Foundation series re-read

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Foundation Trilogy - Isaac Asimov

foundationtrilogy-1.jpg


The Foundation books began life as collections of short stories and novellas, published in Astounding Science Fiction, between 1942 and 1949 (see here). I've read these books several times, but the last time was almost a decade ago, so I thought it would be good to revisit the most famous SF series of all. Interestingly, I got new things from them, and it also occurred to me that they are collected in a strange way.

Foundation kicks off the original trilogy, and comprises 4 novelettes from the '40's, with an additional framing introduction added when the book was first published in 1951. The stories are interesting in several ways: they are used by Asimov to provide a space opera scope for some ideas of how war might be avoided, and they also are rather episodic. The first book therefore feels like the fix-up it is. I recalled more occurrences of Seldon appearing during crises, but in fact this only happens twice in the book.

Foundation and Empire, the second book in the trilogy comprises two longer novellas. The first of these is thematically and stylistically like the original stories. It's fine, but not especially engaging compared to what is to come. In some ways, this first story should be collected in the first book, because the second part of Foundation and Empire introduces 'The Mule' - the mutant who can control emotion in others - and is a stylistic advance.

The Mule is a great invention, and once Asimov gets to this character, we can see that the author has developed a larger story-arc and a broader plan for the books. The plotting becomes deeper and better, and the whole starts to gather pace and interest. Asimov is able to introduce more interesting ideas while also making his galaxy of worlds come to life and gain scale. Interestingly, the first half of the third book, Second Foundation, also features the Mule as the lead character. The second half of 'Empire' and the first half of Second Foundation, would actually make a thematic whole, and might be a better way of collecting these stories.

Second Foundation is probably the most satisfying of the original trilogy. As well as concluding the Mule story-arc well, it provides an intriguing plot of the Foundation seeking the location of the Second Foundation. Asimov has a fair bit to say about clarity of thought, the value of clearly expressing ideas, and of the dangers of developing 'physical' technologies without developing thought and mental refinement in parallel. Overall, the story arc develops quite nicely across the three books, but the development of plot, breadth of vision and skill in execution clearly develops from the first through the third book. The second part of Foundation and Empire and particularly Second Foundation feel like Asimov classic books, while the earlier stories feel more like 'Early Asimov' in tone and execution.
 
I'm just finishing Foundation at the moment and while I understand a lot of the criticism Asimov gets over minimal character development, being a collection of short stories you can't expect deep character development. The aspect I still find most exciting are the ideas explored each story. How will the Foundation overcome each crisis? It's not always obvious from the start.
 
Sometime back , I bought the Bantam Hardcover book which contains the original trilogy. id read these books years ago and enjoyed them.:cool:
 
The Foundation books began life as collections of short stories and novellas, published in Astounding Science Fiction, between 1942 and 1949 (see here). I've read
1950.
There are 8 novellas, but 1 of them is in 2 instalments and 1 in 3 instalments. Note that these include information which is NOT in the books. Original illustrations - for some but not all, including front cover. Quotes from Ligurn Vier. Summaries at the start of instalments - and at the contents. Which also include information missing in main text.
  1. Foundation. May 1942. Pages 38-53. Illustrated by M. Isip
  2. Bridle and Saddle. June 1942. Front cover and pages 9-30. Illustrated by Schneeman
  3. The Big and the Little. August 1944. Front cover and pages 7-54. Illustrated by Orban
  4. The Wedge. October 1944. Pages 64-79 Illustrated by Kramer
  5. Dead Hand. April 1945. Front cover and pages 6-60. Illustrated by Orban
  6. The Mule. 2 instalments: November 1945. Front cover and pages 7-53, 139-144. Illustrated by Orban. December 1945. Pages 60-97, 148-168. Illustrated by Orban
  7. Now you see it. January 1948. Front cover and pages 7-61 Illustrated by Rogers
  8. ...And now you don´t. 3 instalments: November 1949. Front cover and pages 5-40. Illustrated by Rogers. December 1949. Pages 120-161. Illustrated by Rogers. January 1950. Pages 111-152. Illustrated by Rogers.
 
