David Brin does a good job of unifying the Robot and Foundation novels by explaining many of the contradictions which come up if we assume every book written so far is to be viewed as in the same universe. One of the nagging questions which bothered me while reading the series is, “How did 25 million worlds get settled in just 20,000 or so years?” Brin explains this and many other things throughout the novel. At some points it seemed that he was reaching very hard to explain every single little detail linking the other novels together. Overall the book was enjoyable, but I think that the last one was significantly better.
The book starts out with Hari Seldon repeating the phrase “I am finished” over and over in his mind. Hari, bound to a wheelchair and cared for by Kers Katun, seems ready to curl up and die, as his doctors have told him he does not have long to live. After a long life full of adventure and intrigue he finishes his final task of recording the infamous Seldon Crisis videos for the Time Vault which will be installed on Terminus. He feels that everyone’s attitude toward him changed once he was done with the final message, like they have no more use for him.
Hari latches onto an opportunity to join a research project with a soil expert named Horis Antic. Horis has a theory to predict the occurrence of Chaos Worlds which uses soil composition analysis. Hari is intrigued because he always thought that something was missing from his own equations. He sneaks out of Trantor along with his guardian and Horis Antic. Very soon the entire crew of their survey ship, which is supposed to help confirm the correlation of Hari and Horis’s theories, is ambushed by some rebels from a the chaos world of Ktlina led by a woman who seems somewhat familiar to Hari. She turns out to be Sybl, the female programmer that resurrected the Joan of Arc sim. She had escaped to Ktlina from Trantor after the debate fiasco between Joan and Voltaire in Foundation’s Fear.
Throughout the rest of the novel so much time is spent examining the origins of ‘chaos’ that it seems this book should have been named Foundation and Chaos instead of the previous one. Hari finds himself used as a pawn yet again, in a way I won’t mention because it would spoil too many surprises. He is caught between the Calvinian and Giskardian robots, as well as the humans from the Ktlina. While all of this happens Dors Venabili is called to a meeting on Panucopia by rogue robot Lodovic Trema. After receiving a disturbing present from Lodovic, Dors begins to question her loyalty to Daneel. Reluctantly, she agrees to set aside her differences and work with this rogue to try and save Hari.
One of the main themes in this book is the danger of too much knowledge. I found it disturbing at times to see how Hari Seldon referred to ancient vaults of information as “horrors”. This seems to be the opposite of Google’s mission “to organize the world’s [galaxy’s] information and make it universally accessible and useful”. I think it would be a shame if we let our knowledge of history be censored on the same level that happens in this series. Of course, I understand there is a need to suppress information in order to keep robotics from being rediscovered. It seems pretty obvious that in order for humanity to flourish, it needs to be without robot intervention. Daneel’s reveals his final plan, so that he can finally rest, which foreshadows the events of Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth.
Possibly my biggest disappointment in this book was that we never get to see Dors visiting Hari before he dies. There must have been at least 5 or 6 passages in the novel referring to Daneel’s promise that Dors would return to Trantor to be with Hari before his death. I can understand why the ended played out as it did though. It was much more uplifting than seeing Hari die, as we did in Forward the Foundation. Still, the book was good in that it answered the many questions that the Second Foundation Trilogy created, and tied up a few things from all of the previous novels.