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The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
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Aug 23, 10


The Foundation Series is a science fiction series by Isaac Asimov which covers a span of about 550 years. It consists of seven volumes that are closely linked to each other, although they can be read separately. The term "Foundation Series" is often used more generally to include the Robot Series and Empire Series, which are set in the same fictional universe, but in earlier time periods. In total, there are fifteen novels and dozens of short stories written by Asimov, and six novels written by other authors after his death, expanding the time spanned by more than twenty thousand years. The series is highly acclaimed, winning the one-time Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966.[1:]

The premise of the series is that mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology (analogous to mathematical physics) devised by Asimov and his editor John W. Campbell. Using the law of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy, which has a population of quadrillions of humans, inhabiting millions of star systems). The larger the number, the more predictable is the future.

Using these techniques, Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting thirty thousand years before a second great empire arises. To shorten the period of barbarism, he creates two Foundations, small, secluded havens of all human knowledge, at "opposite ends of the galaxy".

The focus of the trilogy is on the First Foundation, that of the planet Terminus, in the extreme periphery of the galaxy. The people living there are working on an all-encompassing Encyclopedia, and are unaware of Seldon's real intentions (for if they were, the variables would become too uncontrolled). The Encyclopedia serves to preserve knowledge of the physical sciences after the collapse.

The early stories were inspired by Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The plot of the series focuses on the growth and reach of the Foundation, against a backdrop of the "decline and fall of the Galactic Empire".

The focus of the books is the trends through which a civilization might progress, specifically seeking to analyze their progress, using history as a precedent. Although many science fiction novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four or Fahrenheit 451 do this, their focus is upon how current trends in society might come to fruition, and act as a moral allegory on the modern world. The Foundation series, on the other hand, looks at the trends in a wider scope, dealing with societal evolution and adaptation rather than the human and cultural qualities at one point in time.

Furthermore, the concept of psychohistory, which gives the events in the story a sense of rational fatalism, leaves little room for moralization. Hari Seldon himself hopes that his Plan will "reduce 30,000 years of Dark Ages and barbarism to a single millennium," a goal of exceptional moral gravity. Yet events within it are often treated as inevitable and necessary, rather than deviations from the greater good. For example, the Foundation slides gradually into oligarchy and dictatorship prior to the appearance of the galactic conqueror, known as the Mule, who was able to succeed through the random chance of an empathic/telepathic mutation. But, for the most part, the book treats the purpose of Seldon's plan as unquestionable, and that slide as being necessary in it, rather than mulling over whether the slide is, on the whole, positive or negative.

The books also wrestle with the idea of individualism. Hari Seldon's plan is often treated as an inevitable mechanism of society, a vast mindless mob mentality of quadrillions of humans across the galaxy. Many in the series struggle against it, only to fail. However, the plan itself is reliant upon the cunning of individuals such as Salvor Hardin and Hober Mallow to make wise decisions that capitalize on the trends. The Mule, a single individual with remarkable mental powers, topples the Foundation and nearly destroys the Seldon plan with his special, unforeseen abilities. To repair the damage the Mule inflicts, the Second Foundation deploys a plan which turns upon individual reactions. Psychohistory is based on group trends and cannot predict with sufficient accuracy the effects of extraordinary, unforeseeable individuals; and, as originally presented, the Second Foundation's purpose was to counter this flaw. Later novels would, however, identify the Plan's uncertainties that remained at Seldon's death as the primary reason for the existence of the Second Foundation, which (unlike the First) had retained the capacity to research and further develop psychohistory.

The Foundation's location is chosen so that it acts as the focal point for the next empire to arise in another thousand years (rather than the projected thirty thousand). It is eventually revealed that the Second Foundation is located on the capital planet, Trantor, at the center of the (first) Empire. The two Foundations are thus placed at opposite social ends of the galaxy.
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