The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
Originally written in the 1950’s for serial publication, the Foundation Trilogy (and the additional four books written in the series) is often hailed as Asimov’s greatest achievement. Certainly, the original trilogy is high on my list of "must read" science fiction.
The Foundation Trilogy presents us with a universe controlled by the Galactic Empire. The Empire has governed the known universe for tens of thousands of years and appears to be at the zenith of its power. But the Empire is burdened by the weight of the bureaucracy needed to govern millions of worlds. Trantor, the administrative seat of the Empire is a planet completely covered by buildings. A vast, planet-wide city, it houses the millions of functionaries necessary to administer the Empire. As wealthy and as powerful as the Empire seems, disaster is just around the corner. However, only one man, Hari Seldon, is able to recognize the Empire’s impending doom.
Hari is a mathematician who has developed the breakthrough field of Psychohistory. Psychohistory is the mathematical process by which the actions of people can be predicted in advance. This science does not work for predicting individual behavior, but instead predicts the behavior of a mass of humanity (billions of people). By analyzing the Empire with Psychohistorical methods, Hari has determined that the Empire will crumble within 500 years, plunging the known universe into barbarism that will prevent a new Empire from arising for 30,000 years!
Fortunately, Hari has developed a plan that, if executed, will curtail the period of galactic decay to a mere 1,000 years. However, it is unclear whether Hari can persuade the Emperor to allow him to move forward with his plan. Can Hari and his fellow scientists save the universe? Or will the shortsighted aims of a greedy, grasping Emperor derail their plans?
Although these works are science fiction, they would probably not be classed as "hard" science fiction. There is some necessary discussion of scientific principles, but not enough to bore any "technophobes" who may be reading the novels. The trilogy focuses mainly on the people involved in the Seldon plan, as opposed to the technology being used by them. Asimov always enjoyed speculating on how people would evolve and react to advanced technology and he lets his imagination run wild here.
Two significant milestones were achieved with this work. First, Asimov became one of the first writers to theorize that atomic power would revolutionize society. Second, I believe Asimov was the first to present a planet that was entirely covered by buildings (George Lucas, please tip your hat to Isaac). The universe he creates is engaging and filled with fascinating, believable characters. Since the books were serialized, many chapters (especially in the first volume) contain complete plot lines and make the book easy to read if you need to break up your reading time into small increments. Lots of political intrigue and maneuvering keeps the action flowing through all three books. There are great plot twists at the end of both halves of Second Foundation that are difficult to anticipate. There is something here for everyone to enjoy. If you have never read this fine trilogy… run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore and grab a copy. You won’t be disappointed.
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This book sets the stage for the rest of the series. Hari Seldon is introduced and his theories of Psychohistory are explained. Then Seldon’s Foundation is established on Terminus, a remote planet at the edge of the Empire, with the goal of shortening the period of barbarism the universe will experience. However, there are no Psychohistorians located in the Foundation… only scientists. The planet has very few native metals and virtually no defenses. The scientists must figure out how to rule their world and fend off avaricious neighbors as the Empire begins to crumble. The majority of this first volume contains vignettes chronicling the Foundation leaders responding to various crises that Hari Seldon predicted centuries before. The crises are varied and plausible. The solutions to the problems that arise are not solved by any miraculous means, but by tough, clever political maneuvering. Watching the crises and their solutions unfold is very enthralling and keeps you turning the pages at a rapid pace.
Reviewed by: Alan
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The Foundation is in full bloom, having survived all the crises that threatened it. But the scientists of the Foundation know that the day must inevitably come when the Foundation must have a showdown with the crumbling remains of the Empire. In the first half of this book, the confrontation takes place. Once again, deft political moves are the order of the day as opposed to military might. Can the Foundation survive its biggest threat ever? And are they still following the Seldon plan?
The second half of the novel deals with an even greater threat to the Seldon plan. The Mule, a mutant human with the power to control men’s minds, is systematically taking over the universe planet by planet. And now he has begun focusing his attention on the Foundation. Was Hari Seldon able to foresee such a mutant arising in his original calculations for his plan? If not, who can ensure that the Foundation gets back on the track of the original plan?
The Mule is a fascinating character who is endearing at the same time he is creepy. The presence of a second Foundation is hinted at in this book (Hari made one reference to it in a speech… supposedly it is located at the opposite end of the galaxy from the Foundation). And if the second Foundation really exists, what is its purpose? Never fear… all will be revealed in the next volume.
Reviewed by: Alan
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After the Mule’s conquest of the Foundation, he becomes obsessed with finding (or disproving the existence of) the Second Foundation. The Mule believes that the Second Foundation was probably established to ensure that the original Foundation adhered to the Seldon plan. To do this, he surmises that the Second Foundation must be rife with Psychohistorians who would use mind control (similar to his own) to control (or guide) the leaders of the Foundation. He unleashes one of his most loyal minions to determine once and for all whether the Second Foundation is a rumor or a reality.
In the second half of the novel, the leaders of the Foundation are also shown to be pondering the existence of a Second Foundation. No one likes to feel they are being controlled, so the Foundation governors decide to conduct their own search for the Second Foundation. Their goal… complete subjugation of the Second Foundation! This part of the story keeps you on the edge of your seat right up until the surprise conclusion on the last page. No fair peeking!
Reviewed by: Alan
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