Jul 302007

Foundation's Triumph book cover

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.

Posted by Stettin

6 Comments to “Foundation’s Triumph by David Brin”

  1. Thank you very much for the reviews. For the serious student of psychohistory, they are great perspective and timesavers, especially re first book. I would have been discouraged.

    The following is based on first chapter of Foundation. It’s the only actual mathematical anaysis I have yet seen.

    An Analysis of Isaac Asimov’s Psychohistory

    by Dennis O’Brien

    The Mission of psychohistory is to reduce human suffering by altering the course of history.

    The Goal of psychohistory is to produce a mathematical model that can predict the future with sufficient accuracy to enable and justify a conscious act to change it.

    Definition (by Gaal Dornick): “That branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli.” (Foundation, p. 17)

    First Assumption: “That the human conglomerate being dealt with is sufficiently large for valid statistical treatment.”

    – “Seldon’s First Theorem”: Determines the “necessary size of such a conglomerate.”

    Second Assumption: “That the human conglomerate be itself unaware of psychohistorical analysis in order that its reactions be truly random.”(1)

    Unit of Inquiry – Civilization, it’s development/decline, and its relationship to others.

    Seldon Functions, “which exhibit properties congruent to social and economic forces.”
    All “f( )” are functions, as used in calculus (see below)

    f(a) Administration
    f(d) Dependence
    f(e) Economics
    f(g) Governance
    f(h) [History](1)
    f(i) Industrialization
    f(r) Religion
    f(s) Specialization
    f(t) Technology
    f(u) Urbanization

    f(a): Administration
    “enormous population devoted to administrative necessities”
    “too few for complications”
    “impossibility of proper administration”

    f(d): Dependence
    “fleets of ships brought the produce”
    “dependence upon the outer worlds”
    “increasingly vulnerable to conquest by siege”
    “policy little more than protection of delicate jugular vein”

    f(e): Economics
    “contemporary recurrence of periods of economic depression’

    f(g): Governance
    “probability of imperial assassination”
    “viceregal revolt”
    “succession becomes more and more uncertain”
    “feuds among the great families”
    “aristocratic coterie”
    “formed an element of order”
    “blind instrument for maintenance of the status quo”

    [f(h): History (group self-awareness of historical trends, own role)](1)

    f(i): Industrialization
    “industrially advanced”

    f(r): Religion (from future chapter)

    f(s): Specialization
    “more specialized”

    f(t): Technology (from future chapter)

    f(u): Urbanization
    “densely populated”
    “mightiest deed of man, the complete and almost contemptuously final conquest of a world”

    Psychological Functions
    All “P( )” are human psychological functions. Is there one of these for each historical function? Vice-versa?

    P(i): Isolation
    “never come up here, gives them nerves”
    “doesn’t really matter, they’re happier down there”
    P(i)=f(u)+f(s) In English, Isolation is a function of urbanization and specialization.

    This is the type of “equation” that shows a relationship, even without units of measure. And it is likely incomplete, as there are likely other factors affecting P(i).

    P(sr): Social Responsibility
    “social responsibility disappears
    P(sr)=f(g)+f(a)+f(r)+f(h) Social Responsibility is a function of governance, administration, religion, and historic self-awareness.

    Mathematical Concepts

    Inertia and Change: “The psychohistorical trend of a planet-full of people contains a huge inertia. To be changed it must be met with something possessing a similar inertia. Either as many people must be concerned, or if the number of people be relatively small, enormous time for change must be allowed.”

    Thus: ?=nt, where ? is the desired change, n the number of people, and t the time involved. The value of ? will likely be derived from other calculations, leaving the psychohistorian then to consider the range of number and time options.

    Unit of Measure: n is a number of people, t is a measure of time, which by convention we can say is a year. Thus the unit of measure would be people-years, or PY. If functions and results can be described in terms of people/years, a mathematical structure can evolve.

    Every psychohistorical function (“Seldon Function”) affects the inertia of history in the same way that force affects inertia in Newtonian physics, i.e., with varying strength and direction. For purposes of analyzing civilization, direction can be positive-negative, with numbers for strength. E.g., destruction of infrastructure will have a -5.3 effect on nation building, on a scale of -10 to 10. If 1 = 1,000,000, then it’s going to take 5,300,000 people-years to offset the effect of such destruction.

    It may be that “results” include the psychological functions described above, which themselves are forces that affect history. They also can be benchmarks: a P(sr) of zero PY neither helps nor hurts civilization, but a -2 PY needs some attention. As an exercise, consider the P(sr) of the USA under the current and former USA administrations and the relative values of the functions that produced them. Start with the formula above. What other functions should be considered?

