Danwei reports that Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is finally being published in Chinese, and in honor of this the Beijing News has put out a special science fiction issue. In addition to articles on Chinese language SF, they have also managed to get an interview with the man himself, (English translationthe first he has given since passing away in 1992.
Isaac Asimov passed away on 6 April 1992, so to be able to conduct this interview we must thank a scientist named Vikkor Mallansohn – according to Asimov’s novel [The End of Eternity] he invents something in the 24th century that makes a “time kettle” possible.
Among the highlights of the interview is this exchange on the much discussed Al Qaeda connection. It’s worth noting here that (according, again, to Danwei), both ‘Al Qaeda’ and ‘Foundation’ are translated the same in Chinese (基地)
TBN: What a terrible reader. Reportedly there are people who have examined Bin Laden’s choice to name his terrorist organization “Foundation” (Al Qaeda) and have concluded that it is perhaps because of your influence, that he was a science fiction fan in his youth. What is interesting about this is that you wrote the Foundation under upon the instigation of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and many scholars today believe that the United States is a New Roman Empire.
Asimov: I don’t know whether Bin Laden really understands English. “Foundation” (Al Qaeda) does resemble a group exiled from civilization, but they are at a lower level rather than a higher one. The US is unquestionably the most powerful country today, but I have a hard time determining whether it is in a process of decline akin to that in Foundation. This is perhaps the mystique of history; we can learn lessons and gain inspiration from similar historical situations. But I must point out that the “Empire” in my novels is not a country, but rather a description of a stage in the progression of the people of Earth. You can see that personal names are of all different types, not merely American.
The Ansible website has a good (if somewhat tongue in cheek)article on this theorized connection.
The small but alarming coincidence is that this is Asimov’s “Foundation” series (Seldon’s outfit is called the Foundation), allegedly popular among Arabic-speaking SF readers under its translated name Al Qaeda. Usually rendered into English as The Base, this also means The Foundation.
So, was Osama bin Laden inspired by Asimov’s fiction to establish his Al-Qaeda in an impoverished country, there to await and assist the fall of the West, issuing portentous videotapes the while?
Interestingly, while the Al-Qaeda/Foundation link is still a matter of controversy, it is generally accepted that the Foundation trilogy was in fact an inspiration for Shoko Asahara, the founder of the Aum cult responsible for the Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks several years ago.
More on this later when I have time to do some checking.