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In the late 1940s, Asimov began a series of novellas about the Foundation, a far future project intended to save humanity from thirty thousand years of miserable barbarism. John Campbell, editor of Astounding magazine urged Asimov to add to the series, with each new novella a testament to Asimov's inventiveness. These novellas were eventually gathered together and published as the Foundation Trilogy in the early 1950s, and they remain among the most popular science fiction ever published. In the 1980s, Asimov returned to the fictional world he created in the Foundation novellas. He tied his imaginary Foundation universe into his imaginary robot universe, which featured fully sentient mechanical beings with "positronic brains," a term that shows up frequently in the fiction of other writers, and which is used to describe the brain of the character Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

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One character that Asimov touched on but did not describe in great detail was Hari Seldon, the genius who created the Foundation, the Second Foundation, and the science of psycho-history which allowed him to predict events and even shape them long after his death. Forward the Foundation tells the story of how Hari Seldon created his new science and how he went about using it to create the Foundation. It is in part a return to the original novellas, because it is composed of four novellas, but unlike the early novellas, these are carefully linked together so that they form a single coherent plot from the start of the book to the end. The original novellas were usually created without the sequels in mind; in Forward the Foundation Asimov clearly knows what he wants to do from start to end. The result is a brilliantly crafted plot and a moving, melancholy account of one man's losses as he sacrifices himself to science and the hope that he can better the lot of humanity.

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