    By assigning values to the functions and testing against past events, it should be possible to at least find relative values for each function. But when it comes to measuring net effect, relative values are all that are needed. Also, by establishing a functions-to-results-to-civilization analysis, we begin to sort out the various cause-and-effects of history, using mathematical symbols and models. This may well lead to a First Approximation of a workable model.

    “This is an approximation which will serve to demonstrate the proposition”

    Other Mathematical Concepts

    “derivation of the function” – appears to refer to the data and analysis that produce a value for any given function
    “validity of set-transformation”
    “forbidden socio-operation”
    “field differentiation”

    The Calculus Model

    Algebra gives a fixed value to x and other symbols. Calculus can assign more complex values, like the function of x in different situations, e.g., f(x)=sin y from 0-90, csn y from 90-180, which can be much briefer with proper notation.

    So if we go back to our basic question, what makes people want to be part of a group, we can assign values to the various functions, then start testing (see above). Someone did this recently with the Greek elections, noting that gender would move the likelihood of a change of government up a few years. Would be interesting to se the mathematics involved with that prediction.

    Calculus also establishes rules for equations to work with each other. Like Asimov, I got a B in second-semester calculus and stopped there, and that was decades ago, so insight welcome. See above for hints from Asimov.

    Other Results/Outcomes/Subfunctions

    “More vulnerable, less able to defend itself.” From f(s)

    “A greater prize.” From f(a)

    Other Concepts (to be integrated into above, or perhaps something new)

    “cut off from civilization”

    “owed allegiance”

    “declining rate of planetary exploration”

    (1) Possibly incorrect, or only necessary as a plot mechanism, or a deliberate mislead by Seldon. Self-awareness of role in history may itself be a separate psychohistorical function. Second Assumption may have been red herring by Seldon: if he really wanted conglomerate to be unaware, why did he say loud and clear in first Time Vault appearance that there was a Second Foundation, and that their path was worked out? An integration of First and Second Foundations appeared the likely end result of the Seldon Plan, along with the final resolution of historical self-awareness. If so, then Second Assumption appears intended only to affect a dynamic tension between the two foundations.

    And possibly distract them from a third. But that’s another story, perhaps more romantic than scientific.]

  2. ivan says:

    Why was not anyone commissioned to bring the series to its logical conclusion.Thats what the fans wanted. Was it so hard to take up from where Asimov last left us? i have read the reviews and am frankly dismayed that no one saw fit to bring Daneel’s dream to integrate the galaxy into Galaxia and with Falloms special powers and longevity thus making humanity ready to deal with any threat from different galxies.
    We are fans of the FOUNDATION. Sadly the administrators of Asimov’s estate saw fit to use this fact to their advantage and gave us a lot of stuff about sims etc but nothing about GALAXIA or whether Gaia achieves its aim of an organic galaxy. Thanx for the review, now i dont have to waste my money buying the books. Which i would have had i not chanced on this page.

  3. Stettin says:

    If you would like to read something that is not a disappointment, check out the I, Robot Illustrated Screenplay by Harlan Ellison. It is in not the one that was made into a movie. I really liked the history behind why the original screenplay was never made. Asimov actually loved it and could not wait to see it made into a movie. Unfortunately it never happened.


  4. Bob says:

    Ivan, I also have hoped for years that some talented author would continue the series. I read an article months ago in which Asimov admitted he’d put himself in a difficult position with the ending of Foundation and Earth. An interesting solution is in the episode “No Exit” of Battlestar Galactica where the Anders character talks of “organic memory transfer” developed on the world Kobol. This would allow Daneel to transfer into Fallom, and also him to live forever, somethng I think all Asimov fans would enjoy

  5. Stettin says:

    Bob, if I remember correctly, the problem with Daneel was that his positronic brain was filling up. I am not sure whether or not an organic brain would be able to hold more data or not. The problem for him was that the way his brain was, he had to keep transferring to ones with bigger and bigger storage. Maybe he hit the limit at the quantum level or something like that. It has been several years since I’ve rad Foundation and Earth, so I could be wrong.

  6. dj says:

    I agree with Ivan’s comments above.
    I found myself thinking that there needed to be more books that move on through the plan into the later years and whether it was ever fulfilled or not.
    When I say “needed,” I really mean that I really wish they had been done, or would be done in the near future.

    Where I struggle is the difficulty of maintaining the feel of the original trilogy and writing.

    Perhaps there needs to be a another group of writers, hidden away at Science Fiction’s End, that master the art of Asimovian writing and bring the plan to fruition while touching Science Fiction as lightly as possible to get the desired results?

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