Forward the Foundation

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Hari Seldon’s first public appearance on the imperial planet of Trantor almost cost him his life. Still, he survived the experience, and, as PRELUDE TO FOUNDATION related, he was able to secure the protection of the Emperor’s First Minister. Thus, Seldon was free to develop the necessary theorems in association with psychohistory—that discipline which allows the course of human events to be altered so as to produce predictable, beneficial consequences in the future.

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Unfortunately, the development of psychohistory was difficult, and there were those who sought to destroy Seldon or pervert his creation to promote their own selfish ends. Still, Seldon was an exceptionally talented and lucky individual who could call upon the assistance of friends in the great task to which he dedicated his life.

The publication of the Foundation Trilogy between 1951 and 1953 brought about a revolution in the science fiction genre. In FOUNDATION, FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE and SECOND FOUNDATION, Asimov unified scientific speculation and human historical development so as to create literary opportunities previously unsuspected by traditional practitioners of science fiction. With the publication of SECOND FOUNDATION, however, Asimov abandoned the Foundation tale for some three decades until the publication of the concluding volume in the series, FOUNDATION AND EARTH. While providing the chronological end of the series, however, FOUNDATION AND EARTH left far too many questions unanswered in the minds of Foundation fans. In consequence, Asimov returned to the beginning of the beginning, thereby devoted himself to life and times of the man who started it all. PRELUDE TO FOUNDATION and FORWARD THE FOUNDATION represent what might be called “Foundation: the Hari Seldon Years.” The posthumously published FORWARD THE FOUNDATION is a worthy end to a lifetime of achievement.

Setting

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Nearly all the action takes place on the planet Trantor. This planet is near the center of the Milky Way galaxy; it is as close to the black hole at the very center of the galaxy that a planet can be and still be habitable. Trantor is the center of the Galactic Empire, which has existed for thousands of years. Over forty billion people live on Trantor, with the empire as a whole consisting of over twenty million worlds and trillions of people. Trantor is covered almost completely by interconnecting domes; few of its inhabitants ever venture outside. They are devoted largely to keeping Trantor and the Empire functioning. A huge bureaucracy is required to keep the vast government running, and the people of Trantor provide most of the bureaucrats.

Hari Seldon does most of his work at Streeling University, where he is supplied with offices by successive governments. The idea that psychohistory may be able to predict the future has a magical lure for governmental leaders, thus they provide Seldon with what he needs in the hope that his work will enhance their own power. Only First Minister Eto Demerzel seems to really understand what Seldon's work means, but he is soon replaced by Seldon himself. Streeling University is within one of the domes; there Seldon is honored most of the time, and there Seldon works and sees his friends and family die or leave as decades pass.

The royal palace is a vast place with enormous rooms and hordes of bureaucrats. The emperor finds much of his time taken up with rituals; Cleon, in particular, yearns to be more than a figurehead, trapped in a great, opulent prison. From the palace he and his first minister try to run an empire of more than twenty million worlds. While he is First Minister, Seldon is never comfortable in his huge living quarters in the palace. The palace garden plays a notably significant role in Forward the Foundation. It is the only part of Trantor that is open to natural sunlight and the natural atmosphere. It is kept by gardeners brought in from other worlds. By being enclosed and devoted to bureaucracy, Trantor's society is out of touch with the lives of most people in the empire; the garden symbolizes this. It is alien to Trantorian life. It is in the garden that the seeds for Cleon's death are planted; these seeds much later result in the death of Seldon's wife Dors.

Near the palace is the Galactic Library, a huge place filled with computers and people researching a seemingly endless number of subjects. Typical of Trantor, it has its own huge bureaucracy, with plenty of bureaucratic infighting. Seldon discovers a special young man there—someone who will help him establish the Second Foundation, the necessary counterweight to the Foundation. Seldon uses the library as a cover for his work on the Foundation; he pretends he is creating a vast encyclopedia that will preserve civilized knowledge during the breakdown of the empire. Readers of the other Foundation books will recognize this as the Encyclopedia Galactica that is often quoted in the Foundation stories.

