The Foundation Trilogy
Foundation And Empire
"The coming destruction of Trantor is not an event in itself, isolated in the scheme of human development. It will be the climax to an intricate drama which was begun centuries ago and which is accelerating in pace continuously. I refer, gentlemen, to the developing decline and fall of the Galactic Empire."
- Hari Seldon (11988GE - 1FE), Psychohistorian and founder of the Foundation
Author: Isaac Asimov
Publication Date: 1951
Genre: Science Fiction
When one uses the word "classic" in any context these days they risk ridicule and scorn since the word has been thrown around to excess in increasingly meaningless ways and no longer means much of anything at all. That being said, Foundation is a classic science fiction novel in the traditional sense of the word. Not only is it old enough to have withstood half a century of scrutiny and criticism since it was published in 1951 (and it remains very popular), but it is as timeless today as it was fifty-three years ago when it was first published. I do not hesitate or flinch to lay such a title on this book.
Foundation was the third novel from science fiction pioneer Isaac Asimov, and was largely collected from previously published stories from the early fourties. Asimov veered sharply away from his contemporaries in that there is a common theme throughout this book regarding "atomic" power as a critical building block to advanced civilization. Rather than expounding on the horrors of a nuclear attack like so many other post-war writers, he managed to see the positive side of nuclear power.
Foundation charts the future history of an initially scientific foundation, catalyzed by Hari Seldon, the creator of the prescient hybrid of psychology and mathematics known as psychohistory. Psychohistory can predict the future based on psychological trends of large groups of people. Seldon uses his unique science to discover that the aging Galactic Empire is doomed to collapse, and moves to minimize the damage said collapse will cause in its wake. Thus the Foundation is born.
The book contains five stories in a chronological telling of the creation and first 150 years of the Foundation, but never seems to be about the Foundation as much as it is about Asimov's myriad commentary on science, history, politics, religion, and the way people deal with all of these things. This is why the stories herein are so timeless. They could easily be planted in any time and place, as stories of humanity are almost always transposable. That's not to say that the background is shallow, as it is well fleshed out and interesting, but as with most heroic tales, the background is not the important part.
WARNING *** PLOT FOLLOWS BELOW *** WARNING
Part I - The Psychohistorians
Written for Foundation at the request of the original publisher.
Year: 12068 GE
The Psychohistorians is ostensibly about the trial of Hari Seldon. As word of his doomsaying spreads throughout the Empire, powerful people become nervous, so they arrest Seldon and put him on trial for his possible treason. Really, the story lays down the background for the rest of the stories in the book, as they all derive from the great Seldon Plan. Seldon states, among other things, that 30,000 years of barbarism following the collapse can be mitigated to one millenium, if he is allowed to build a great encyclopedia of knowledge. To this end, Seldon and his team are exiled to the planet Terminus on the edge of the galaxy where they can cause no more fuss in the Imperial Court.
Part II - The Encyclopedists
Originally published as Foundation in Astounding Science-Fiction, May 1942
Year: 49-50 FE
In The Encyclopedists we fast forward fifty years into the future. The Foundation is a scientific organization living on Terminus, but the non-scientific population is growing. Enter Salvor Hardin, Mayor of Terminus City, the charismatic "leader of the people" with no real power since the government of Terminus lies within a council of scientists with no thoughts other than the completion of the great Encyclopedia Galactica.
Nearby systems have broken from the Empire, claiming themselves kingdoms and warring with each other. Terminus is a in the middle of it all, and as a small barren planet with no resources to speak of and no military at all, it is an obvious target for the nearby aggressors. Fortunately, Hardin discovers that these neighbors have gone back to "coal and oil" for fuel, while the Foundation still has atomic power. Seldon, dead these 50 years, makes a holographic appearance at the Time Vault, describing their recent crisis in disturbing detail and explaining that the Encyclopedia was a sham and that the real point of the Foundation was to plant the seed for a second Galactic Empire. Hardin performs a bloodless coup de etat in order to save the fledgling Foundation.
Note: I had previously stated here that the story was unlikely to have ended in a cliffhanger originally in a magazine. On further research this story did end in a cliffhanger in zine format. John Campbell, the publisher of Astounding Science-Fiction, had asked Asimov to make it a multi-part story, so Asimov decided to make sure he meant it by forcing him to buy the second part.
Part III - The Mayors
Originally published as The Bridle and Saddle in Astounding Science-Fiction, June 1942
Year: 78-81 FE
The Mayors is really only about A Mayor: Salvor Hardin. Thirty years after his coup, his method for solving the first crisis is made evident. He has given atomic power to the nearby kingdoms, but under a veil of mysticism. The operators of the technology are priests, educated on Terminus into the mysteries of the Galactic Spirit. The most powerful of the neighboring kingdoms, Anacreon, decides it wants that power all to itself and declares war on the Foundation. Obviously, the priestly operators discover what is going on and will not allow their holy place to be attacked.
During all of this, Salvor Hardin faces a new opposition on Terminus itself, in the form of the Action Party, which as the name implies, advocates attacking the kingdoms before they attack the Foundation. After the crisis has passed (thanks to the restraining power of the religion) and Anacreon surrenders, Seldon's image again appears in the Time Vault confirming various details of the crisis and its solution, thereby securing Hardin's reign.
Part IV - The Traders
Originally published as The Wedge in Astounding Science-Fiction, October 1944
Year: 134 FE
The Foundation has grown and its technology has shrunk, their devices carrying nuclear reactors the size of a walnut. The Traders are a guild of merchants who travel the galaxy trading powerful Foundation devices (along with the associated religion) for much needed base metals, which do not naturally occur on Terminus itself.
Enter Limmar Ponyets, trader and one-time student of the priesthood. He is called to the planet Askone to rescue a trader who is actually a political agent of the Foundation. Ponyets is behind quota and has a ship full of cargo to move. The prisoner is held for trying to spread the religion of the Foundation to the planet, which finds all of this Foundation mumbo-jumbo blasphemous and impure based on their own religion of ancestor worship. Poynets manages to finagle a deal from an up-and-comer at the local court using both religion and politics as well as the inherent usefulness of his merchandise as tools for manipulating the locals. Finally he manages to trade his entire cargo for both the freedom of the agent and for vast amounts of tin, making both his sales quota as well as the mission a smashing success.
Part V - The Merchant Princes
Originally published as The Big and The Little in Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1944
Year: 154-160 FE
Hober Mallow is a both Master Trader and shrewd politician. In The Merchant Princes, Mallow travels to Korell, a planet whose dictator appreciates the things the Foundation has to offer, but will have nothing to do with the religious trappings that are associated with such trade. Korell also still has atomic power, although shaky and impossible to repair due to losses of knowledge, and are gearing up for war against the Foundation, as three Trader ships had disappeared nearby in recent years.
Mallow opens up religion-free trade with Korell, creating a dependence on Foundation technology. When the time came for war, the Foundation sat back and did nothing, waiting in stalemate for the sold technology to begin failing. When it did, Korell surrendered, securing Mallow as a the leader of the Foundation as well as eradicating the age of technological mysticism in one blow. The dependency had been shifted from simple operation to one of supply and repair.
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
http://www.asimovonline.com for publication dates