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Friday, April 1, 2011

Review of Foundation And Earth, by Isaac Asimov

Spoiler Alert!

Foundation And Earth is the final volume in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga and it attempts to not only wrap up that particular story stream, but to merge it with the Robot story stream which also occupies a significant portion of Asimov’s fiction.

For fans that have followed the Foundation story to this point, there are a lot of fascinating details that will delight. The most obviously compelling thing about the book is that Asimov is looking back on his little universe from 20,000 years in the future and seeing it from a completely different perspective. That – and the final wrap up – will certainly interest long-time fans.

For those who are not fans, or are simply casual science fiction readers, I would recommend that you skip this volume and begin at the beginning with the first volume of the story stream, Foundation and read your way through until you get to this book.

However, a brief synopsis of the story up to this point is required in order to put the book into perspective. Foundation begins near the end of a long period of time in which a Galactic Empire has ruled our galaxy. In Asimov’s Foundation story line, humans began to colonize the galaxy in our near future when they developed faster than light transportation. The first worlds to be settled were dominated by humans with a large robot contingent and the people of Earth called them “Spacer” worlds.

At a certain point in time, the people of Earth objected to the use of robots and set out on their own to colonize planets without using them and eventually became the dominant political body of the galaxy to the complete exclusion of the Spacer worlds. This is the original point at which robots disappeared from the Foundation future history.

Although humans expected to find other intelligent species in the galaxy, it was not to be. Mankind was alone, at least in this particular galactic niche. As faster than light drives were perfected, man moved farther and faster in colonization until the entire galaxy was filled with human life. Smaller political entities bound together until they grew larger and clashed. New bodies were formed that were larger and so on until the Galactic Empire was created, uniting the galaxy for the first time. (Asimov admits that he used the Roman Empire as his inspiration for this part of the story.)

After a long period of peaceful rule, at last the Empire begins to fall. A brilliant mathematician, Hari Seldon, virtually creates the science of “Psychohistory” so that he may predict the future based upon the actions of large groups of human beings. Foreseeing the end of the Empire, Seldon creates two different groups of historians whose sole purpose is to negotiate through the coming Dark Ages and create a second empire, which will be much stronger than the first and result in a peaceful and more egalitarian political body. The first group of historians is called “the Foundation” and they are established on a planet at the “end of the galaxy”: Terminus. These active psychohistorians work to shape history so that civilization will be reconstituted in a mere 1,000 years. Seldon himself appears to them as a hologram, long after his death, to show them the path they must take. As time passes, the Foundationers become merchants and statesmen and begin to knit the fallen Empire back together until they have become the most powerful political body in the galaxy by the halfway point in the reconstruction.

The other group of psychohistorians are hidden from sight and are apparently inactive in the regrouping of galactic politics and they are called the Second Foundation. Located in the ruins of the planet which had once been the home world of the Galactic Empire, Trantor, they work to influence events by watching the Foundation’s progress and subtly influencing it to stay on track. Gifted with mental powers, the Second Foundationers toil in silence and obscurity – until the Foundation becomes aware of their existence and attempts to root them out.

Foundation’s Edge is the novel in which the Foundation and Second Foundation finally meet with the threat of mutual obliteration. It introduces us to the characters of Golan Trevize, a councilman of the Foundation, and Janov Pelorat, a historian and mythologist. These two are sent by the Mayor of Terminus to find the Second Foundation for her. The initial goal is to go to Trantor, but Trevize believes the answer will be found on a missing planet named Earth, a planet that Pelorat believes to be the planet of human origin.

The journey of the two unlikely friends eventually leads them to a planet called Gaia, a living organism that entails everything from the humans living there to the rock deep within the planetary crust. Gaia has brought Trevize there because it believes that the future of the galaxy rests not with either Foundation, but with the evolution of Gaian consciousness to a galactic level (Galaxia). The one facet of Trevize that no one can deny is that he has an infallible ability to determine what is true; whether he reasons it out or simply goes on gut feeling, he is always right. Thus Gaia will depend on him to make the decision as to the future course of the galaxy: Gaia or Foundation.

With the two Foundations facing off near Gaia, Trevise decides that the fate of humanity rests with the development of the super organism, Galaxia. With ease, the two Foundations are dismissed and their knowledge of the encounter wiped from their minds, so that Galaxia may proceed apace.

This is where Foundation And Earth begins. Trevize begins to doubt his decision on Galaxia and has suspicions that the true answer still lies on Earth, so with Pelorat and a Gaian woman named Bliss, he sets back on the trail. This journey takes him to three Spacer worlds and we are able to see what they have evolved or devolved into.

I won’t reveal the ending, but I can say that they do eventually find Earth.

This is a difficult book to enjoy, even for dedicated fans. Among all of Asimov’s science fiction, this book is the most talkative. All of the other books are ultimately suffused with action, but Foundation And Earth is not. Most of the action takes place on their space ship, The Far Star, and most of it is long-winded dialogue between the characters. Before they go down to a planet, they talk about how they approach it and what might be there. There are long explanations of scientific ideas couched in long paragraphs where one character explains something to another. Or they argue about certain things in depth and over and over.

Pelorat is a very likeable character, but he is like a British twit from the 1950’s with his regular stream of “dear fellow” and “my dear chap” and his fuddy-duddy obsession with taking any straight four word sentence and turning it into a full paragraph of perfectly logical babble.

But the real problem exists with the characters of Trevize and Bliss. They are both quite dislikeable people. Trevize seems always angry and short-tempered and it is hard to find anything about him that you might care about. Bliss continually nags him and manages to make herself and Gaia appear to be quite out of touch with reality. Frankly, I’m not sure that I would support either Galaxia or the Foundation with these two characters as representatives. On the one hand, you have a bitchy, nagging, arrogant planet and on the other an obsessive, arrogant bureaucrat with no redeeming qualities.

The best parts of the novel are when they actually visit a planet’s surface to discover how 20,000 years of isolation have changed them.

As I stated at the beginning, I think this is a novel for dedicated Asimov fans that are interested in seeing how the whole thing turns out. I imagine others will tune out the book within the first 10 pages.

1 comment:

  1. that book is SOOOO boring. I have read it only a half of it, couldnt take it anymore. Although i've read whole original trilogy (and that was all kinds of awesome) and Foundation's Edge (very interesting too, but more because of Second Foundation's actions than Trevize's).