The Foundation Series is an epic science fiction series written over a span of forty-four years by Isaac Asimov. It consists of seven volumes that are closely linked to each other, although they can be read separately. The term "Foundation Series" is often used more generally to include the Robot Series and Empire Series, which are set in the same fictional universe, but in earlier time periods. In total, there are fifteen novels and dozens of short stories written by Asimov, and six novels written by other authors after his death. The series is highly acclaimed, winning the one-time Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966.
The premise of the series is that mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept devised by Asimov and his editor John W. Campbell. Using the law of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy which has a population of around a quadrillion). The larger the mass, the more predictable is the future. Using these techniques, Seldon foresees the fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting thirty thousand years before a second great empire arises. To shorten the period of barbarism, he creates two Foundations, small, secluded havens of all human knowledge, on opposite ends of the galaxy. The focus of the trilogy is on the Foundation of the planet Terminus. The people living there are working on an all-encompassing Encyclopedia, and are unaware of Seldon's real intentions (for if they were, the variables would become too uncontrolled). The Encyclopedia serves to preserve knowledge of the physical sciences after the collapse. The Foundation's location is chosen so that it acts as the focal point for the next empire in another thousand years (rather than the projected thirty thousand).
The first four stories were collected, along with a new story taking place before the others, in a single volume published by Gnome Press in 1951 as Foundation. The remainder of the stories were published in pairs as Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953), resulting in the "Foundation Trilogy," as the series was known for decades. In 1981, after the series had long been considered the most important work of modern science fiction, Asimov was convinced by his publishers to write a fourth book, which was Foundation's Edge (1982). He followed this with a sequel, Foundation and Earth (1983), and five years later prequels Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. During the lapse between sequels and prequels, Asimov tied in his Foundation series with his various other series, creating a single unified universe of his most-known works.
The series draws on a much deeper level from later historical events. The Foundation's story closely follows the 19th Century narrative of Manifest Destiny, while stories of the Mule in Foundation and Empire draw on Europe's experience with Hitler and Nazism. The Foundation series is not obviously "about" Manifest Destiny or Nazism, but much of the stories' thematic resonance has its source in those events.
In many ways, the Foundation series is unique as a science fiction novel. The focus of the books is certainly the trends through which a civilization might progress, specifically seeking to analyze their progress, using history as a precedent. Although many science fiction novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four or Fahrenheit 451 do this, their focus is upon how current trends in society might come to fruition, and act as a moral allegory on the modern world. The Foundation series, on the other hand, looks at the trends in a wider scope, not necessarily looking at what the societies change into, but how they change and adapt.
Furthermore, the concept of psychohistory, which gives the events in the story a sense of rational fatalism, leaves little room for moralization. Hari Seldon himself hopes that his Plan will "reduce 30,000 years of Dark Ages and barbarism to a single millennium." Yet events are often treated as inevitable and necessary, rather than deviations from the greater good. For example, the Foundation slides gradually into oligarchy and dictatorship prior to the appearance of the galactic conqueror, known as the Mule, who was able to succeed through an empathic/telepathic ability. But, for the most part, the book treats the purpose of Hari Seldon's plan as unquestionable, and that slide as being necessary in it, rather than mulling over whether the slide is, on the whole, positive or negative.
The books also wrestle with the idea of individualism. Hari Seldon's plan is often treated as an inevitable mechanism of society, a vast mindless mob mentality of quadrillions of humans across the galaxy. Many in the series struggle against it, only to fail. However, the plan itself is reliant upon cunning individuals like Salvor Hardin and Hober Mallow to make wise decisions, and capitalize on the trends. The Mule, a single individual with remarkable powers, topples the Foundation and nearly destroys the Seldon plan with his special, unforeseen abilities. In order to repair the damage the Mule inflicts, the Second Foundation deploys a plan which also turns upon individual reactions. Psychohistory is based on group trends, and cannot predict with sufficient accuracy the effects of extraordinary, unforeseeable individuals, and the Second Foundation's true purpose was to counter this flaw.
In 1982, following a thirty-year hiatus, Asimov gave in, and wrote what was at the time a fourth volume: Foundation's Edge. This was followed shortly thereafter by Foundation and Earth. Foundation and Earth (which takes place some 500 years after Seldon) ties up all the loose ends, but opens a brand new line of thought in the last dozen pages. As a result, some fans (wanting a tidy end to the series) consider this finale to be a failure. According to his widow Janet Asimov (in her biography of Isaac, It's Been a Good Life), he had no idea how to continue after Foundation and Earth, so he started writing the prequels.
In the spring of 1955, Asimov published an early timeline in the pages of Thrilling Wonder Stories magazine based upon his thought processes concerning the Foundation universe's history at that point in his life, which vastly differs from its modern-era counterpart. For example, in terms of included stories, many would later be jettisoned from the later chronology, or would experience temporal relocation by the author, and the aforementioned lengthier scope of time is likewise changed. (For example, in the original 1950s timeline, humanity does not discover the hyperspatial drive until approximately the year 5000, whereas in the reincorporated Robot universe chronology, the first interstellar jump occurs in 2029, during the events of I, Robot.)
