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Foundation series

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).

Publication history

Foundation was originally a series of eight short stories published in Astounding Magazine between May 1942 and January 1950. According to Asimov, the premise was based on ideas set forth in Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and was invented spontaneously on his way to meet with editor John W. Campbell, with whom he developed the concept.

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 trilogy

The early stories were inspired by Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Asimov said he did "a little bit of cribbin' from the works of Edward Gibbon" when describing the influence of that work on the Trilogy). More accurately, the plot of the series focuses on the growth and reach of the Foundation, against a backdrop of the "decline and fall of the Galactic Empire".

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.

Sequels

Asimov unsuccessfully tried to end the series at the end of Second Foundation. But, because of the predicted thousand years until the rise of the next Empire (of which only a few hundred had elapsed), the series lacked a sense of closure. For decades, fans pressured him to write a sequel.

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.

Merging with other series

The series is set in the same universe as Asimov's first published novel, Pebble in the Sky, although Foundation takes place approximately ten thousand years later. Pebble in the Sky became the basis for the Empire Series. Then, at some unknown date (prior to writing Foundation's Edge) Asimov decided to merge the Foundation/Empire series with his Robot series. Thus, all three series are set in the same universe, giving them a combined length of 15 novels, and a total of about 1,500,000 words. The merge also created a time-span of the series of approximately 20,000 years.

Timeline inconsistencies

Early on during Asimov's original world-building of the Foundation universe, he established within the first published stories a chronology placing the tales approximately 50,000 years into the future from the time they were written (circa 1940). This precept was maintained in the pages of his later novel Pebble in the Sky, wherein Imperial archaeologist Bel Arvardan refers to ancient human strata discovered in the Sirius sector dating back "some 50,000 years." However, when Asimov decided decades later to retroactively integrate the universe of his Foundation and Galactic Empire novels with that of his Robot stories, a number of changes and minor discrepancies surfaced — the character R. Daneel Olivaw was established as having existed for some 20,000 years, with the original Robot novels featuring the character occurring not more than a couple of millennia after the early-21st Century Susan Calvin short stories. Also, in Foundation's Edge, mankind was referred to as having possessed interstellar space travel for only 22,000 years, a far cry from the fifty millennia of earlier works.

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).

Prequels

The prequels, written last in the series but chronologically first, tell the life story of Hari Seldon and (simultaneously) the development of Psychohistory. The first prequel, Prelude to Foundation, starts with a young Hari Seldon presenting a paper outlining the possibility of psychohistory, and ends with circumstances leading him to research and make psychohistory a reality. When he presents the paper, psychohistory for him is just something that is theoretically possible, but practically impossible. In this novel, he ultimately starts believing in the practicality of his work, and starts to work on it. The second novel, Forward the Foundation, takes place at intervals starting about ten years after Prelude to Foundation. It tells how psychohistory becomes functional, all while Hari loses loved ones, and the Galactic Empire continues to decay. Forward the Foundation ends just as Hari finishes recording the messages to be played throughout the original trilogy. Forward the Foundation was the last Foundation novel Asimov completed before his death.

Other authors

Asimov's novels covered only 500 of the expected 1,000 years it would take for the Foundation to become a galactic empire. After his death, the Asimov estate, at the request of Janet Asimov, approached Gregory Benford, and asked him to write another Foundation story. He agreed, and at that same time suggested that it should form part of a trilogy with Greg Bear and David Brin writing the other two books, which they agreed to do. Foundation's Fear takes place chronologically between the first two chapters of Asimov's second prequel novel, Forward the Foundation; Foundation and Chaos is set at the same time as the first chapter of Foundation, filling in background; Foundation's Triumph covers ground following the recording of the holographic messages to the Foundation, and ties together a number of loose ends. These three books are now known collectively as the Second Foundation Trilogy. Many fans, eager for the second trilogy to fill in the gaps, were disappointed.

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.

Cultural impact

An eight-part radio adaptation of the original trilogy, with sound design by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1973 — one of the first BBC radio drama serials to be made in stereo. A BBC 7 rerun commenced in July 2003.

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.

There is a quick lyrical reference to the Foundation series in the song "And You and I" by British progressive rock band Yes. The lyric reads, "As the Foundation left to create the spiral aim."

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.

List of books within the Foundation Universe

Prelude to Foundation contains Asimov's suggested reading order/chronology for his science fiction books in the introduction. An expanded and corrected strictly-chronological reading order for the books is listed below. Another alternative is to read the books in their original order of publication, since reading the Foundation prequels prior to reading the Foundation Trilogy fundamentally alters the original narrative structure of the trilogy by spoiling what were originally presented as plot surprises. Asimov noted that there is room for a book between Robots and Empire (5) and The Currents of Space (6), and that he could follow Foundation and Earth (15) with additional volumes but sadly this was never accomplished by his own hands.

C Year Title Notes
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.

Tangential books

While not mentioned in the above list, some consider the books The End of Eternity (1955) and Nemesis (1989) part of the series.

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.

Major characters

  • Hari Seldon, leader of the Psychohistorical movement which creates the Foundation and the Seldon Plan; first First Speaker of the Second Foundation (traditional), First Minister of the Galactic Empire under Cleon I, after Eto Demerzel
  • R. Giskard Reventlov, the first robot able to alter human minds (of the 'diaspora' era, see I, Robot story "Liar!")
  • R. Daneel Olivaw, a humanoid robot who organizes the creation of both the Seldon Plan and Gaia and Galaxia. He also assumes the names Chetter Hummin and Eto Demerzel (First Minister).
  • The Mule, (originally from Gaia), a mutant who was extremely adept at altering human minds
  • Dors Venabili, Seldon's wife and protector, known as the "Tiger Woman" for her physical prowess and swiftness to action
  • Yugo Amaryl, Seldon's colleague, a heatsinker from the Dahl Sector of Trantor
  • Emperor Cleon I, Entun Dynasty, Emperor during the first part of Hari Seldon's stay on Trantor
  • Salvor Hardin, First Mayor of Terminus, first Foundationer to realize the 'farce' of the Encyclopedia Galactica
  • Gaal Dornick, One of the last Psychohistorians to join the Project
  • Hober Mallow, a "Trader Prince" during the Foundation's 'Trader' days
  • Bel Riose, General of the Galactic Empire
  • Golan Trevize, Councilman of Terminus who discovers the secret location of Earth
  • Janov Pelorat, Historian, Accompanies Trevize
  • Arkady Darell, granddaughter of Bayta Darrell who theorizes a location of the Second Foundation
  • Blissenobiarella (Bliss), a human element of the superorganism Gaia
  • Bayta Darrell, grandmother of Arkady Darell; Bayta was instrumental in the defeat of the Mule
  • Raych Seldon, Hari Seldon's adopted son from the Dahl Sector of Trantor
  • Wanda Seldon, Raych Seldon's eldest daughter who later becomes a Psychohistorian and second First Speaker of the Second Foundation
  • Preem Palver, a very successful First Speaker of the Second Foundation
  • Ebling Mis, Thought to be first person to discover the location of the Second Foundation.

References

See also

External links

Preceded by: Series:
Galactic Empire Series Foundation Universe

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