the changing cast of characters just within the novels. These later books I believe would be a lot easier to adapt into films because they focus on a single cast of characters (each novel does at least), and also have action sequences. In comparison, in the first novel, Terminus had to determine a way to find solutions without resorting to violence due to their limited power in that respective and involved lots of political maneuvering.