Ultimately, the revised, retconned historical timeline implemented by Asimov during the 1980s is considered to be the canonical one, with the previous references serving as quaint anachronistic gaffes by the characters (perhaps due to in-universe reasons, such as the inevitable distortion of accurate historical recordkeeping over the gulf of tens of thousands of years).
Also, shortly before his death in 1992, Asimov approved an outline for three novels, known as the Caliban Trilogy by Roger MacBride Allen, set between Robots and Empire and the Empire Series. The Caliban Trilogy describes the terraforming of the Spacer world Inferno, a planet where an ecological crisis forces the Spacers to abandon many long-cherished parts of their culture. Allen's novels echo the uncertainties that Asimov's later books express about the Three Laws of Robotics, and in particular the way that a thoroughly roboticized culture can degrade human initiative.
The Foundation universe was once again revisited in Foundation's Friends, a collection of short stories written by many prominent science fiction authors of today. Orson Scott Card's "The Originist" clarifies the founding of the Second Foundation shortly after Seldon's death; Harry Turtledove's "Trantor Falls" tells of the efforts by the Second Foundation to survive during the sacking of Trantor; and George Zebrowski's "Foundation's Conscience" is about the efforts of a historian to document Seldon's work following the rise of the Second Galactic Empire.
Most recently, the Asimov Estate authorized publication of another trilogy of robot mysteries by Mark W. Tiedemann. These novels, which take place several years before Asimov's Robots and Empire, are Mirage (2000), Chimera (2001), and Aurora (2002). These were followed by yet another robot mystery, Alexander C. Irvine's Have Robot, Will Travel (2004), set five years after the Tiedemann trilogy.
There are novels by various authors (Asimov's Robot City series, Isaac Asimov's Robots and Aliens series, and Isaac Asimov's Robots in Time series) loosely connected to the Robot Series, but they contain many inconsistencies with Asimov's books, and are not generally considered part of the Foundation Series.
In 1965, the Foundation Trilogy beat several other science fiction and fantasy series (including The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien) to receive a special Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series." It is still the only series so honored. Asimov himself wrote that he assumed the one-time award had been created in order to honor The Lord of the Rings, and he was amazed when his work won.
Satirical parodies, such as Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Harry Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero, often display clear Foundation influences. For instance, "The Guide" of the former is spoof of the Encyclopedia Galactica, and the series actually mentions the encyclopedia by name, remarking that it is rather "dry," and consequently sells less copies than the guide; the latter also features the ultra-urbanized Imperial planet Helior, often parodying the logistics such a planet-city would require, but that Asimov's novel downplays.
Shoko Asahara, the founder of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, was influenced by Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, especially the concept of an elite group of scientists dedicated to preserving world knowledge across a dark ages span. But rather than preserve core knowledge in order to speed up the recovery of civilization, Shoko's cult advocated attempts to encourage and speed civilization's downfall with deadly terrorist attacks on the Tokyo subways in 1993.
In the Star Wars universe, Coruscant – the urban-covered Imperial capital world– is a direct borrowing of Asimov's Trantor. (Visually, they are not exactly similar: Trantor is covered in domed cities, while Coruscant's buildings are open to the air.)
In 1995, Donald Kingsbury wrote "Historical Crisis", which he later expanded into a novel, Psychohistorical Crisis. It is set in the same fictional universe as the Foundation series, in considerable detail, but with virtually all Foundation-specific names either changed (e.g., Kalgan becomes Lakgan), or avoided (Psychohistory is created by an unnamed, but often-referenced Founder). The novel explores the ideas of Psychohistory in a number of new directions, inspired by more recent developments in mathematics and computer science, as well as by new ideas in science fiction itself.
The oboe-like holophonor in Matt Groening's animated television series Futurama is based directly upon the "Visi-Sonor" which Magnifico plays in Foundation and Empire. (See the DVD commentary for the series' final episode, "The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings".) The "Visi-Sonor" is also mirrored in an episode of Special Unit 2, where a child's television character plays an instrument that induces mind control over children.
In Neil Gaiman's novel, Neverwhere, the Marquis de Carabas repeats Salvor Hardin's maxim that "violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." A character in H. Beam Piper's short story "A Slave is a Slave" also uses the phrase, but the narrator adds, "Of course, he was absolutely right, though not in the way he meant. Only the incompetent wait until the last extremity to use force, and by then, it is usually too late to use anything, even prayer."
Deep Purple's 1971 song "The Mule" (from the "'Fireball" album), with its lyrics about being "just another slave for the Mule," seems inspired by the telepathic enslaver character the Mule, from Foundation and Empire.
A song from the album Upstairs/Downstairs by The Ergs!, aptly titled 2nd Foundation, contains many references to the novel of the same name.
William Shatner, in the series of Star Trek novels co-authored with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, also mentions Psychohistory as a mean of predicting the future, and there is direct mention of Asimov himself.
The Imperium of Man in the Warhammer 40,000 continuity borrows heavily from the Foundation series, albeit with a "darker" outlook.
