The Novels (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Isaac Asimov’s The Foundation Trilogy is a work designed on an astonishing scale. The actions it describes cover more than four centuries and many solar systems. This, however, is only a fraction of the much larger perspective behind the story, for the sequence opens with a view of a Galactic Empire including more than twenty-five million inhabited planets; that Empire is furthermore the result of an expansion into space so long-drawn-out that even the memory of Earth itself has vanished. All one can say is that the Foundation era begins more than twelve thousand years in the future, at a time when Sol III is known only as one of the possible worlds of human origin, and when all the knowledge and history of human beings to date have dwindled to a few scraps of legend.
Yet the story that Foundation and its successors seek to tell is that of the decline and fall of the Galactic Empire, together with its replacement by something yet greater, not only in scale but also in achievement. To add a final implausibility to this ambitious project, the three novels do not even appear to have been conceived as a whole, but instead first came out as a string of seven short stories and one three-part serial in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction between 1942 and 1950, all of these being then collected (with one additional story to round them out) in the three volumes making up The Foundation Trilogy. Asimov, in other words, did not know how his story would finish when he started. Yet the enormous scale of what he was doing was evident from the beginning. One cannot avoid the question of how he hoped to hold his story or stories together.
The unifying factor of the sequence is, however, perfectly clear, and provides an especially good...
(The entire section is 729 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In Foundation, Gaal Dornick arrives on Trantor, the roofed-over planet that is the center of government for a Galactic Empire of 25 million planets, to work with Hari Seldon, the inventor of a predictive science called psychohistory. Psychohistory is able to predict far future events on an extremely large scale, but not to predict more localized events. Almost immediately, Seldon goes on trial for treason, because his calculations predict the fall of the Empire. Seldon escapes punishment by persuading the judges that everyone will benefit if he is allowed to set up the Foundation on the planet Terminus, on the edge of the galaxy, to compile a massive encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia Galactica, that will preserve all of human knowledge. Seldon then tells Dornick that the entire crisis has been manufactured so that 100,000 encyclopedists and their families will agree to leave Trantor for Terminus.
Fifty years later, Terminus is facing a crisis: It is under threat from ambitious rulers of nearby planets, one of whom, the ruler of Anacreon, wants to annex Terminus. Anacreon has a rival, the planet Smyrno. Terminus has few mineral resources but much technology because of the high proportion of scientists that live there. No psychologists live on Terminus, because Seldon included none when he brought the encyclopedists there. During the crisis, Seldon appears in a “time vault” with prepared comments about a predicted crisis (later called a “Seldon crisis”); he announces that the encyclopedia project was a ruse concocted to influence history without any encyclopedist’s knowledge—a necessary element of effective psychohistory. The lack of freedom of action is an essential part of a Seldon Crisis. Terminus, Seldon says, is an island of atomic power in an ocean of more primitive energy resources; the solution to their problem is obvious, but it is obvious only to Mayor Salvor Hardin, who has assumed control of Terminus.
Thirty years later, Hardin has solved the crisis by playing one barbarian planet against another, stoking each one’s fears of the other gaining atomic control. He sells devices to everyone but reserves the science to a newly created religious order. When Anacreon attacks Terminus, the priests rebel. Seldon appears again and warns that regionalism is stronger than religion.
Fifty years later, religious science has allowed the Foundation to take over its barbarian neighbors. Some planets view technology as sacrilegious. One of them, Askone, has imprisoned a trader for meddling in local politics. Another trader, Limmar Ponyets, tricks the ruler into accepting a transmutation machine for turning base metals into gold and then blackmails him into allowing the import of Foundation machines.
About twenty-five years after this, religion in the Foun dation has rigidified to the point that is has itself become a problem. To get rid of a rival, Jorane Sutt, the power behind the ruling mayor, sends a trader named Hober Mallow to investigate the disappearance of Foundation ships near the planet Korell. Mallow persuades the Korellian ruler to import Foundation atomic devices. Mallow traces the source of Korellian atomic handguns to...
(The entire section is 1305 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The ldquo;trilogy” was published originally as Foundation in 1951, Foundation and Empire in 1952, and Second Foundation in 1953, first by Gnome Press and as individual paperback volumes by Avon and in 1963 by Doubleday as a single volume.
The first story in the book, “The Psychohistorians,” reveals how Hari Seldon predicted the fall of the galactic empire through the use of psychohistory and set up two foundations, the first composed of 100,000 encyclopedists sent to Terminus, ostensibly to write the Encyclopedia Galactica (from which Asimov includes excerpts as epigraphs) but actually to provide the foundation for rebuilding and shorten the period of barbarism from twenty-five thousand years to one thousand.
“Foundation” (called “The Encyclopedists” in the book) and “Bridle and Saddle” (called “The Mayors” in the book) tell the story of the appearance of Hari Seldon in his “time vault” with a prediction about a Seldon crisis at hand. The galactic empire has fallen, and Terminus is threatened by two powerful neighboring systems because Terminus has atomic energy and the others do not. Mayor Hari Seldon works out an ostensible surrender to one of them but thirty years later reveals that the creation of an atomic religion protects Terminus from being taken over. In the two stories that follow, “The Traders” and “The Merchant Princes,” Asimov shows Terminus responding to new challenges and spreading its influences, through trade, throughout nearby systems.
Foundation and Empire is made up of two novellas, The General and The Mule. Both deal with challenges to Terminus as the initial vigor of the Foundation deteriorates into a dependence upon Seldon’s predictions, a kind of psychohistorical determinism that some critics have called debased Marxism. (Asimov denied knowing...
(The entire section is 779 words.)