Thursday, August 7, 2014

Foundation's Edge, by Isaac Asimov

I've decided once again to launch a Foundation month here at the Arsenal, taking all of August to look once more at Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. This month I'll be looking at the next four books in the series, going once again in publication order. As I said in my previous reviews I am rather fond of this series. Aside from my well-established fandom of Isaac Asimov, I really enjoyed seeing historic parallels with the fall of the Roman Empire being applied to a science-fiction setting. Science-fiction and history combined together! Absolutely fantastic! So I was, of course, eager to see the series continue.

I will start my review by saying that Foundation's Edge takes the series in a very different direction. I certainly liked this book and I look forward to more adventures following the Seldon Plan, but there was a definite departure from previous books. This particular novel occurs right after a Seldon Crisis has been resolved. To remind my readers or those who may be unfamiliar, the basic premise of Foundation is that psychohistorian Hari Seldon has predicted the fall of the Galactic Empire. To prevent a dark age lasting thirty thousand years he has developed a plan to enable a scientific Foundation to create a Second Empire in a mere thousand years. Every so often the Foundation will face a Seldon Crisis where they will have limited options and be forced to take a path that will lead towards the Second Empire. All previous books had focused, largely, on Seldon Crises and the events leading up to them and their eventual resolution. Second Foundation even had a Seldon Crisis in the works before the arrival of the Mule seriously disrupted the Seldon Plan. Foundation's Edge, however, occurs right after a Seldon Crisis when the decision to keep the growing Foundation Federation's capital on Terminus has been reaffirmed by a holograph of Hari Seldon. I will admit I was kind of sad by the decision that seems to move the series away from the Plan because I really liked all that social, political, and economic mumbo-jumbo, but I'm certainly not disappointed with the book.

The book focuses Golan Trevize, a member of the Foundation Council who voices serious concerns that the Second Foundation, believed destroyed in the previous novel, still exists. He claims that the Plan is too well on track which implies that the Second Foundation is still pulling the strings behind the scenes, an idea that the First Foundation finds downright offensive. Meanwhile Stor Gendibal, the youngest Speaker on the Second Foundation's Table, voices equal concerns, stating that the deviations that would normally be expected as the Plan reaches its five hundred year mark have disappeared entirely and the plan is running far too smoothly, even with the Second Foundation's influence. He suspects that a third party is managing the Plan for their own benefit, again something which cannot be tolerated. And so a group of characters head off, trying to discover what's really going on. The result takes the series in a far more...mystical direction, which definitely seems very much at odds with the strongly hard-science approach previous stories had taken.

I will say that this book makes it explicit, if nothing else than from a final not from Asimov, that all of his works take place in a shared universe. Most of my previous Asimov readings have been largely the robot stories and I have personally read The Complete Robot cover to cover. (Albeit some time ago) If nothing else, this decision to make all the stories part of one larger, shared universe, makes me eager to read not just Foundation, but the Empire and other Robot stories as well. I certainly am going to have more material to read in the future, as if there wasn't so many other things to read already.

Although I lament the apparent shift of the series away from a hard-science and Economic, Social, and Political (ESP) perspective, I still enjoyed this book. It definitely adds to and expands the universe, showing that Hari Seldon could not account for everything. I am curious about future books because Seldon seems to have taken on an almost divine status within the Foundation and to deny the Seldon Plan exists is tantamount to heresy on Terminus. I'm curious if the Foundation may find itself struggling with a religious crisis at home because of an orthodox adherence to faith in the Plan above all else. I guess we'll see where it goes from here.

- Kalpar

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