The "Sun-and-Spaceship" emblem of the Galactic Empire has seen many variations in science fiction.
FASA's board game Battletech, which first appeared in 1984, features a galaxy-wide Star League crumbling into barbarism and dividing itself into regions called the Inner Sphere and the Periphery, centuries of civil wars, lost technology, and Middle Ages-like social interactions, in which centuries-old weapons are prized and irreplaceable possessions, all reminiscent of Asimov's universe. In Battletech, the Inner Sphere is eventually invaded by an external force from the edge of the galaxy composed of the heirs of an elite, which had been cut out from the Star League just before its collapse.
In 1998, New Line Cinema had spent $1.5 million developing a film version of the Foundation Trilogy. The failure to develop a new franchise was partly a reason the studio signed on to produce The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
On July 29, 2008, it was reported that former New Line Cinema co-founders Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne have been signed on to produce an adaptation of the trilogy for Warner Brothers. This follows a period of time where the project had been under development at 20th Century Fox.
|1950||I, Robot||Robot short stories. First collection, which were all included in The Complete Robot, though it also contains binding text (Mind and Iron), no longer in The Complete Robot.|
|1||1982||The Complete Robot||Collection of thirty-one robot short stories published between 1940 and 1976.|
|1986||Robot Dreams||Robot short stories. Anthologized in a book with the same title.|
|1990||Robot Visions||Robot short stories. Anthologized in a book with the same title.|
|1992||The Positronic Man||Robot novel based on Asimov's short story The Bicentennial Man, co-written by Robert Silverberg|
|2||1954||The Caves of Steel||This is the first of the robot novels.|
|3||1957||The Naked Sun||The second robot novel.|
|4||1983||The Robots of Dawn||The third robot novel.|
|2000||Mirage||Robot Mystery series by Mark W. Tiedemann.|
|2001||Chimera||Robot Mystery series by Mark W. Tiedemann.|
|2002||Aurora||Robot Mystery series by Mark W. Tiedemann.|
|2005||Have Robot, Will Travel||Robot Mystery series by Alexander C. Irvine.|
|5||1985||Robots and Empire||The fourth robot novel.|
|1993||Isaac Asimov's Caliban||Caliban trilogy by Roger MacBride Allen.|
|1994||Isaac Asimov's Inferno||Caliban trilogy by Roger MacBride Allen.|
|1996||Isaac Asimov's Utopia||Caliban trilogy by Roger MacBride Allen.|
|6||1951||The Stars, Like Dust||This is the first of the Empire novels.|
|7||1952||The Currents of Space||The second Empire novel.|
|8||1950||Pebble in the Sky||The third Empire novel.|
|9||1988||Prelude to Foundation||This is the first Foundation novel.|
|10||1993||Forward the Foundation||The second Foundation novel (although it is the latest written).|
|11||1951||Foundation||The third Foundation novel. Actually, it is a collection of four stories, originally published between 1942 and 1944, plus an introductory section written for the book in 1949.|
|12||1952||Foundation and Empire||The fourth Foundation novel, made up of two stories, originally published in 1945.|
|13||1953||Second Foundation||The fifth Foundation novel, made up of two stories, originally published in 1948 and 1949.|
|1997||Foundation's Fear||Second Foundation trilogy by Gregory Benford.|
|1998||Foundation and Chaos||Second Foundation trilogy by Greg Bear.|
|1999||Foundation's Triumph||Second Foundation trilogy by David Brin.|
|14||1982||Foundation's Edge||The sixth Foundation novel.|
|15||1986||Foundation and Earth||The seventh Foundation novel.|
The End of Eternity is vaguely referenced in Foundation's Edge, where a character mentions the Eternals, whose "task it was to choose a reality that would be most suitable to Humanity". (The End of Eternity also refers to a "Foundation" within its story.) In Forward the Foundation Hari Seldon refers to a twenty-thousand-year-old story of "a young woman that could communicate with an entire planet that circled a sun named Nemesis," an obvious reference to Nemesis. In Foundation and Earth there is also a reference to a tale about a sun that approached the Earth, possibly referring to Nemesis as well. In Nemesis, the main colony is one of the Fifty Settlements, a collection of orbital colonies that form a state. It is possible that the Fifty Settlements were the basis for the fifty Spacer worlds in the Robot stories. The implication at the end of Nemesis that the inhabitants of the off-Earth colonies are splitting off from Earthbound humans could also be connected to a similar implication about the Spacers in Mark W. Tiedemann's Robot books.
On the other hand, these references might be just jokes by Asimov, and the stories mentioned could be just those really written by himself (as seen in The Robots of Dawn where Fastolfe makes a reference to Asimov's Liar!). Furthermore, Asimov himself did not mention The End of Eternity in the series listing from Prelude to Foundation. As for Nemesis, it was written after Prelude to Foundation, but in the author's note Asimov explicitly states that the book is not part of the Foundation series, but that some day he might tie it to the others.
Nemesis also touches on a pair of short stories published in Asimov's collection, Gold, dealing with the Fifty Settlements.
|Galactic Empire Series||Foundation Universe|