Literary Techniques

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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 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. These books became and 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 the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Forward the Foundation is a finely textured work. It is composed of four novellas, but these novellas are unified by a main plot, making their book a novel. Asimov's principal purpose in Forward the Foundation is to explore the personality of Hari Seldon, the man whose genius and foresight led to the creation of the Foundations. Each novella focuses on a period in Seldon's life. "Eto Demerzel" shows how Seldon became First Minister. The events in this novella foreshadow events that occur in the subsequent novellas, adding to the book's unity. For instance, Seldon's helping squelch the Joranumite conspiracy in "Eto Demerzel" not only leads to a new Joranumite conspiracy in "Cleon I," but to the effort to murder Seldon, which leads to the death of Cleon I, which leads not only to Seldon's retirement from being First Minister but to a military dictatorship in "Dors Venabili," which in turn leads to the murder of Dors, which leads to Seldon's dependence on Wanda in "Wanda Seldon." The careful interconnection of such events makes for an exceptionally tightly written book.

Literary Qualities

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Forward the Foundation is a finely textured work. It is composed of four novellas, but these novellas are unified by a main plot, making their book a novel. Asimov's principal purpose in Forward the Foundation is to explore the personality of Hari Seldon, the man whose genius and foresight led to the creation of the Foundations. Each novella focuses on a period in Seldon's life. "Eto Demerzel" shows how Seldon became first minister. The events in this novella foreshadow events that occur in the subsequent novellas, adding to the book's unity. For instance, Seldon's helping squelch the Joranumite conspiracy in "Eto Demerzel" not only leads to a new Joranumite conspiracy in "Cleon I," but to the effort to murder Seldon, which leads to the death of Cleon I, which leads not only to Seldon's retirement from being First Minister but to a military dictatorship in "Dors Venabili," which in turn leads to the murder of Dors, which leads to Seldon's dependence on Wanda in "Wanda Seldon." The careful interconnection of such events makes for an exceptionally tightly written book. There is little wasted space in it; all the events have meaning for Seldon and the plot.

Literary Precedents

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Asimov's Galactic Empire is based on the Roman Empire as described in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (17761788). The efforts of the Galactic Empire to retain its power and later to regain the influence it has lost parallels events in Gibbon's account. heRelated Titles?

The four linked novellas comprising Forward the Foundation are part of a series including Foundation (1952, novellas); Foundation and Empire (1952, novellas); Second Foundation (1952, novellas); Foundation's Edge (1982, novel); Robots and Empire (1985, novel); Foundation and Earth (1986, novel); and Prelude to Foundation (1988, novel).

The original Foundation novellas were published the 1940s. In the first ones, the creation of the Foundation on the planet Terminus is explained, and Hari Seldon's messages for the Foundation are revealed. The initial novellas tell of how various leaders of the Foundation cope with the emergencies that arise in a hostile galaxy in which law and order have disappeared. The Foundation becomes an important repository of knowledge that will eventually end the barbarism into which the empire is plunging. The last efforts of a still mighty but failing Galactic Empire to assert its control on the Outer Worlds are shown, with events roughly following those in the days of the failing Western Roman Empire. A character called the Mule is eventually introduced. He has profound psychic powers and can force people to do what he wants, even against their wills. He makes a mess of the course for the Foundation that had been laid out by Seldon. The Second Foundation has to take a hand in ending the threat to the future of humanity by the Mule. The later novels, show the development of the relationship between the First Foundation and the Second Foundation, tie Asimov's robot stories into his Foundation universe, and tell of how Hari Seldon came to create psychohistory.

For Further Reference

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Asimov, Isaac. In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920-1954. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979. Presents an exhaustively detailed account of his youth and early manhood. His avowed intention is to avoid interpretation as much as he can, and to provide as many unvarnished facts as he can, leaving interpretation up to his readers. Given Asimov's irrepressible wit, he does not quite succeed in presenting nothing but facts; his portrait of himself as a teenager, for instance, includes his self-absorption, his love of whistling, and fondness for cemeteries—he presents himself as a comic figure whose bizarre habits cause his parents endless concern. His own feeling about his eccentricities was that they were his property, and rather than causing him embarrassment, he treated them as special parts of himself. He notes, more than thirty years later, that his eccentricities are now thought of as colorful.

——. In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954-1978. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980. It is as imposingly large as the first volume and focuses mostly on his literary career. According to him, writing is what defines him as a person; he lives to write. Again, his sense of humor livens up the narrative, making potentially dry accounts of how certain writings were inspired, written, and published entertaining and often enlightening. Fans of Asimov's work would likely find everything in this book interesting, explaining as it does how Asimov's best-loved writings developed. Scholars would find the wealth of detail to be helpful in their research.

——. "Science Fiction and I." In Asimov on Science Fiction. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981: 295-318. This book is a gathering of Asimov's essays on science fiction; the section "Science Fiction and I" is composed of five of his essays. These cover his thoughts about his own work in science fiction.

