Updated on July 1, 2016
24. ‘Foundation and Empire’ and 25. ‘Second Foundation’ by Isaac Asimov
I’m gradually working my way through Isaac Asimov’s epic Foundation series (and loving it!) so this week I have a double book review of the next two instalments: Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation.
Foundation and Empire is the second book in the series and it starts where Foundation left off: with the Galactic Empire crumbling and Foundation – an outpost created by Hari Seldon with the intention of lessening the chaotic time period between all-powerful empires from 30,000 years to 1,000 – gaining in strength and influence. First Foundation must deal with the Empire, which sees it as a threat and wants to destroy it. Then it must confront the Mule, a mutant with the ability to control people’s emotions, who is not part of Hari Seldon’s mathematical predictions for the future and who therefore throws the entire Foundation project off course.
(To be topical for a moment, the Mule kind of reminds me of Nigel Farage, in that the UK had this fairly steady idea of where it was going and then this manipulative anomaly appeared out of nowhere and threw everything out of whack, and now we’re leaving the EU and so long to the future we thought we had!)
I really enjoyed this instalment – it was as full of twists and turns as the other Foundation novels I’ve read, and I just love how Asimov gets his characters into seemingly inescapable situations and then uses incredible feats of logic to completely turn things on their head. I also felt genuinely disturbed by the Mule and the fact that so many of his supporters know objectively that they despised the man before, but now they simply cannot understand why and want to do nothing but serve him. It’s a very sinister form of manipulation that I thoroughly enjoyed reading about.
We dive even further into mental fuckery in the next book, Second Foundation. This instalment presents a new threat to Foundation, a Second Foundation established by Hari Seldon on ‘the other side of the galaxy’, perhaps as a sort of back-up plan, or a mental complement to the more physical powers of the first. Thanks to the Mule, the Seldon Plan has been so knocked about that individuals can now affect the course of history, and we follow a small group of these individuals (including a fairly kickass and ambitious teenage girl called Arcadia) which discovers that the Second Foundation is mentally altering people on First Foundation’s home planet, and sets out to stop them.
Of course, first they must discover the location of the Second Foundation, which is shrouded in mystery. All they have to go on is the ‘other side of the galaxy’ claim, and the knowledge that the last person who worked out where it was (and was killed before he could say anything) looked really, really surprised by his discovery. I worked out the true location pretty early on, but there were enough well-reasoned arguments about other possible locations that I did occasionally doubt myself. I loved the emotional ambiguity of this novel, because I really wasn’t sure which Foundation to root for.
I’m finding Foundation to be a thoroughly enjoyable series, because it mixes complex logic, serious philosophy and outright silliness so well. Here’s to the next one!
“All the suffering that humanity ever knew can be traced to the fact that no men in the history of the Galaxy could really understand one another. Every human being lived behind an impenetrable wall of choking mist in which no other but he existed.”
Have you read these books or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!