1950.
There are 8 novellas, but 1 of them is in 2 instalments and 1 in 3 instalments. Note that these include information which is NOT in the books. Original illustrations - for some but not all, including front cover. Quotes from Ligurn Vier. Summaries at the start of instalments - and at the contents. Which also include information missing in main text.
  1. Foundation. May 1942. Pages 38-53. Illustrated by M. Isip
  2. Bridle and Saddle. June 1942. Front cover and pages 9-30. Illustrated by Schneeman
  3. The Big and the Little. August 1944. Front cover and pages 7-54. Illustrated by Orban
  4. The Wedge. October 1944. Pages 64-79 Illustrated by Kramer
  5. Dead Hand. April 1945. Front cover and pages 6-60. Illustrated by Orban
  6. The Mule. 2 instalments: November 1945. Front cover and pages 7-53, 139-144. Illustrated by Orban. December 1945. Pages 60-97, 148-168. Illustrated by Orban
  7. Now you see it. January 1948. Front cover and pages 7-61 Illustrated by Rogers
  8. ...And now you don´t. 3 instalments: November 1949. Front cover and pages 5-40. Illustrated by Rogers. December 1949. Pages 120-161. Illustrated by Rogers. January 1950. Pages 111-152. Illustrated by Rogers.
Actually 1 short story, 3 novelettes, 2 novellas and 2 ‘novels’ (based on length).
 
1950.
There are 8 novellas, but 1 of them is in 2 instalments and 1 in 3 instalments. Note that these include information which is NOT in the books. Original illustrations - for some but not all, including front cover. Quotes from Ligurn Vier. Summaries at the start of instalments - and at the contents. Which also include information missing in main text.
These Contents summaries are only in the two 1942 stories - the May one has key extra data, June one seems not to have extra information. From 1944, Contents are just title. The titles are all capitals in both contents and at the start of the story, so there does not seem to be official capitalization.
  1. Foundation. May 1942. Pages 38-53. Illustrated by M. Isip
So 16 pages, 2 illustrations. In Contents, specified as "novelette"
  1. Bridle and Saddle. June 1942. Front cover and pages 9-30. Illustrated by Schneeman
So 22 pages, 1+4 illustrations. In Contents, specified as "novelette"
  1. The Big and the Little. August 1944. Front cover and pages 7-54. Illustrated by Orban
So 48 pages, 1+6 illustrations. In Contents, specified as "novelette"
  1. The Wedge. October 1944. Pages 64-79 Illustrated by Kramer
So 16 pages, 3 illustrations. In Contents, specified as "short story"
  1. Dead Hand. April 1945. Front cover and pages 6-60. Illustrated by Orban
So 55 pages, 1+4 illustrations. In Contents, specified as "novelette"
  1. The Mule. 2 instalments: November 1945. Front cover and pages 7-53, 139-144. Illustrated by Orban. December 1945. Pages 60-97, 148-168. Illustrated by Orban
So 47+6+38+21=112 pages, 1+5+1+3+3 illustrations. In Contents, specified as "serial"
  1. Now you see it. January 1948. Front cover and pages 7-61 Illustrated by Rogers
So 55 pages, 1+6 illustrations. In Contents, specified as "novelette"
  1. ...And now you don´t. 3 instalments: November 1949. Front cover and pages 5-40. Illustrated by Rogers. December 1949. Pages 120-161. Illustrated by Rogers. January 1950. Pages 111-152. Illustrated by Rogers.
So 36+42+42=120 pages, 1+4+4+4 illustrations. In Contents, specified as "serial".
In total, 1 short story of 16 pages, 5 novelettes from also 16 to 55 pages, and 2 serials from 112 to 120 pages. No novellas.
 
The contents descriptions from 1940s magazines are often not consistent with current definition. Back then 30 page novellas were frequently advertised as ‘full novels’, for instance. The actual length definitions as we currently understand them are as I listed them above.
 
