Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

FOUNDATION

A novel by Isaac Asimov (1982, Doubleday [original copyright 1951])
Book 1 of the Foundation Trilogy

A scientific Foundation is set up at the edge of the galaxy in order to cushion the fall of the Galactic Empire.

 

 

Read September 2nd to 5th, 2006 for the third time  
    Remarkable, in writing, story and concept. It's too bad that these books are so short, because they really tell a great story.

The Foundation prequel stories, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation, are not necessary to enjoy this book (obviously, since they were published forty years after the original trilogy). It has a setup and execution that tell us the history behind psychohistory and Hari Seldon. Of course, those prequels tell us what kind of person Seldon was and how he achieved his breakthrough, so they are not wasted at all.

The book starts off with a new recruit, who is to help set up the First Foundation on Terminus. I like the idea that the Encyclopedists have no idea why they were really sent out to the edge of the galaxy. As true scientists, they feel no desire to enter politics, though they rule the planet of the Encyclopedia Galactica as if it were a research laboratory, even for the working people. Their motto is that everything -everything- is secondary to the encyclopedia. So when a neighboring newly-independent kingdom encroaches on their space, they put all of their faith in the far away Emperor. Their faith is "confirmed" by the Emperor's representative, who tells them that the Empire will protect its own. Apparently the encyclopedia project is no longer considered part of the Empire, because they get no support when Anacreon finally decides to offer them an ultimatum. The reactions of the Encyclopedists was priceless, and purely scientific when Hari Seldon told them that the encyclopedia project was a fraud, and outlined his plan for the Second Galactic Empire. They admitted their error, and asked for help! If only all scientists were like that...

The Origin Question (origin of humanity, as in a single original planet) arises even in this book, as it does in nearly all of the other Foundation novels. I hadn't realized how early the tradition had started. Salvor Hardin's observation is correct, in that nobody finds archaeology through comparing what the experts say to be bad science. It is accepted, because nobody in the falling Empire does real science anymore.

I liked the way that Salvor Hardin always used non-violent ways to win the conflicts that he participated in. The Foundation, in this book, is not strong enough to fend off any attackers. But it has atomic power in a region of space that has lost that ability. He used the combined pressure of the other neighbors to get Anacreon removed from Terminus, and then set up a religion surrounding atomic power. That religion served him and the Foundation well when the major powers of the region even think of taking over Terminus.

When Anacreon finally rebels again, after acquiring an abandoned Imperial warship, Hardin uses that religion to stop it dead and reduce all the world to darkness, by having the priests turn off the power. His slogan that "violence is the last refuge of the incompetent" is beautifully elegant and so true.

In all of the crisis points in this book, violence appears to be the only way out. But the protagonists always find another way, proving that they are not incompetent, even at the end. In spite of everybody who sees conflict as the only way to keep the Foundation safe, the people who are in charge are far-thinking enough to plan ahead to prevent war, which the Foundation would ultimately lose. Compared to the bloody way the Galactic Empire was built, the Foundation acquires its power through stealth!

As Seldon said in his second broadcast from the vault, though, religion can only ward off the close neighbors, because the larger regionalism is too great to overcome that way. In spite of that, however, the leaders of the Foundation try to use religion to bring new worlds into its fold for another seventy years -and it works to a point. But it is a struggle to keep up the growth, because the worlds see the independence of their neighbors disappearing after the little atomic gadgets are introduced, with their religious supervisors.

Just as the Traders were instrumental in spreading the atomic gadgets, and with them the religion, a Master Trader was responsible for the fall of that religion. Hober Mallow was recruited to see what became of three missing Trader ships in Korell space.

[As a side note, I wonder how much influence The Foundation Trilogy had on George Lucas. He used Corellian as a planetary system in the original Star Wars, though the planet became Corellia, not Korell. He also used a planet-city, covered with layer upon layer of more city, as his ruling world, so similar to Trantor. The city-world was in the original draft of Star Wars, and was not invented by Timothy Zahn for Heir to the Empire.]

Mallow does more on Korell than simple investigation. He sells atomic gadgets like dishwashers and self-sharpening knives by the shipload, without introducing the religion along with it. That infuriates the Foundation government, but Mallow had prescience. He saw that Korell was being supplied by a viceroy of the Galactic Empire, from the nearby planet of Siwenna. He knew that if they went to war with Korell and won, that Terminus would catch the eye of the Empire, which would send all of its might to crush the Foundation. Instead, when Korell inevitably declared war, Mallow as Mayor of Terminus stubbornly did nothing. He called a stalemate, refused to fight, and as the trade between Korell and Terminus stopped, so did the machines that washed dishes, sharpened knives, and more importantly, the machines that cut metal and shaped it into anything that anybody wanted, including the military. How to win a war!

During his time in Korellian space, Mallow visited Siwanna, still a part of the Empire, the place where the wife of Korell's Comdor came from, and the place where they were getting their powerful ships. The world was nearly as backward as the rest of the periphery of the galaxy. I loved the way the atomic engine was heralded as the ultimate in an energy source. Mallow even used it to power a personal force shield, with a size unheard of in the Empire. He saw how, although it was weaker, the Empire was still strong in the Center of the Galaxy.

The problem with the planet Terminus is that it has no resources at all, so it was required to trade with its neighbors, and to devise strategic ways to defend itself and develop into an Empire. I absolutely love that the expansion was done without fighting, but used other mechanisms like religion, money, extortion and bribery. Ha! Seldon counted on that kind of ingenuity to push his Foundation forward. I wonder what would have happened if the far-thinking leaders had not appeared on the scene.

Books written fifty years ago were a lot shorter than they are today, and as a result, the authors had to do a lot of plotting and characterization quickly. They had to be brief and didn't have the opportunity to sprawl paragraphs of useless characterization. Asimov's later novels do that. If he had to be as concise as this in Prelude to Foundation or his other later books, I wonder if they wouldn't have been more enjoyable or to the point. This book is a great example of concise storytelling with an interesting and well-developed premise.

 

 

Also read June 24th to 28th, 1994 for the second time  
   

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