Foundation first edition, 1951
First edition, 1951

Foundation

Novel series, 1951–1993
Novel series: [SHOW] [HIDE]

Foundation, 1951

Foundation and Empire, 1952

Second Foundation, 1953

Foundation's Edge, 1977

Foundation and Earth, 1986

Prelude to Foundation, 1988

Forward the Foundation, 1993

First lines: [SHOW] [HIDE]

His name was Gaal Dornick and he was just a country boy who had never seen Trantor before.

Foundation

The Galactic Empire Was Falling.

Foundation and Empire

The First Galactic Empire had endured for tens of thousands of years.

Second Foundation

"Why did I do it?" asked Golan Trevize.

Foundation and Earth

Great lines: [SHOW] [HIDE]

Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right!

Foundation

And there she was, age fourteen plus, weary enough for eighty plus, frightened enough for five minus.

Second Foundation

The most hopelessly stupid man is he who is not aware that he is wise.

Second Foundation

Human beings are very conservative in some ways and virtually never change numerical conventions once they grow used to them. They even come to mistake them for laws of nature.

Foundation and Earth

Last lines: [SHOW] [HIDE]

He left them, never looking back.

Foundation and Empire

And he did not look down to meet the brooding eyes of Fallom—hermaphrodite, transductive, different—as they rested, unfathomably, on him.

Foundation and Earth

"Kiss me again, Hari. —Please."

Prelude to Foundation

The author [SHOW] [HIDE]

Isaac Asimov may be the worst great writer I can think of. His prose is workmanlike at best, his characters are emotional ciphers, his dialogue is functional at.... more

Foundation

COMMENTARY

Galactic puzzles within puzzles

In the 1980s Asimov reread the Foundation stories he had written in the 1940s and had compiled as a trilogy of books in the 1950s, and he was appalled. The stories had no action, no suspense, no romance—they were all thought and dialogue. And yet he found them involving. Even though he was the author, he wanted to read more.

So he says in an introduction that appears in most editions of the books. He may also be describing the reaction of many readers. These are very talky, ruminative stories.

There is big action: a galactic empire starts to crumble, psychohistorian Hari Seldon secretly establishes a repository of science and knowledge in a foundation at the edge of the galaxy to speed humankind's recovery from the coming dark ages, local warlords fight for power, the foundation's existence is threatened, charismatic figures seize power.... All kinds of action occurs on a large scale. But it isn't at the centre of the books.

On centre stage is a huge mystery being unravelled: the quest for the second foundation that Seldon posthumously reveals he had set up at the opposite end of the galaxy. What Seldon meant by the "opposite end" is not so easy to determine. Each of the books in the original Foundation trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation) solves the evolving mystery in a way that trumps the previous book.

Actually there are more than three puzzles worked out. The trilogy was made from nine stories Asimov wrote to detail the first three hundred years of the Foundation saga. So in each book of the trilogy you get two to five chunks of the mystery, often presenting lines of thought that appear confirmed and then discarding them as new solutions to the Seldon mystery are worked out in history.

Somehow it is all quite a thrilling and mentally stimulating ride. A page turner. Small wonder the trilogy was awarded the Hugo award for best series of all time in 1966, beating out Lord of the Rings.

Each of the books added to the series after the trilogy is also involving in its way, but successively less so. Foundation's Edge, written four decades after the first Foundation story, took the saga to another level. Foundation and Earth finds the ultimate solution but suffers from Asimov trying to fit it in with the other science fiction worlds he had created.

The last two Foundation books, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation, are prequels, outlining Hari Seldon's struggle to launch his Foundation project. To be chronologically correct, it may seem sensible to begin reading the series with these—but don't! These are the worst written and, without the mystery to solve, the most boring of the lot. They reek of an author creating a memorial.

My advice—similar to that I give for Philip José Farmer's great Riverworld series—is to start reading the books in the order they were written and read as far into the series as you enjoy. You may be satisfied with the trilogy or you may, like most readers, feel the need to plough through to the final answer of the fifth book, or you may become so hooked by the universe Asimov created that you'll take even third-rate Foundation with the two prequels.

You might even enjoy some stories by other science-fiction writers set in the Foundation universe. Orson Scott Card wrote "The Originist" about the founding of the second foundation, which is collected in an anthology tribute to Asimov.

There are no earth-shaking ideas in the Foundation books. Nothing that greatly moves or inspires me as I go about my daily existence.

But, you know, I've read the original trilogy at least twice (and the rest of the series at least once), and one of the pleasures I have to look forward to if I live long enough is to get lost in the Foundation saga at least once again in my life.

— Eric

COMMENTARY

Related:

Author
Isaac Asimov

Stories
I, Robot

Story
Nightfall

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Foundation
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See also:

Novel
Riverworld

Novel
Ender's Game

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Foundation and Empire
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Second Foundation
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Foundation's Edge
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Prelude to Foundation
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Forward the Foundation
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