Last edited:
Foundation Trilogy - Isaac Asimov

foundationtrilogy-1.jpg


The Foundation books began life as collections of short stories and novellas, published in Astounding Science Fiction, between 1942 and 1949 (see here). I've read these books several times, but the last time was almost a decade ago, so I thought it would be good to revisit the most famous SF series of all. Interestingly, I got new things from them, and it also occurred to me that they are collected in a strange way.

Foundation kicks off the original trilogy, and comprises 4 novelettes from the '40's, with an additional framing introduction added when the book was first published in 1951. The stories are interesting in several ways: they are used by Asimov to provide a space opera scope for some ideas of how war might be avoided, and they also are rather episodic. The first book therefore feels like the fix-up it is. I recalled more occurrences of Seldon appearing during crises, but in fact this only happens twice in the book.

Foundation and Empire, the second book in the trilogy comprises two longer novellas. The first of these is thematically and stylistically like the original stories. It's fine, but not especially engaging compared to what is to come. In some ways, this first story should be collected in the first book, because the second part of Foundation and Empire introduces 'The Mule' - the mutant who can control emotion in others - and is a stylistic advance.

The Mule is a great invention, and once Asimov gets to this character, we can see that the author has developed a larger story-arc and a broader plan for the books. The plotting becomes deeper and better, and the whole starts to gather pace and interest. Asimov is able to introduce more interesting ideas while also making his galaxy of worlds come to life and gain scale. Interestingly, the first half of the third book, Second Foundation, also features the Mule as the lead character. The second half of 'Empire' and the first half of Second Foundation, would actually make a thematic whole, and might be a better way of collecting these stories.

Second Foundation is probably the most satisfying of the original trilogy. As well as concluding the Mule story-arc well, it provides an intriguing plot of the Foundation seeking the location of the Second Foundation. Asimov has a fair bit to say about clarity of thought, the value of clearly expressing ideas, and of the dangers of developing 'physical' technologies without developing thought and mental refinement in parallel. Overall, the story arc develops quite nicely across the three books, but the development of plot, breadth of vision and skill in execution clearly develops from the first through the third book. The second part of Foundation and Empire and particularly Second Foundation feel like Asimov classic books, while the earlier stories feel more like 'Early Asimov' in tone and execution.
The Foundation Trilogy is one of my go-to books. I've re-read the series countless times. Often I'll pick it up and start reading from a random page.


I disagree with Bick's assertions regarding the Mule. To my read of the trilogy The Mule is a cop-out.
The trilogy starts with an assertion that individual actions while they appear heroic, and often are heroic, are also simply minutiae in the arc of human history. Large groups of people will act in particular ways as a matter of psycho-historic force. Asimov's meditation on how a failing empire is replaced with a new dynamic empire as a matter of inevitable psycho-history was and still is a revelation.

The Mule throws everything out to tell us that psycho-history is true only when there isn't an exceptional individual to take control. So maybe Salvor Hardin or Hober Mallow were in fact superhumans misrepresented in the story. That, but for their unique contributions, the Foundation may have indeed collapsed.

The reversal of the base theme of the story personified by the Mule is not a triumph from where I sit. The end of the story where Asimov tells us that, in fact, psycho-history was always a sham; Instead the 2nd Foundation ran a secret cabal pulling strings both on Trantor and on Terminus itself. This saddens me every time I read it. -The invisible hand of Hari Seldon indeed!
 
I disagree with Bick's assertions regarding the Mule. To my read of the trilogy The Mule is a cop-out.
The trilogy starts with an assertion that individual actions while they appear heroic, and often are heroic, are also simply minutiae in the arc of human history. Large groups of people will act in particular ways as a matter of psycho-historic force. Asimov's meditation on how a failing empire is replaced with a new dynamic empire as a matter of inevitable psycho-history was and still is a revelation.

