Matt’s Reviews: Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

book cover: Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation are the three books that make up the original Isaac Asimov sci fi classic Foundation Trilogy. These books were originally published as a series of short stories in magazines from 1942 -1950 when they were combined together and published in book form. The version I read (from my local library) combined these first three books into a single volume:
Publisher: Everyman’s Library; Reprint edition (November 2, 2010)
Language: English
Hardcover: 664 pages
ISBN-10: 0307593967
ISBN-13: 978-0307593962

Foundation by Isaac Asimov was originally published in 1951, and it still holds up today. The Galactic Empire, after 12000 years, is starting to unravel. One man, Hari Seldon, has perfected the science of psychohistory that can predict the future path of society in a very accurate manner. He foresees the downfall of the empire and works to put in place “The Foundation” on a planet at the periphery of the galaxy with the hopes (plans) to lessen the overall fall of human society and technology and lessen the coming dark ages from tens of thousands of years to only a single thousand year period.

With these broad parameters, Asimov leads us through the first hundred plus years of the implementation of the Foundation and some of the crises it faces. Seldon returns in the form of recorded holographic messages only a couple of times in this century-plus to reinforce his vision while trying not to interfere with how the future is destined to play out. He cannot give knowledge of the predictions until after they have occurred or the telling would alter the way the future plays out as people react to the predictions. This would change the outcomes and upset the rest of the predictive algorithm.

This book predates chaos/complexity theory which pretty much negates the main premise of the predictability over long periods of time, but suspending disbelief on this one factor, this a really good story or set of stories. The way the different leaders come into power and maintain power and challenge power over time is a joy to read. The strategies employed generally do not rely on physical force and violence. These nonviolent manipulations are more effective and obviously less destructive than the alternative powers in the galaxy and their aggressive approaches to conquest. I think that is one of the things I love about this book, that cleverness and intelligence can overcome violence without resorting to violence.

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” — Salvor Hardin (Isaac Asimov)

Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov takes up where Foundation left off. The Foundation has continued to expand from its location at the periphery of the galaxy and is now beginning to brush up against the remnants of the old galactic empire. The empire has a powerful, intelligent and loyal general who begins to lead a conquest against the Foundation planets. This first section of the book is largely about the political machinations and suspicions within the empire and how that affects the ongoing war. The price of loyalty over competence and the fear of competence. The political infighting and suspicions within the empire cause them as many troubles as the war with the Foundation planets. Hari Seldon’s psychohistory continues to prove prescient in how the war plays out.

In the second section of the book, we are introduced to the Mule who is a mutant with the ability to shape men’s minds. He is waging a war against the Foundation and the rest of the Galaxy. Hari Seldon’s psychohistory is accurate only when dealing at a scale of huge numbers. It was unable to predict the occurrence of a single person with unique abilities and the preordained course of events looks to be upset, perhaps with no chance of recovery. The story revolves largely around a pair of folks who were able to rescue the Mule’s court jester. This couple and a few others are able to stay just ahead of the Mule’s forces as they move from one planetary conquest to another. It seems as if the Mule may conquer the entire galaxy, but there is rumors of a Second Foundation that was formed at the other end of the Galaxy from the first.

Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov takes up a decade or so after the Mule wars when the Foundation begins to suspect that the Second Foundation is a threat to them. In combination with that, the remnants of the Mule’s old empire on Kalgan decide it’s time for some additional conquest, even if they do not have the mind/emotion control of their former First Citizen. The book revolves largely around Arkady, a fourteen-ish precocious young woman who inserts herself into the efforts to find and thwart the second foundation. There is more war and more behind the scenes machinations as different groups and individuals vie for power.

The trilogy as a whole is a classic tale or set of tales. Isaac Asimov is a master story teller and he does a fine job of tracking the galactic level political intrigues with individual people and problems. For stories that were originally written well over a half century ago, they do not feel dated or antiquated. There is a little bit of the 1950’s societal mores and structure that bleeds through into the novels, but surprisingly little. It feels believable that these types of societies and people could develop over the next few thousand years. If you haven’t read these or you haven’t read them recently, you really should.

He wrote several other prequels and sequels that I have not yet read. With all the other books on my to be read list, and others always jumping on, I don’t know when I’ll get to those, but I do plan to get back to the rest of the series sometime in the future…that is unless an unpredictable person or event interrupts the psychohistorical path of my reading list.

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