Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by Isaac Asimov
(1993, Bantam Spectra)

Foundation Prequels, book 2

As Hari Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire, he becomes the target of political strife and public outrage.


-- 2nd reading (multi-book hardcover)
March 18th to 24th, 2006


Very enjoyable, all the way through. I have to wonder, however, what the overall point of the story was.

Like the last book in this series, Prelude to Foundation, this book is divided up into various sections, each pertaining to a self-contained plot. The earliest sections are set up like mystery novels, with a nefarious scheme of some kind, the characters trying to solve it, and the execution of the solution itself. By far, the most enjoyable sections were the first and last ones.

In the first section, a group of people under a charismatic leader attempt to gain popular control of the government, by leading attacks on Eto Demerzel, the First Minister, who was revealed to Hari Seldon in the last book to be the robot Daneel. Through the various conversations between the main characters, we get a sense of the Galactic Empire and how society is working. Although Demerzel says that the Empire is failing, it is not so noticeable, yet. Psychohistory is more than a simple theory, as it was in the last book, but still has no more than a theoretical value.

Hari's partner in developing psychohistory is Yugo Amaryl, whom Seldon picked up in Dahl during the last book, and probably has more to do with the development of the theory than anybody- Seldon included! In fact, all through the book, he spends so much time in front of the Prime Radiant that he has no life. I suppose that Asimov realized that allowing Hari to develop the theory on his own would lead to a dull story. Hari does all of the socializing, and while he has numerous inputs and directs the whole thing, he has more of an administrative job. He realizes that to keep the creativity going, he needs some sort of social interaction. Yugo provides the mathematics, but Hari provides almost 100% of the creativity and imagination.

At the beginning of the book, Hari scoffs at the intuition that Yugo and Dors talk about. Yet he uses an intuition of his own when he sends his adopted son Raych to meet with Jo-Jo Joranum, leader of the plot to overthrow the First Minister. Seldon found out that Joranum was not from the small remote planet where he claimed to be from, but actually the territory of Mycogen on Trantor. Mycogen, we know from the last book, believes that there is a robot taken human form who still lives today, so Hari has his son, who seems to harbor rebellious thoughts to which Joranum's views appeal, tells the man that Demerzel is a robot, which then spreads through the public. However, Hari and Dors teach Demerzel how to laugh, which he does when the question about being a robot is posed to him, on live holovision. That settles the matter, in the public's mind -robots don't laugh. It seems to me, however, that showing Demerzel on holovision would allow him to be recognized by all those people who know him and owe him favors (from the last book) as Hummin. Could Daneel manipulate them all at once to forget? Or perhaps he manipulated them in the last book into only thinking that they owed him favors in the first place.

In the second section, however, we learn that Daneel has found all the publicity to be too much, so Demerzel "retires", and Emperor Cleon I appoints Hari Seldon to be the new First Minister. Appalled, Hari has no choice. Daneel has apparently gone as far as he can with the Empire, and leaves the planning of saving humanity to Hari. He goes off to his other project to save humanity, which is obviously Gaia (from Foundation's Edge). It is interesting how, far in the future, his two plans for humanity will clash.

Although Joranum has died in the ten years since his humiliation, his movement still lives, barely, headed by his second-in-command. Once again, Raych is sent to infiltrate the organization, but is recognized immediately. The Joranumites take advantage of him and drug him, so that he almost kills his father, which would open the door for the Joranumites to take control of the First Minister's office. This was a mistake on Hari's part, but both he and Raych are saved when an undercover security officer whom Raych fell in love with kills the one controlling Raych. The interesting twist comes from a completely unexpected place. Hari became good friends with one of the gardeners in the Imperial Palace after the man tried to thwart an assassination attempt on his life. When this comes to Cleon's attention, he decides to promote the man to Head Gardener, which appalls the man, because he loves being outdoors, while the Head never gets to step out of his office. A new Head Gardener means new gardeners all around, which provides the opportunity for the Joranumites to infiltrate the Palace grounds. The gardener is so distraught at being promoted that he picks up one of the dropped blasters and kills the Emperor! Although I have read this book before, and remember Demerzel laughing in the last section, I had no recollection of this whatsoever, which made it quite enjoyable.

Psychohistory makes some minor breakthroughs in this section, as they are able to make some very simple predictions. One of them is that either the outskirts of the Empire, or its centre, Trantor, must break away. Hari does everything in his power as First Minister to allow Trantor to survive, and apparently it is enough, as it survives Cleon's death. I like the way that everybody thinks that Seldon is working based on pre-determined knowledge based on psychohistory, when he is simply applying his intuition naturally, as psychohistory eventually will. He is an intuitive psychohistorian, introducing very minimalist changes, consciously.

Asimov gets to tackle a military government in the next section, when Hari turns sixty. His description of the Empire under military rule was interesting, especially how it sped up the decay of the Empire. Less interesting was the mystery of who was plotting to kill Hari Seldon. Hari's granddaughter, Wanda, was curled up in Hari's office chair after the office was cleared out to make room for his grand birthday party. She overheard two men talking about killing Hari by "lemonade death", which is very curious, and sets off paranoia in Dors. All throughout these two books, it has been hinted that Dors was a robot. Hari even believed it at the end of the last book, but brainwashed himself into not believing it. She single-handedly gains access to the Imperial Palace to meet with the First Minister, after explicitly being told that she could not enter, even by Hari himself. At this point, after ten years of Imperial rule, Hari attempts to destabilize the government by applying a minor suggestion about taxes to the junta leader. Dors nearly ruins it by interrupting, but Hari and Amaryl have predicted that what Hari has done would be enough.

