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Foundation (novel)

Foundation is the first book in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy (later expanded into The Foundation Series). Foundation is a collection of five short stories, which were first published together as a book by Gnome Press in 1951. Together, they form a single plot. Foundation tells the story of a group of scientists who seek to preserve knowledge as the civilizations around them begin to regress.

Plot summary

Foundation tells the story of a group of scientists who seek to preserve knowledge as the civilizations around them begin to regress.

The Psychohistorians

(0 F.E.)

The first story is set on Trantor, the capital planet of the 12,000-year-old Galactic Empire. Whilst the empire gives the appearance of stability, beneath this facade it is suffering a slow decay. The main character, Hari Seldon, a mathematician, has developed psychohistory which equates all possibilities in large societies to mathematics, allowing predictable long term outcomes.

Seldon discovers a horrifying truth to the Empire's decay, but his results are considered treasonable and attract attention from the Commission of Public Safety — the effective rulers of the Empire. This leads to his arrest. A young mathematician Gaal Dornick, who has just arrived on Trantor, is also arrested. On trial, Hari shares the discoveries made through psychohistory, such as the collapse of the Empire within 500 years, followed by a 30,000-year period of barbarism.

Hari proposes an alternative to this future; one that would not avert the collapse but shorten the interregnum period to a mere 1000 years. But this plan would require a large group of people to develop a compendium of all human knowledge, titled the Encyclopedia Galactica.

The Commission aborts the trial and meets with Hari in secret. They offer him the choice of execution for treason or acceptance of exile with his group of 'Encyclopedists' to a remote planet Terminus. There, they will carry out the Plan under an imperial decree, while Hari would remain, barred from leaving Trantor.

The Encyclopedists

(50 F.E.) (published May 1942 as "Foundation")

The second story; "The Encyclopedist", takes place 50 years after the events of "The Psychohistorians". Terminus faces the first of many "Seldon Crises". With no mineral wealth of their own, they become cut off from outside supplies, as a result of their neighboring planet's rebellion against the "Empire" and declaration of independence.

Terminus is caught in a feud between four planetary systems which have degenerated to a barbaric state and find Terminus's location a strategic advantage. The Board of Trustees of the 'Encyclopedia Galactica Foundation', composed of scientists with no political or military training, finds themselves incompetent to handle the situation as they are distracted by the completion of the Encyclopedia. But the Mayor of Terminus City Salvor Hardin perceives the threat and quickly finds a solution; to play the four kingdoms off each other.

Hardin's plan is a success and then the image of Seldon appears in the "Time Vault", where he acknowledges that the "Seldon Crisis" was averted. Seldon makes it clear that the choice made was the intended one and that the Encyclopedia was just a distraction to further the overall plan.

Hardin uses this revelation to engineer a bloodless coup, taking power from the Board of Trustees and placing it in his own hands.

The Mayors

(80 F.E.) (published June 1942 as "Bridle and Saddle")

The third story; "The Mayors", occurs three decades after "The Encyclopedists", The Foundation's scientific understanding has given them unusual leverage over nearby planetary systems, and an artificial religion referred to as Scientism is developed. This concept allows scientific devices to be shared, while keeping its science secret. Maintenance technicians known as priests are trained on Terminus and given basic operational understanding, while being kept ignorant of scientific knowledge. This process allows the Foundation to maintain control over scientific rebellions and delocalisation of knowledge.

Mayor Salvor Hardin continues to function as Mayor of Terminus and the effective ruler of the Foundation. Prince Regent Wienis of Anacreon plans to overthrow the Foundation's power, and his plans are encouraged when he obtains an abandoned Imperial cruiser that he demands the Foundation repair.

Hardin foresees Wienis's plans and arranges for the ship to be repaired his own way, incorporating some modifications. Hardin then broadcasts Wienis's attempt to the people of Anacreon under the ruse of blasphemy, leading to a revolt which results in direct control over the Four Kingdoms.

