Sunday, 20 October 2013

Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

What does it say that I'm never quite sure which Foundation books I've read? I know I've read two or three, but which ones...that remains a mystery. Part of it is the titles - they're fairly nondescript. Part of it is the stories. But I do like them, so that sounds unwontedly harsh. They run together, though, in my mind.

Someone had described the first Foundation book as being written like a history - a little dry, a little detached, still very interesting. I think I buy that, for the most part, although it's been a long while since I read it.

Foundation and Empire, on the other hand, has quite a bit of immediacy, and if the prose isn't sparkling, it is always sufficient for the story Asimov's trying to tell. I'd never run out and quote a line, rapturously. But I'd almost always be willing to sit down and spend some time with him. And so it is with this one. Which I had read before, but wasn't sure until I sat down, and then, was more than willing to reread.

Foundation and Empire goes through the third and fourth crux moments in the life of the Foundation, out on the edge of the galaxy as they are, trying to survive the death throes of the Empire. Much of the science of psychohistory has been lost, and in some ways, the inheritors of the mantle of the Foundation are becoming complacent and bureaucratic.

But the Empire will not go so quietly. In the first of the two stories that make up this book, one enterprising general actually realizes what's going on out on the fringes of space, and decides to go investigate. How will Seldon's psychohistorical planning deal with this individual, as psychohistory is only the science of groups?

Asimov likes his endings that come with a bit of a twist, and neither story in this book is an exception. You can see his enjoyment of writing mysteries in every book that ends with a revelation of some sort. (I really do enjoy the Black Widows series of short mystery stories.)

But the second part of this novel is more ambitious. How could an individual actually break the Seldon plan? Well, if he's the Mule, he just might, and suddenly, the Foundation finds itself scrambling to deal with an emergency that has nothing to do with what Seldon thought would be happening.

Two low-level Foundation people are on the run with the Mule's jester, just one step ahead of his invading forces, and planets are falling with alarming regularity. Is this a chance to shorten the period of instability to a mere lifetime, or the start of a despotic reign that will ruin all the planning?

The end of the book hearkens forward to the mystery of the Second Foundation, which I believe I have read.

I don't read Asimov because I'm looking for indepth characters or literary prose. I read him because they're good stories, told in a clear if unstriking style, and always enjoy myself.


  1. The foundation series, and Hitchhikers guide, were the stories that helped form who I am. Foundation reinforced my views on the complexity of civilization and the power of the individual who won't conform. Thanks for the review I think it's time for a reread. Edward Kellar

  2. They do hold up really well to rereads - I was glad I took this one down again!

  3. I read them as a kid, but remember being blown away by the epic scale of the story. Asimov's stories exemplify that in SF the idea is king. I believe he later overlaps with the Robot series. I should re-read them....

  4. I know some of the books authorized by his estate after his death blend the Foundation and Robot series - I hadn't heard that he'd done that himself.