Posted on September 23, 2016
44. ‘Foundation’s Edge’ by Isaac Asimov
Last time I checked in on Asimov’s Foundation universe in Second Foundation, the First Foundation was trying to rid itself of the power of the Second Foundation, and it believed it had done so. This book reveals that they didn’t quite manage it.
The Foundation series is the story of a grand plan – the Seldon Plan – designed to lessen the period of chaos and suffering between all-powerful galactic empires by paving the way for a new empire, led by the First Foundation. However, a Second Foundation – one more preoccupied with mind control than weaponry – has threatened to steal power from the First, and has thus had to fake its own demise in order to escape detection. In this instalment there is a new threat in town, in the form of a mysterious and rarely visited planet which seems to be influencing the Seldon Plan to run far too smoothly.
I find it very compelling how Asimov manages to tie grand philosophical ideas and galaxy-sweeping events to four or five distinct characters. His novels always take on truly epic storylines, but they do so through the lens of believable people, and I think that’s what has helped to make his Foundation series so iconic. In this book we follow Golan Trevize, an unusually perceptive councilman, and Janov Pelorat, a historian, as they are exiled and go to find the original birthplace of humanity: Earth. Hot on their heels is Munn Li Compor, a Second Foundation ‘Observer’ and traitor to Trevize, and the future leader of the Second Foundation, Gendibal. These characters each have their own quirks and faults (I loved Janov’s neurotic fear of space travel, mainly because I can identify with it), and each uses formidable logic to battle their way through tangled relationships and mysterious circumstances.
I honestly don’t know how Asimov wrote these incredibly complex plotlines, and how he charted each character’s motivations and discoveries at each point. The story starts out with a set of events, which the characters will read something into, and then in the next chapter a new, deeper motivation will be discovered, and then another after that, and so on and so on. Everything that happens has at least three ‘layers’ of reasoning behind it, and yet for something so unbelievably complex, Asimov always makes it manageable (and entertaining) for the reader. With that in mind, if space action is what you’re looking for, this probably isn’t the series you’re looking for. The climax to this book, for example, manoeuvres all the characters into one place, but it doesn’t exactly end with lasers and explosions. That’s not to say it isn’t satisfying, or even heart-racing at times – it certainly is – but an action story it ain’t.
At this point, Asimov’s Foundation universe is becoming something of a comfort blanket. At some point I’ve read most of these books in the bath after a hard day, and there’s something very welcoming about returning to a vast and epic universe that can still somehow make you feel at home.
“All you have to do is take a close look at yourself and you will understand everyone else.”
Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.