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...
(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...
(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...
(The entire section is 779 words.)
The Foundation Trilogy consists of three books of stories—Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation—that form a history of the future. The events in the trilogy are loosely based on the fall of the Roman Empire, but the trilogy is also about the nature of history itself. The books have a strong narrative line, one that is familiar to many readers but presented in a fictional form. In Asimov's work, the Roman Empire becomes the Galactic Empire, and a sophisticated new science known as psychohistory allows people to predict future events. Within this framework, the trilogy explores such issues as the accurate determining of historical trends, the conflict between determinism and free will, and the ability of one person or group of people to control history.
(The entire section is 128 words.)