Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index


A novel by Isaac Asimov (1986, Bantam Spectra)
Book 2 of the Foundation sequels

After choosing a communal organism as the future of humanity, Trevize searches for Earth, which he is convinced holds the key to why he made that decision.




Read April 2nd to 16th, 2008 for the 2nd time  
    And so ends the series that started with I, Robot, which became the basis for the first robot novel, The Caves of Steel, where we first met Daneel Olivaw, through the Galactic Empire novels like The Currents of Space, and into Foundation, its prequels and sequels. I first re-read The Caves of Steel in 2001, and I certainly didn't think it would take seven years to complete the series, for the first time in order, from beginning to end. Strange how it has been exactly twenty years since I first read this book.

Is it a good ending to the series? Yes. Is it great? No. Like all of Asimov's later novels, it is way too talky. At least, unlike Robots and Empire, there was some action. This novel also answers the question of what the Solarians were doing back in Robots and Empire. Complete isolation, to such a degree that they became hemaphrodites, containing both sexes so they wouldn't have to endure physical contact at all, even to procreate. Strange how Asimov didn't explore the stability of mutations because of lack of genetic diversity, in all the talk.

The novel takes place in seven parts, the first two of which are nearly unbearable. Actually, it is Bliss whom I find to be unbearable, as much as Trevize does. In Foundation's Edge, I found her to be annoying, especially as she was so submissive. Here, although she gains backbone, she is so whiny, and very annoying in the way she advances her arguments about the benefits of being Gaia, and thus Galaxia.

Once we get to Comporellon, formerly Baleyworld from Robots and Empire, we learn a little more about the Spacer worlds, which of course the readers already know about. This must be the novel I always think about when I believe Asimov always talks about sex. Trevize is a true woman magnet, and there is a lot of talk about breasts and sex throughout. Bliss, with her ability to manipulate people mentally, weakens the minister's inhibitions a little, so Trevize has sex with her (a forbidden act with exotic strangers from Terminus), and she lets them go, even though they really wanted his gravitic ship.

They leave with the coordinates of three worlds that may be spacer worlds, something the old Comporellion researcher does not think likely. However, the first ends up being Aurora, the second Solaria, and the third a world called Melpomenia. On Aurora, all humans are gone, leaving the world to make way on its own. In that way, dogs appear to have become the main predator, and they do not fear humans. A pack of them face Trevize, Pelorat and Bliss, and would have killed them if Bliss hadn't strengthened their fear of noises, and Trevize fired his neuronic whip. Solaria seems to be the only Spacer world that still contains life, though I wonder how the others died out. Even with their small reproduction rate, their long lives seem ample enough to produce enough people for subsequent generations. The Solarian Bander is a strange sort. Where would he have picked up such an outgoing personality, given that he never really interacts with people. He freely admits that his fellow Solarians would not be impressed by what he says, so he must be really, really deprived. In addition to being "fully human", as he puts it, instead of half-human male or female, he has transducer lobes in his brain that allow him to power all the robots on his estate. He is even able to physically move objects through the air, taking energy from his surroundings. When he tries to kill them, for nobody can ever visit Solaria, as was seen in Robots and Empire, Bliss is forced to kill him, something she deeply regrets. That is when they find the child Fallom, who mourns its protector, the robot Jemby (who was left without power when Bander died). Trevize uses the child to lead them to the surface, and Bliss ensures its safety by taking it aboard the ship when the security robots show up to investigate Bander's death.

Fallom is strange. It is described as being about fourteen years old, but Trevize thinks it is more like eleven. Does Asimov have such a low opinion of children that he thinks an eleven year old child would act like this? It is more like a five or six year old, mentally, except more capable, possibly, in languages.

Melpomenia provides the key to Earth, even though it has no air left after its human inhabitants died out. It contains a hall of records listing all the spacer worlds and their coordinates. While investigating the library, the ever-present moss that is the only remaining life-form on the world starts eating into their space-suits, so they must flee for their lives. When Trevize must irradiate them and their space-suits, he is verbally blasted again by Bliss, who can't understand why he must destroy life. It is something that only an Earth-born human could possibly understand properly. All others must learn the kill-or-be-killed philosophy. In the Galactic Empire and Foundation Confederation, the wars were among humans, and Bliss is completely right -conflict could be avoided and so could killing. But on Earth, humans have to compete against dangerous animals, none of which were actually transported out into space. Trevize has to explain to her that the moss could destroy human civilization if they didn't irradiate it, as it would spread to the next world they landed on, and would be taken away by space travelers beyond.