Barrett, David V. Review. Times Literary Supplement (April 30, 1993): 22. Regards Forward the Foundation as a waste of time.

Bernardo, Anthony J., Jr. "The Foundation Trilogy." In Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults. Edited by Kirk H. Beetz, et al. Washington, DC: Beacham, 1990. Vol. 4: 1707-1712. This is an introduction to the basic qualities of the Foundation books. According to Bernardo, the books reflect "scientific optimism."

Cassada, Jackie. Review. Library Journal 118 (March 15, 1993): 111. Declares the novel a good one and expects Forward the Foundation to be in demand.

Chambers, Bette. "Isaac Asimov: A One-Man Renaissance." The Humanist 53 (March-April 1993): 6-8. Discusses Asimov's role as advocate for secular humanism.

Ferrell, Keith. Review. Omni 15 (July 1993): 6. Praises Forward the Foundation. ——. "Requiem: Isaac Asimov 1920- 1992." Omni 14 (June 1992): 22. Notes Asimov's influence on the real world of society and science, as well as his contributions to fiction and nonfiction.

Fiedler, Jean, and Jim Mele. "Asimov's Robots." In Critical Encounters: Writers and Themes in Science Fiction. Edited by Dick Riley. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1978: 1-22. Fiedler and Mele trace Asimov's development as a writer through his robot stories.

——. Isaac Asimov. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1982. Fiedler and Mele offer a chronological study of Asimov's science fiction. They assert that one of the qualities that has made Asimov's science fiction special has been that he "was a scientist, and even in his earliest attempts at fiction, his interest in science dictated his method." This is a good introduction to Asimov's science fiction that should be especially helpful to students.

Green, Roland. Review. Booklist 89 (February 15, 1993): 1010. Believes Forward the Foundation to be worthy of the previous Foundation books.

Gunn, James. Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. This is the most scholarly of the book-length studies of Asimov and is written with high intelligence. Gunn begins with a summary of Asimov's life and career, and then devotes himself to a study of Asimov's science fiction, emphasizing the robot stories. Gunn concludes that "Asimov's continuing presence in the field of science fiction has importance as a reminder not only of the past but of the way in which the past is a foundation for the present, and of the way in which the past can renew itself."

Hassler, Donald M. "Asimov's Ordering of an Art." Comic Tones in Science Fiction: The Art of Compromise with Nature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982: 87-96. (Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Number 2.) Hassler compares Asimov to writers of the eighteenth century, arguing that for Asimov, the eighteenth century is a Golden Age. He further asserts that Asimov is conscious of literary history and of his antecedents and wishes to have the time of his own prime regarded as a Golden Age for science fiction. Thus he treats his own life as history: "Asimov understands his history and uses his history, but he is changed as a writer by his history."

——. "Some Asimov Resonances from the Enlightenment." Science-Fiction Studies 15 (March 1988): 36-47. Here, Hassler discusses Asimov as a kind of eighteenth-century thinker, suggesting that he writes in the tradition of John Locke, "affirming the Lockean methodology of gradual accumulation," meaning that Asimov emphasizes the rationality of gradually accumulated facts and rejects the "absolute insights of intuitive or inspired art." These ideas seem particularly applicable to the characterization of Hari Seldon.

Hornfischer, James D. Review. Christian Science Monitor (May 28, 1993): 14. Admires the characterization of Seldon in Forward the Foundation. Hunt, Caroline C. "David Starr, Space Ranger." In Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults. Edited by Kirk H. Beetz, et al. Washington, DC: Beacham, 1990. Vol. 4: 1643-1649. Hunt examines the novel David Starr, Space Ranger as "quintessential 'space opera,'" where "good prevails over evil."

Hutcheon, Pat Duffy. "The Legacy of Isaac Asimov." The Humanist 53 (March-April 1993): 3-5. Discusses Asimov's belief that scientific research makes the future brighter for humanity.

"Isaac Asimov." Variety 346 (April 13, 1992): 78. Obituary article noting Asimov's popularity.

Jonas, Gerald. Review. New York Times Book Review (May 9, 1993): 20. Rates Forward the Foundation highly.

Lenz, Joseph M. "Manifest Destiny: Science Fiction and Classical Form." In Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy. Edited by George E. Slusser, Eric S. Rabkin, and Robert Scholes. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983: 42-48. Lenz examines how Asimov used Classical sources to create a galactic empire and compares Asimov's empire to that created by Frank Herbert in Dune.

