The Novels

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)