So all three worlds contain dangers. It occurred to me, and was very likely intentional, that in each case, it was showing an extreme of what humanity could become. The dog pack could represent the Foundation Second Galactic Empire, terrorizing its neighbors. Or it could represent a group like Gaia, but put to less than benevolent use. The Solarians are the exact opposite, eschewing human contact completely, and individuality taken to the extreme. The moss was not acting out of intelligence, but spread everywhere without thought to any given plan.

It is Pelorat who thinks of grouping all of the spacer worlds so that they could find the center, which should be the point of origin: Earth. In fact, the closest star to the center of the spacer worlds is actually Alpha Centauri, which is pretty close to Earth. Even there, in what seems like an idyllic civilization, one where people wear next to nothing and sex is the first thing offered to visitors, they face mortal danger, which strengthens Bliss' arguments about a communal life-form called Galaxia. By this time, although he has identified Sol, Trevize thinks Earth is such a powerful society that he can't approach it directly; he wants more information before he goes there. What we get instead is the final piece of Earth's history. We know of how the Spacers from Aurora started the radioactivity bomb, and Giskard let them do it in Robots and Empire. In Pebble in the Sky, although it mentions nuclear war in the story, here Daneel later says that he was the one who started the soil replacement program, which ran out of steam and resources quickly. When Earth finally became uninhabitable, the Empire, again under Daneel's influence, transported the remaining population to New Earth, on a water planet around Alpha Centauri. Why a binary star, anyway? Was it because nobody cared about these people anymore, and that they wanted away with the nuisance? It seems like they went to a lot of trouble dredging up the land mass and stocking the seas with all the fish of Earth for such a small band of people. Why not terraform one last world, under proper stellar conditions? Maybe the last people of Earth didn't want to go far, in any case. I would have like to know how they controlled the weather, though, before Trevize left.

Finally, they reach Earth. I quite enjoyed the amazement at Saturn (the set-up of which is nice since we already know of Saturn), and of the gigantic Moon, and then the shock that the radioactivity of Earth is actually true. When Fallom finally takes control of the ship (realizing that he was in charge of the group that killed Bander and thus Jemby), it leaves Trevize looking at the Moon, where he knows his search is over. There, they meet Daneel, who explains his overall plans for Galaxia, and his fallback option of Seldon's Second Foundation. The robot indicates that he is dying, and he needs a long-lived body like Fallom's to complete his work in creating Galaxia, which could be ready before the Second Galactic Empire would even be completed, according to the Seldon Plan.

The last paragraph of the book is unlike all Seldon stories, in that it actually ends the series on a depressing note. It seems like Fallom, different from all other humans in the galaxy (aside from the thousand other Solarians), might not be so willing to share its brain with Daneel, though for the good of humanity, I'm sure he could control it.

So why did Trevize make the decision about Galaxia as the fate of humanity, back at the end of Foundation's Edge? That was, after all, the purpose of the book, and Trevize's search for Earth. He realizes that it was because there might be something even more different than Fallom, and aggressive like the moss. The flaw in the Seldon Plan is in its unstated assumption: that all members participating in the statistics are human. That is true in this envisioned galaxy, but humanity is likely not the only intelligent species in the universe. An invader (like the Yuuzhan Vong, say), from another galaxy could destroy humanity little by little, even turning one part of it against the other. That would not be possible with Galaxia, which would be One in humanity, sort of a sudden evolutionary jump.

As much as I was opposed to being ruled by an elite of Second Foundationers when I finished reading Second Foundation, and I was against losing individuality like Trevize was at the end of Foundation's Edge, I can accept it here, for the very good reasons that Trevize provides.

My second-most critical complaint about this book (aside from describing the first sections as "unbearable") is the number of spelling mistakes -again. Doesn't anybody proofread these books after they go to the typesetter?

The book becomes very strong the deeper we get into it. It starts off, as I said, unbearable, but gets steadily better, until I thought if the book had omitted the first two sections, it would have been very strong indeed; at least as good as Foundation's Edge. Still, it suffered from too much discussion and other talk, including reducing much of humanity to stereotypes. The character work was done entirely through discussion, and I can't say I truly liked any of the characters, though they all had their endearing qualities (except possibly Bliss). Pelorat was the least intrusive, while Trevize was the most passionate. All in all, this book is still worth the read, especially after reading all the others in this very long series. I think it is great that Asimov was able to connect his three series in such a way!



Also read April 10th to 16th, 1988  

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