Following the Foundation into Book Two

Another partly-read series I’m working on  is the original Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov (which also fits my goal last year to read more classic sci fi).  I just read the second Foundation novel, Foundation and Empire–not to be confused with Second Foundation, which is the third book!

The Foundation books are set in a distant future where humans live on planets across the galaxy, under the rule of a Galactic Empire.  The impetus for the whole series is Hari Seldon, a master of psycho-history.  Not the history of crazy people 🙂 it’s a discipline of applying psychology to entire societies, to look at sweeping trends and predict the future with startling accuracy.  Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire and a period of 30,000 years of barbarism before a new Empire will rise.  He calculates that the solution is to gather the great minds of the time together into two Foundations at opposite ends of the galaxy.  This will set in motion necessary events to shorten the period of chaos to only 1,000 years.

Throughout the 1,000 years, there are certain crisis points, known as Seldon crises, which must develop and resolve a certain way for history to continue as Seldon predicted.  The novels primarily deal with these crisis points.  Foundation deals with the founding and first two hundred years of the Foundation.  Foundation and Empire picks up at the next crisis point, as the last vestiges of the Empire make an attack on the Foundation.

That’s Book One.  In typical classic sci fi fashion, the book is really two novellas, and though both good, I found the second one the more interesting one.  In the second section, a shadowy figure called the Mule has begun conquering worlds, heading towards the Foundation itself.  Seldon’s predictions deal with trends, not individuals, and the Mule is poised to set awry all of Seldon’s calculations.

I find that I tend to enjoy Asimov on a cerebral level.  He has interesting plots, and he deals with intriguing theories of societal trends and human nature and big macro-level things (like Seldon).  He tends not to be as satisfying on a micro-level, by which I really mean that his individual characters rarely make an impact on me.  Part of it is that there are often a lot of them, and they’re mostly intellectual men having serious conversations all the time.

That being said, Foundation and Empire was a pleasant surprise for having more relatable characters!  The first section features a well-developed character in the general attacking the Foundation, and there was also a former revolutionary and a merchant trader who had my interest.  I feel like those two should have been a little more than they were, but I still liked them.

The second section had two very solidly engaging characters.  There’s Magnifico, the Mule’s court jester who is cringing and slightly pathetic and yet comical as well.  And there’s Bayta.  And she’s a girl!  After a book and a half, I was beginning to think that Asimov was writing about a future society consisting only of men.  There’s a complete absence of female characters until Bayta comes on the scene, and it’s nice that when she does arrive she’s intelligent, warm-hearted, and even has a bit of a sense of humor.

These are not comedic books, and they’re mostly not emotional books either.  They’re not exactly light, although I wouldn’t say they’re heavy in a depressing way either.  They’re interesting and they’re intellectual, and I’m pleased about the improving trend in this one, and hopeful for the next!

Other reviews:
Kinda Silly Books
Reviews and Ramblings
Sci-Fi Book Review
Anyone else?

11 thoughts on “Following the Foundation into Book Two

  1. I just read the trilogy for the second time earlier this year and it was fun to revisit this. My opinions changed somewhat from the first time and I actually ended up enjoying each book a little better than the last, where Foundation was my favorite the first time. I am a big fan of the female characters in books 2 and 3, especially Arkady Darell in Second Foundation. She reminds me of some of the characters created later by Robert Heinlein. She’s a fun teenager.

    This time around I did think the longer stories worked better for me and overall the trilogy is just great. I think it holds up well despite its dated portions and has some very interesting things to say even now. Was a great trilogy to discuss in a group read setting.

    1. I think I might like Asimov better on a reread too–already having context from memory on the characters and the world would probably help me connect faster (and deeper). I’m sorry I missed your group-read! Just not the right timing for me…

      1. Two other stories of his I really like (on top of the excellent I, Robot collection) is The Currents of Space and the story co-written by Robert Silverberg, The Positronic Man.

  2. Cheryl, I second your thoughts on Asimov being more of a cerebral enjoyment. And I, too, enjoyed the second part of Foundation & Empire precisely because a) there was a female character and b) there were characters who were more real, more three-dimensional. For me, these books are fun on an occasional basis (say, every 10 or 20 years) but not really emotionally satisfying in the long run.

    The Foundation series, like much of Asimov’s work, is “idea” SF, rather than character-driven SF. Some authors seem able to combine the two effectively — think Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” — but Asimov often emphasizes ideas over character, and his stories are woefully underpopulated by the female half of the species. But, oh, the ideas! He was a master at those.

    1. Dennis

      I’ve read all of Asimov’s sci-fi novels and most of his short stories. You’re right about the shortage of female characters in his early works. (Arkady Darrell in Second Foundation is an exception.) In his later years, he did a series of books that unified his Robot future history with his Foundation future history. I think you’ll find he was better about including female characters in those later works.

    2. “Idea” Science Fiction rather than character-driven–YES! Thank you so much for putting this into words. And for making me feel I’m not the only one to look at Asimov from this angle.

  3. While this book was interesting, I thought that the first book was overall better. From what I’ve read of Asimov’s Science Fiction (The Foundation Trilogy and I, Robot) it seems to work better when he’s telling the short stories as opposed to the larger episodes, and the five stories from the first book worked better than the 2 novellas from this book, at least for me.

    Either way, glad you enjoyed it and I hope you enjoy the third book as well.

    1. See, I think the longer stories worked better for me, because I got to know the characters a bit better. In the first one (and in I, Robot), I’d just get a handle on the characters, and then we’d switch to a new story and never see them again! But of course, that’s one of those things people have different preferences on…

      1. I agree with you on the longer stories. It took me a while to get used to Asimov’s writing because he tends to develop ideas rather than characters.

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