The Mule throws everything out to tell us that psycho-history is true only when there isn't an exceptional individual to take control. So maybe Salvor Hardin or Hober Mallow were in fact superhumans misrepresented in the story.
No.
The stated premise of psychohistory is that large groups of people act in statistically predictable ways - even in hierarchical, unequal organizations. This is tantamount to a claim that "leaders" are always figureheads, with, in long view, negligible freedom of action. They follow the public opinion of the broader elites of their society - if they are stupid and attempt to go against public opinion, they are replaced and the flow goes on, if they are smart, they find out the public opinion (whether by formal vote, or listening to people and having good agents/henchmen to listen to) and follow it - what the government ends up accomplishing is closely enough the same regardless.
Now, does Foundation show it to be the case?
Only "Dead Hand" comes close.
And now compare and contrast Fourth Crisis with First.
In both cases, Foundation is confronted by what appears to be an overwhelming force.
In the last line of Foundation, Hardin says the solution was obvious. Asimov later confessed he did not know it then.
The solution, in both cases, was that the force was actually not united. The threat of one faction conquering Foundation ended up mobilizing the other faction/s.
In Fourth Crisis, the solution is emphatically psychohistorical. Cleon does NOT need official Foundation leader telling him that Bel Riose and Ammel Brodrig collecting a united navy is threat of plotting a revolt. When Lathan Devers tries to say so as a private person, he does not get Cleon´s ear - but Cleon on his own account decides to do what Lathan was trying to ask him for.
That, but for their unique contributions, the Foundation may have indeed collapsed.
Obvious contrast of the First Crisis against Fourth. Since Asimov wrote Foundation without knowing the obvious solution (and it is obvious even on rereading), see from Bridle and Saddle:
What I did, instead, was to visit the three other kingdoms, one by one; point out to each that to allow the secret of atomic power to fall into the hands of Anacreon was the quickest way of cutting their own throats; and suggest gently that they do the obvious thing. That was all. One month after the Anacreonian force had landed on Terminus, their king received a joint ultimatum from his three neighbors. In seven days, the last Anacreonian was off Terminus.
Hardin claims that the solution had been obvious to him since Anselm haut Rodric´s visit revealing Anacreon´s lack of atomic power. Yet in page 48, we hear Hardin conclude:
“It turned out that we didn’t have much time after all — only three months. But little as it was, we threw it away unused. This thing here gives us a week. What do we do now?”
"We"?
The alliance of Three Kingdoms against Anacreon was NOT a psychohistorical inevitability like action of Cleon against Bel Riose. Because, as we see on the visit of Anselm haut Rodric, Anacreon was ignorant of atomic power on Terminus until Salvor told him. The inference is that Smyrno, Loris and Konom and Daribow were also ignorant of atomic power on Terminus - and they stayed ignorant till Hardin travelled to inform them.
Until and unless they were informed, they viewed Terminus as another sparsely settled marginal planet - and were not eager to fight to contest Anacreon´s share.
And now realize that if there was no psychohistorical inevitability in the Three Kingdoms acting to bail out Foundation, because they were ignorant and would have stayed so but for one well-informed person going out of his way to inform them...
Hardin might have made that round trip of Three Kingdoms three months sooner, and seeing how it had effect in a month (plus seven days), this would have averted the Anacreonians ever landing on Terminus.
Or else Hardin might have failed. For example, he might have been arrested by Anacreonians. His coup against the legitimate Pirenne government would have given them a good excuse... and it would have been all over with Seldon Plan.
The reversal of the base theme of the story personified by the Mule is not a triumph from where I sit. The end of the story where Asimov tells us that, in fact, psycho-history was always a sham; Instead the 2nd Foundation ran a secret cabal pulling strings both on Trantor and on Terminus itself. This saddens me every time I read it. -The invisible hand of Hari Seldon indeed!
 
