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The Foundation Series

The Foundation Series is an epic of Galactic proportions written by Isaac Asimov over the span of forty-two years. It consists of seven volumes (about 800,000 words), which, although they can be read separately, are closely linked to one another.

The premise of the series is that mathematician Hari Seldon has spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept devised by Asimov and his editor John W. Campbell. It uses the law of mass action to predict the future on a large scale, such as of planets or empires. Through the use of these techniques, Seldon foresees the fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way. He can also predict that there will be a thirty thousand year dark age before the next great empire rises. To prevent this, he decides to create a small haven of technology in a corner of the galaxy (on the planet Terminus) called the Foundation, whose job it will be to preserve knowledge from the collapse, thus reducing the time required for the next Empire to rebuild. If done properly, it will only take a thousand years before the next empire rises.

Table of contents
1 The trilogy
2 The sequels
3 The prequels
4 Second Foundation Trilogy and sequels
5 Cultural impact
6 List of books
7 External links

The trilogy

The series started as a series of short stories published in Amazing Stories magazine, a science fiction magazine of the 1940s. The early stories are very closely based on Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

These were then collected and published as Foundation. He then decided to turn it into a trilogy, and wrote Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation.

These three books (which are mostly collections of earlier published short stories) are thus known as The Foundation Trilogy.

The sequels

Asimov unsuccessfully tried to end the series at the end of Second Foundation. But because of the predicted thousand years until the rise of the next Empire (of which, only a few hundred had elapsed), the series lacked a sense of closure. For decades, fans pressured him to write a sequel.

In 1982, following a thirty year hiatus, Asimov gave in and wrote what was at the time a fourth volume: Foundation's Edge. This was followed shortly thereafter by Foundation and Earth. Foundation and Earth (which takes place some 600 years after Seldon) ties up all the loose ends, but opens up a brand new line of thought in the last dozen pages. As a result, as a finale to the series, it failed. According to his widow Janet Asimov (in her biography of him, It's Been a Good Life), he had no idea how to continue after Foundation and Earth, so he started writing the prequels.

The series is set in the same universe as Asimov's first published novel, Pebble in the Sky, although Foundation takes place approximately ten thousand years later. Pebble in the Sky became the basis for the Empire Series. Then, at some unknown date (prior to writing Foundation and Earth and probably prior to Foundation's Edge) Asimov decided to merge the Foundation series with his Robot series. Thus, all three series are set in the same universe, giving them a combined length of 15 novels and a total of about 1,500,000 words.

The prequels

The prequels, written last in the series but chronologically first, tell the life story of Hari Seldon, and (simultaneously) the development of Psychohistory. The first prequel, Prelude to Foundation, starts with a young Hari Seldon presenting a paper outlining the possibility of psychohistory, and ends about a year later. The second novel, Forward the Foundation, takes place at intervals starting about ten years after Prelude to Foundation. It tells how psychohistory becomes functional, all while Hari loses loved ones and the Galactic Empire continues to break apart. The ending of Forward the Foundation takes place just as Hari finishes recording the messages to be played throughout the novels.

Second Foundation Trilogy and sequels

Asimov's novels only covered 600 of the expected 1,000 years it would take for the Foundation to become a galactic empire. After his death, the Asimov estate at the request of Janet Asimov approached Gregory Benford and asked him to write another Foundation story. He agreed, and at that same time suggested that it should form part of a trilogy with Greg Bear and David Brin writing the other two books, which they agreed to do. All three take place between Asimov's two prequels. These three books are now known collectively as the Second Foundation Trilogy. Many fans, eager for the second trilogy to fill in the gap, were disappointed.

The Foundation universe was once again revisited in Foundation's Friends (ISBN 0312931743 hardback, ISBN 0812509803 paperback), a collection of short stories written by many prominent science fiction authors of today. Orson Scott Card's The Originist clarifies the founding of the Second foundation shortly after Seldon's death; Harry Turtledove's Trantor Falls tells of the efforts by the Second Foundation to survive during the sacking of Trantor; and George Zebrowski's Foundation's Conscience is about the efforts of a historian to document Seldon's work following the rise of the second Galactic empire.

Cultural impact

An eight-part radio adaptation of the original trilogy with sound design by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1973 - one of the first BBC radio drama serials to be made in stereo. A BBC 7 rerun commenced in July, 2003.

In 1965, the Foundation Trilogy recieved a special Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series". It is the only series so honored.

It has been speculated (most prominently in the science fiction zines Ansible 172, (November 2001) and Locus) that the Foundation trilogy, which has had considerable success in the Middle-East, was the source of the name of the terrorist group Al-Qaida. This speculation, however, fails to account for the fact that the term Al-Qaida was first used by the United States to describe followers of Osama bin-Laden and is not used by that group to refer to itself.

Also, the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist sect in Japan (that attacked with Sarin gas the Tokyo subway) was trying to build a community of scientists after the model of the Foundation and used this book as the sect's bible.

List of books

Prelude to Foundation contains Asimov's suggested reading order/chronology for his science fiction books in the introduction. The recommended reading order of the books is:

Robot short stories

The Robot novels The Empire novels The Foundation novels The Second Foundation Trilogy

  1. Foundation's Fear (1997) by Gregory Benford
  2. Foundation and Chaos (1998) by Greg Bear.
  3. Foundation's Triumph (1999) by David Brin.

The Foundation Trilogy
  1. Foundation (1951)
  2. Foundation and Empire (1952)
  3. Second Foundation (1953)

Note that this list corrects several mistakes found in the list in Asimov's Prelude to Foundation. It also adds three novels that were published after Asimov's death in 1992.

See also:

External links