Roughly twelve thousand years have passed since the founding of the Galactic Empire. Almost the whole galaxy has been explored and populated accounting for 25 million inhabited worlds, most of which have at least 1 billion people each. Trantor is the ruling world of the Galactic Empire. It is covered completely with domed cities that go far under ground except for just 250 square kilometers which made up the Imperial palace grounds. Hari Seldon, a mathematician from Helicon, has traveled Trantor to give a presentation on his new theory called psychohistory. While psychohistory could ‘theoretically’ help predict future events, Hari is interested in it only as a theory and feels that it could never become practical.
I’ve read quite a few reviews of this novel and many people are disappointed because it does not tie up the questions left unanswered at the end of Foundation and Earth. Much of this disappointment comes from the fact that Forward the Foundation is the last book in the series written by Asimov just before his death. I think that the disappointed fans were looking for answers in the wrong places. This novel simply gives us a closer look at Hari Seldon and the progress of the psychohistory project at Streeling University.
It is hard to write a review about one of the most famous science fiction novels of all time, but I will try to do it justice. Asimov originally started the Foundation saga as a series of short stories for Astounding Magazine back in the 1940s. For the novelisation Asimov added the section “The Psychohistorians” to precede the original 4 stories that were published in the magazine. For those reading along with me in chronological order, most of this first story is covered in Foundation and Chaos.
Foundation and Empire is broken up into two longer stories, rather than five shorter ones that appeared in Foundation. The first story, The General, begins almost 200 years after the Foundation was established on Terminus. The second story, The Mule, takes place just over 300 years into the Foundation Era. I think I liked this book more because the stories were longer and the character development was a bit deeper. Also, it seemed that the action picked up noticeably compared to the last book.
Second Foundation is broken up into two stories, just like Foundation and Empire. The first story, Search by the Mule, takes up only about 1/3 of the book. It takes place 5 years after the events of Foundation and Empire. The second story, Search by the Foundation, takes place about 60 years later. The second story is significantly better than the first. When comparing the two, Search by the Mule seems rushed and not very interesting, while Search by the Foundation is more developed, especially when it comes to characters, plot, and action.
In the order of publishing, Foundation’s Edge represents a return by Asimov to the Foundation novels dating back to 1950. This was the novel in which he officially linked the Robot Novels, Empire Novels, and Foundation Novels together into one universe. I believe it was this choice that helped him to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1983. I liked Foundation’s Edge, but I prefer Foundation and Empire’s “The Mule” or Second Foundation’s “Search by the Foundation” to this book. Actually, while researching the Hugo Award for this novel I found out that according to Wikipedia, The Mule (1946) [part 2 of Foundation and Empire] received one of only three “Retro Hugo” awards.
As with most of the other Foundation novels, Foundation’s Edge follows the events of the Foundation (oddly not usually referred to as the First Foundation) and the Second Foundation. The Foundation plot line follows Golan Trevize, a councilman on Terminus, the capital of the Foundation Federation. A Seldon crisis has just passed involving a dispute over whether or not to move the capital of the Foundation Federation to a world closer to the center of the galaxy. Seldon appeared in the time vault and described what had taken place with eerie accuracy. How could Seldon have predicted with such accuracy almost 500 years into the future especially when The Mule had wreaked such havoc to the Plan?
This is the final novel in the Foundation Universe chronologically speaking. There are a couple short stories completed by other authors, but Foundation and Earth describes (in 494 pages) where Asimov saw his epic saga moving toward. It is a shame that he couldn’t have lived longer to continue on writing. For those that don’t know, Isaac Asimov contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during a heart operation in 1983. It later developed into AIDS, causing heart and kidney failure which led to his death in 1992. For more information on his life and death, visit Asimov Online. I wish I could remember the source, but I know I read that Asimov was not sure exactly how he would continue the series when a fan suggested he go back and write some prequels. Before his death he did fill in some gaps with the Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation.
Almost no time has passed since Golan Trevize made his decision in favor of Galaxia over a Second Galactic Empire controlled by either the First or Second Foundation. Trevize is still on Gaia along with Janov Pelorat and Bliss. Golan intends to find Earth so that he can find out why he chose felt that Galaxia was best for not only mankind, but for every living thing in the Galaxy. He will not rest until he finds Earth. Bliss insists on going on his search to act as protection through her role as part of Gaia, and Janov has his own research on Earth that he wishes to complete.
The one thing that Asimov succeeds accomplishing in this novel, as he does with the others books in this series, is creating and describing different cultures. These cultures vary from the extremes of conservatism to tribal utopias. Each new world has its own customs, mythology, and history which is described through the interactions between the protagonists and the natives encountered throughout their complex journey.