The plot against Hari is related to the previous one, as the military leaders want somebody more pliable in charge of the psychohistory project. All throughout the book, the project has been funded by the government, and has grown. Cleon and Demerzel wanted Hari to develop psychohistory, and Cleon thought that Hari was already using it to some extent, even when he was simply using his intuition. Even the military government is interested in it, so they continue the funding. I was suspicious of the new prominent mathematician, Elan, from the start, and not for the reasons that Dors was. Mostly it was because he was always sucking up to Hari, and that he was so preoccupied with recognition, as in calling equations by the names of the people who created them, for example. He created the Electro-Clarifier, which allowed psychohistory to proceed at an incredible pace, nearly completing it, in fact. When Dors questions Elan about the effects of the Electro-Clarifier on humans, he reveals that it is harmless, but that it could easily affect a robot's systems. Just before she dies, she manages to kill Elan, which of course seals her fate. I wonder if Daneel discovered the secret to Solaria's robots in Robots and Empire, as Dors easily places more importance on Hari's life than on Elan's, even though Hari was not in immediate danger. Or perhaps it is simply the Zeroth Law taking precedence. "Lemonade death" was actually a mispronunciation of "Elan-Monay death", which is what Elan called the Electro-Clarifier.

After Dors dies and the military junta is replaced by an Emperor, Hari's life goes downhill. Funding is cut, Amaryl dies, and even Raych and his wife are killed by an uprising on an outer world where Raych decided to go to teach. Only Wanda stayed with Hari, because somebody had to take care of him when he refused to leave, and because he discovered that she could read and somewhat affect minds, sort of like what Daneel can do. In fact, Daneel created Gaia out of people like Wanda, only stronger in mental powers. So he and Hari were working along similar lines.

Wanda, however, fails every test that she sets for herself. She cannot mentally "push" anybody who does not want to be pushed. She does not affect the people who try to assault Hari, nor does she affect the judge who sees the assault case. Hari is acquitted, but his publicity gets him thrown out of the Library, and his funding is completely cut. Fortunately, he meets a young man named Palver (who will have a descendent in Second Foundation), who agrees to be his bodyguard. When Palver and Wanda meet, they discover that they can both affect minds, and that they are stronger together. This, of course, is the start of the Second Foundation. They get Seldon new access to the Library to start his Encyclopedia Galactica project, and recruit more people who can affect minds, like they can. The effect is a snowball until the Second Foundation is born.

The Epilog overlaps with the prolog to Foundation, as Seldon's project is banished to Terminus -later to become the First Foundation.

Considering how all of Seldon's life was presented as being difficult, but with easy solutions (after much research and thought, of course), I liked the last section almost the best as everything starts to fall apart, including the Empire. Psychohistory is nearly stopped, and everybody he knows dies or goes into hiding, like Wanda. He had to make so many severe sacrifices in the last section, which is what makes it so much worth reading.

This book was less about Foundation and psychohistory, and more about Hari Seldon and the people who surrounded him, and their intuition. Intuition plays a large part in all of the sections, while psychohistory plays a minor role.

I can see some of Asimov's trademark writing style in the first three sections. He has explained that he thinks of a problem and solution, then writes along a straight line between them. This is how the mystery aspect comes into play, as we wonder how he can possibly solve the problem, and question his solution until it comes to fruition. Everything has a place in the solution, so that very little is actually wasted.

I seem to recall that some (or all) of the sections were published in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. I wonder if that explains why most sections have recitations of what occurred in earlier sections, as if a month or so passed between reading them, and the reader needed a refresher. I found this to be rather annoying, as it makes for a lot of repetition. There are more subtle ways to remind us of what happened in Prelude to Foundation, or even earlier in this book! One aspect of the writing that I found interesting was the use of hindsight, or flashbacks. Because each section progressed by ten years, the intermediate events had to be covered this way.

Seldon died at seventy years old, close to the same age as Asimov lived to be. I wonder if Seldon's constant preoccupation with age was a reflection of the author, as Asimov died even before the book was published. Also standard Asimov, and possibly due to his age, was the way all of the men were called by their last names, while the women were given their first names in the narration. The women were also described by their looks, especially Wanda, who seemed to project a desire for people to do things "for the pretty young woman".

Although I get very tired of people with mind-reading abilities in Asimov's later novels, the mind-readers in this book were required because of the setup, which was written so many years ago. This book gives reference to another mind reader: the girl from Nemesis. I find it very doubtful that an obscure story about a girl and sentient planet communicating could survive for so many thousands of years, with even the name of the planet retained unaltered. On the other hand, I like the way Asimov tried to link so many of his seemingly unrelated novels together.

In my review of Prelude to Foundation, and many of Asimov's other "later" books, I have complained about too much talk, and too much thought, where the characters simply talk and think a problem to death; over and over and over until the reader mentally wishes them to stop, finally! This book had a lot of dialog and a lot of thought, but it was much more mature, and much more fulfilling. It was not wearying whatsoever.

The dialog and thoughts described a failing Empire, with actions like a military junta and thug gangs roaming the streets, that complement it. The story was about various plots to kill Hari Seldon, for various reasons. Psychohistory is a side-story, which comes to fruition by the end. I liked the story a lot, and it was very well-written, but it would have been nicer if something more held it together.


-- First reading (paperback)
June 5th to 11th, 1994


No review available.


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