Hari Seldon again confirms the actions by appearing in the "Time Vault", while also warning them that the use of Scientism is no longer necessary.

The Traders

(About 155 F.E.) (published October 1944 as "The Wedge")

The fourth story; "The Traders" follows 55 years after "The Mayors". The story describes the events of Limmar Ponyets, a Trader, who is sent to retrieve Eskel Gorov from the planet Askone. Askone has refused commerce with the Foundation in fear of control through Scientism. Eskel Gorov is awaiting execution for violation of a trade law by attempting to set up trade with Foundation technology.

The leaders of Askone are adamant in not accepting any Foundation technology, but when offered gold in exchange for the prisoner, they gladly accept. During Ponyets' presentation of the offered gold, he convinces Pherl--an aspiring leader in Askone's government--to accept technology that can transmute iron into gold. Unknown to Pherl, his transaction with Foundation technology was recorded and later used as blackmail, allowing Ponyet to exchange his cargo of Foundation technology for tin, a resource needed by the Foundation.

Pherl is now forced into accepting Foundation technology, and so will strive to make it acceptable among Askone's people.

The Merchant Princes

(About 175 F.E.) (published August 1944 as "The Big and the Little")

The fifth story; "The Merchant Princes" occurs only twenty years after "The Traders".

The Foundation has expanded through the use of Scientism and economics. Three Foundation vessels have vanished near the Republic of Korell, a nation suspected of technological development. Trader Hober Mallow is sent to uncover information on their technology and hopefully find the missing ships. While at Korell, Mallow convinces Korell's leader Commdor Asper Argo to purchase Foundation technology. Mallow also discovers that Korell still maintains some relics of the Empire such as atomic hand guns. But he also notes the Republic's decrepit condition and lack of modern technology.

On return to Terminus, he is considered a traitor for not spreading Scientism to Korell, although an unlikely development clears Mallow allowing him to win an election for Mayor.

Years later Korell goes to war against The Foundation, Mallow as Mayor confidently severs supplies of goods that Korell's people have grown accustomed to, thus starting a revolt against their own government in favour of the Foundation.


The Psychohistorians

The Encyclopedists

The Mayors


  • Foundation saw multiple publications—it also appeared in 1955 as part of Ace Double D-110 under the title "The 1,000-Year Plan." Four of the stories were originally published in Astounding Magazine (with different titles) between 1942 and 1944, and the fifth was added when they first appeared in book form. A further two books of short stories were published shortly after, and decades later, Asimov wrote two further prequels. Later writers have added authorized tales to the series. The Foundation Series is often regarded as one of Isaac Asimov's best works, along with his robot series.
  • "The Psychohistorians" is the only part of the Foundation Trilogy that was not originally published in Astounding Magazine and was, in fact, the last part of the trilogy that Asimov wrote (though, chronologically, it describes the earliest events). Asimov wrote this story circa 1950 when the series was being prepared for publication in book form by Gnome Press, who felt that the series began too abruptly. However, most people do not know that there was another, very brief, opening that originally preceded "Foundation" (which was later published as "The Encyclopedists"), which was the first story written. The story is notable for featuring the pocket calculator more than two decades before it was made possible by integrated circuits. The events in this story were expanded in Greg Bear's book Foundation and Chaos.
  • Despite "The Traders" preceding "The Merchant Princes," it was actually written and published later. Asimov wrote it to make the transition between Scientism to economic control understandable.
  • The character Limmar Ponyets is named "Lathan Devers" in the original story. Lathan Devers is the name of the trader who is heavily featured in "The General" (first published as "The Dead Hand") in Foundation and Empire.


On July 28th 2008 it was announced that producers Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne will adapt Foundation for the big screen with their newly founded Company Unique Features. If the first film is successful, they are likely to adapt the second and third book as well. This was reported by Comingsoon News and the Hollywood Reporter.

See also


  • Chalker, Jack L.; Mark Owings The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Bibliographic History, 1923-1998. Westminster, MD and Baltimore: Mirage Press, Ltd..

External links

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