No.
The stated premise of psychohistory is that large groups of people act in statistically predictable ways - even in hierarchical, unequal organizations. This is tantamount to a claim that "leaders" are always figureheads, with, in long view, negligible freedom of action. They follow the public opinion of the broader elites of their society - if they are stupid and attempt to go against public opinion, they are replaced and the flow goes on, if they are smart, they find out the public opinion (whether by formal vote, or listening to people and having good agents/henchmen to listen to) and follow it - what the government ends up accomplishing is closely enough the same regardless.
Now, does Foundation show it to be the case?
Only "Dead Hand" comes close.
And now compare and contrast Fourth Crisis with First.
In both cases, Foundation is confronted by what appears to be an overwhelming force.
In the last line of Foundation, Hardin says the solution was obvious. Asimov later confessed he did not know it then.
The solution, in both cases, was that the force was actually not united. The threat of one faction conquering Foundation ended up mobilizing the other faction/s.
In Fourth Crisis, the solution is emphatically psychohistorical. Cleon does NOT need official Foundation leader telling him that Bel Riose and Ammel Brodrig collecting a united navy is threat of plotting a revolt. When Lathan Devers tries to say so as a private person, he does not get Cleon´s ear - but Cleon on his own account decides to do what Lathan was trying to ask him for.

Obvious contrast of the First Crisis against Fourth. Since Asimov wrote Foundation without knowing the obvious solution (and it is obvious even on rereading), see from Bridle and Saddle:

Hardin claims that the solution had been obvious to him since Anselm haut Rodric´s visit revealing Anacreon´s lack of atomic power. Yet in page 48, we hear Hardin conclude:

"We"?
The alliance of Three Kingdoms against Anacreon was NOT a psychohistorical inevitability like action of Cleon against Bel Riose. Because, as we see on the visit of Anselm haut Rodric, Anacreon was ignorant of atomic power on Terminus until Salvor told him. The inference is that Smyrno, Loris and Konom and Daribow were also ignorant of atomic power on Terminus - and they stayed ignorant till Hardin travelled to inform them.
Until and unless they were informed, they viewed Terminus as another sparsely settled marginal planet - and were not eager to fight to contest Anacreon´s share.
And now realize that if there was no psychohistorical inevitability in the Three Kingdoms acting to bail out Foundation, because they were ignorant and would have stayed so but for one well-informed person going out of his way to inform them...
Hardin might have made that round trip of Three Kingdoms three months sooner, and seeing how it had effect in a month (plus seven days), this would have averted the Anacreonians ever landing on Terminus.
Or else Hardin might have failed. For example, he might have been arrested by Anacreonians. His coup against the legitimate Pirenne government would have given them a good excuse... and it would have been all over with Seldon Plan.
I get what you are saying. Despite reading the books several times I never read them as closely or critically as you have. And certainly not Asimov's comments on them. So, ultimately Hari Seldon's great secret is that psychohistory really is a sham. The stories, rather than being examples of psychohistory, or really illustrating psychohistories failures. Despite what the magic Seldon in the box might tell them. Instead Seldon was able to use the idea of psychohistory to get Empire support for creating the Foundation. As we see throughout the books, the story is really a paean to value of knowledge in hard times.

Looks like I should have just found this other post
 
If you look closely, a lot of the crises depend on contrived, excessive stupidity of the antagonists.

There is a clear psychohistorical reason why Fourth Crisis could not result in Foundation collapsing. Foundation was militarily too strong for any force Empire was politically able to send. Since Foundation was an oligarchy and did not have a strong leader, no individual in Foundation could surrender in the name of Foundation or botch the defence so as to cause easy fall of Foundation. Since the society of Empire was undermined by distrust, no Emperor could allow a general adequate forces to grind Foundation down - any general who did have such forces would find the Empire itself the easier prey.

But this leaves the question of why Fourth Crisis ever happened. Cleon and Brodrig discuss the dangers of Bel Riose becoming a popular conqueror, give him orders to report closer but not undertake any offensives... but then inexplicably change their mind and press through authorization for Bel Riose, going out of their way and risking political costs to themselves.
Why? It might have been reasonable and easy for Cleon and Brodrig to just say no - and there would have been no Fourth Crisis.
 

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