Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

SECOND FOUNDATION

A novel by Isaac Asimov (1982, Doubleday [original copyright 1953])
Book 3 of the Foundation Trilogy

Separate searches are undertaken to find the secret Second Foundation by The Mule and by the First Foundation.

 

 

Read September 16th to 24th, 2006 for the third time  
    Another amazing Foundation novel. I think the amazement comes because the book is written so simply, yet imparts a story that is larger than it appears.

The writing has evolved since the first Foundation novel. Through Foundation and Empire, the narrator took a more active role, and here, there is actually much tongue-in-cheek narrative. It was quite fun, actually.

The story actually unfolds quite simply. In general, the Second Foundation, which needs to remain secret, tricks first the Mule, and then the First Foundation into "discovering" its location.

In the first part of the book, the Mule sends Han Pritcher out on several searches toward the "other end of the galaxy", which is where Hari Seldon hinted that it lay, but to no avail. Han Pritcher, of course, was the last Foundation Lieutenant to be converted by the Mule. He resents the fact that he was converted, but the thought of resenting the Mule makes him avoid those thoughts. I liked the introspection that Pritcher does in this book. He is biased, of course, towards the Mule, but he doesn't think that he feels any different, and he wonders if his judgment has actually been biased, as the Mule and the other main character, Bail Channis, say it has.

Bail Channis is "unconverted", and is thus ordered by the Mule to use his unbiased mind to help Pritcher find the Second Foundation. As he goes straight to a planet that appears to be "star's end", the other hint that Hari Seldon gave about the Second Foundation's location, both the Mule and Pritcher figure out that he must be from the Second Foundation himself.

The assertion that the Second Foundation doesn't exist is refuted by the Mule, who can tell when some of his people have been touched by some mental power other than his own. The Mule, of course, followed Channis to his destination, together with a fleet of warships, which destroyed the surface of the planet of Tazenda, leaders of the small colony of planets in the region. It was the logical place for the Second Foundation to be, if the Mule accepted Channis' reasoning, but Channis, after losing the mental fight against the Mule, revealed that the tiny, primitive planet that they landed on was actually the base of operations.

Of course, neither planet was the true location, as the First Speaker of the Second Foundation showed up to alter the Mule's personality in his shock at learning that he had been tricked -twice!

The use of "Interludes" between the Mule chapters was effective only in introducing us to the Second Foundation, and not much more. They barely said anything, using so many words. So much philosophy!

In the second part of the book, the Mule has died, and the Foundation has reestablished itself as authority over its section of the galaxy. For more than one generation, the Foundation has been regaining strength, but they are in some ways weaker than they were before. They know, now, that the Second Foundation is around to help them get out of real difficulties like the Mule. So they have become stagnant. They have also developed technology that can determine when people have been "altered" mentally. The scans are mandatory for all people in authority.

In order for psychohistory to work, we know, its mechanism and predictions must be kept secret. So for fifteen years, the Second Foundation has been implementing a plan that would restore its secrecy, by allowing the First Foundation to "discover" the Second. Unlike the plan for the Mule, however, this one would allow the Foundationers to "destroy" the Second Foundation, in order to restore their confidence that they were in charge of their destiny.

Arcadia Darell, grandchild of Bayta, the woman who destroyed the Mule's chance at finding the Second Foundation in Foundation and Empire, is a very curious girl, who sticks her head into one too many conversations that she really shouldn't. Her father is part of a small conspiracy of people who are trying to expose the Second Foundation and destroy it. After eavesdropping, she stows away on one of the conspirator's ships to go to the planet Kalgan, seat of power while the Mule ruled. I liked Arcadia. She thought she was so smart when she got involved in the plot, but then admitted that she was in too deep that she didn't know what to do. She managed to get Munn access to the Mule's palace, but when the First Citizen of the planet takes an interest in her as a woman, she flees. The message had gone to the First Citizen that Kalgan was to rule the Second Empire, because of Arcadia, that he launched a war against the Foundation.

During the war, Arcadia fled to Trantor, her birth-world, and home of Preem Palver, master farmer. I liked the security grid at the spaceport; a really cool idea. Arcadia maneuvers all of these people, although we learn later that it was Arcadia all along who was maneuvered. For Preem Palver is the latest First Speaker of the Second Foundation, and it has come to him to implement the end of their plan. We learn early on that the plan has a large chance of failing, but it is the only plan that they have to get the Seldon Plan back on track after it was derailed by the Mule.

I liked the way that the plan was set up. It is too complicated to go into detail, but everything makes sense, and is presented very clearly. The best part was the way they made the "tamper plateau" in people's mind-scans to easy for the Foundationers to find, so that they must conclude that this was the way to detect people who had been controlled. But their control was much finer than that; they just needed a way to convince the conspirators that they could be detected. Arcadia was a special case. She was born on Trantor, and "tampered" with as soon as she was born -so her brain scans would never find a difference, even with the best resolution detectors, because she had always been that way!

My least favorite part of the book was the interpretation of the Seldon Plan by the First Speaker and his student. I don't know how Seldon could conceive that the Second Empire would set up for rule by mentalics. From their point of view, of course, it makes sense. I don't see how in the following five hundred years, however, the nature of humanity could be changed. If they would resent rule by the Second Foundation now, and Seldon's plan assumes that humanity stays the same, then they would resent rule by the mentalics at a later date, too. On the other hand, I would love to have read a story or series of stories dealing with the beginning of the Second Imperium, after the Seldon Plan had been fulfilled. I understand that the "Second Foundation Trilogy" could deal with this, but being written by other authors, I am not interested in reading them at this moment.

I was also not convinced by Anthor's confession. He gave up too easily, even after being assaulted by the static field newly invented by Arcadia's father. As Dr. Darell suspected, the solution was too easy. But since Arcadia, who revealed that "a circle has no end", thus locating the Second Foundation on Terminus, showed no difference in her brain scan, he had to accept the solution.

Of course, the answer to the riddle of Star's End and "the other end of the galaxy" is Trantor. All paths lead to Trantor (instead of Rome), revealing it to be Star's End. And the opposite of the outside of the galaxy is the inside, where Trantor was located. We have waited a book and a half to find that out, and I wonder how many people skipped ahead to find the real answer, to enjoy the story better because of it. I don't think I did that the first time I read this trilogy, but I don't recall. I didn't need to this time, because the revelation was such a huge one (hence Ebling Mis's surprise in Foundation and Empire) that I couldn't forget. Of course, anyone having read Forward the Foundation would know the answer, as well.

Only two sequels were written to the Foundation Trilogy, and I look forward to rereading them soon, as well.

 

 

Also read July 6th to 14th, 1994 for the second time  
   

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