The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The vast Galactic Empire, composed of 25 million worlds and quadrillions of human beings, is in decline. Mathematician Hari Seldon, a provincial scholar from the distant planet Helicon, presents his learned hypothesis about the mathematical possibilities of what he calls “psychohistory” to a conference held on Trantor, the imperial capital. Seldon understands that his hypothesis is incomplete and untested. Nevertheless, it offers the prospect of mathematically predicting the empire’s future and, with this knowledge, influencing events so as to lay the groundwork for a Second Galactic Empire.

Seldon’s psychohistorical predictions do not apply to specific events or personalities; rather, they deal with the aggregate of the empire’s myriad worlds and peoples in sweeping ways. Psychohistory is a science of masses, of mobs in their billions. Intelligent people suspect that the empire is declining, and Seldon himself believes that the empire will soon confront thirty thousand millennia of wars and barbarism.

The potential of psychohistory to shorten this period draws the attention of Emperor Cleon I; his most influential aide, Demerzel; and female historian Dors Venabili. Prelude to Foundation chronicles Seldon’s trials and adventures, as the emperor, Demerzel (a robot in various human guises), and Dors (another humanized robot) alternately menace Seldon and encourage him to refine his thesis and to make it practical enough to allow prediction, manipulation, and control of social and economic change that will lead to a new empire.

The fall of the empire is inevitable, but to abbreviate the ensuing period of chaos to less than a millennium, Seldon establishes two Foundations at opposite ends of the Galaxy. The First Foundation, on Terminus, far from Trantor, is begun as a settlement of physical scientists who labor to compile the Encyclopedia Galactica, a compendium of universal knowledge. During the empire’s long decline, the First Foundation becomes a center of advanced science. The Second Foundation, a...

(The entire section is 846 words.)