Manlove, C. N. "Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy (1951-53; serialized 1942-49)." In Science Fiction: Ten Explorations. London: Macmillan, 1986: 15-34. Manlove credits Asimov's Foundation books with giving science fiction a "fully epic dimension." He says the Foundation stories demonstrate Asimov's desire to find order in life, the "dominant urge behind Asimov's work being the need to make life coherent."

Moore, Maxine. "Asimov, Calvin, and Moses." In Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers. Edited by Thomas D. Clareson. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976: 88- 103. Moore argues that "beneath the glib surface of Asimov's considerable output . . . lies an elaborate metaphorical structure that combines New England Calvinism with the Old Testament Hebraic tradition of the 'Peculiar People' to set forth a highly developed philosophy of mechanistic determinism with a positive ethic to justify it." She argues that in his science fiction Asimov has developed a "massive philosophy based on fixed fate."

Moskowitz, Sam. "Isaac Asimov." In Seekers of Tomorrow: Masters of Modern Science Fiction. Cleveland: World, 1966: 249-265. This book is treated by many scholars as a landmark in the development of studies of science fiction. In it, Moskowitz summarizes the lives of twenty-two science fiction writers; in several cases, these summaries were the first accounts of the lives of important writers. In "Isaac Asimov," Moskowitz emphasizes the role the environment of Asimov's life played in Asimov's development as a writer. For instance, he notes that while growing up in New York, "Isaac grew to love the masses of concrete and steel vibrant with the eternal hum of traffic." The images of concrete and steel are found throughout Asimov's work.

"Nightfall." The Economist 323 (April 11, 1992): 87. Obituary article focusing on Asimov's writings.

Olander, Joseph D., and Martin Harry Greenberg, eds. Isaac Asimov. New York: Taplinger, 1977. This book contains nine essays that discuss Asimov's use of metaphors, his characterizations, his science fiction mysteries, his Foundation books, and his robot stories. Taken as a whole, this book provides a good scholarly introduction to the major aspects of Asimov's science fiction.

Panshin, Alexei, and Cory Panshin. "Shifting Relationships," "An Empire of the Mind," and "Man Transcending." In The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1989: 302-344, 520-566, and 567-647. The Panshins here offer an intellectual history of science fiction. So massive is this book, that its sections on Asimov alone provide a book-length introduction to Asimov's work. According to the Panshins, Asimov was the creator of important ideas that have become essential to modern science fiction. In "Shifting Relationships," they discuss how Asimov worked with John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding, developing the short story "Nightfall" and other literary works. In "An Empire of the Mind," the Panshins put Asimov's Foundation stories into the context of their time, suggesting sources for the stories, discussing what Asimov hoped to achieve in the stories, and analyzing their literary merits. Most of "Man Transcending" is devoted to how John Campbell coped with the effects of World War II, but the chapter also includes details about how Asimov's career fared during the war.

Patrouch, Joseph F., Jr. The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974. This book is a critical survey of Asimov's achievements in science fiction. Patrouch emphasizes how Asimov depicts the supremacy of reason over emotionalism. He sees this supremacy as an important general characteristic of science fiction, and finds it in the problem-solving characters of Asimov's fiction.

Platt, Charles. "Isaac Asimov." In Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction: Interviews. New York: Berkley Books, 1980: 1-7. Platt provides a portrait of Asimov at home.

Review. Publishers Weekly, 240 (March 15, 1993): 73. Recommends Forward the Foundation.

Sagan, Carl. "Isaac Asimov." Nature, 357 (May 14, 1992): 113. A summary of Asimov's life, noting Asimov's ability to explain science to lay people.

Toupence, William F. Isaac Asimov. Boston: Twayne (G. K. Hall), 1991. Focuses on Asimov's science fiction, only, providing little commentary on Asimov's many writings in other fields. Toupence analyzes individual works as contributions to a vast imaginative universe To Toupence, Asimov is a tolerant man who usually respects the beliefs of others, even though he sometimes becomes a caustic antagonist when he thinks science is being attacked with irrational views.

Warrick, Patricia. "Isaac Asimov Develops the Genre." In The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1980: 53-74. Warrick examines the basic ideas that underlie Asimov's robot stories, noting the importance of Asimov's optimism about future developments in technology.

Wilcox, Clyde. "The Greening of Isaac Asimov: Cultural Change and Political Futures." Extrapolation, 31 (Spring 1990): 54-62. Wilcox examines how the social themes of Asimov's novels change as America and the world change from the 1950s to the 1980s.

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