Foundation, the original novel of the famous Foundation Series, was published back in 1951 as a collection of five stories, which can easily exist separately from one another, but which, put together, make up a coherent narrative of the decline of the Galactic Empire and the role the Foundation plays in restoring the Galaxy to its previous glory. The first short story briefly mentions the famous Hari Seldon and his role in the development of the psychohistory and the establishment of the two Foundations – one known and one secret. Of course, my generation has the benefit of having read the two prequels before Foundation, which means we already know about Hari Seldon’s life. And frankly, this makes it much easier to go into Isaac Asimov’s world and orient oneself across the numerous stars, sectors, kingdoms, and so on.
Foundation is the first novel in chronological order but the third one (after Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation) in its in-universe chronological order. Hari Seldon is dead and the legacy he has left in the form of the Foundation has moved to the far away planet of Terminus to prepare Encyclopaedia Galactica (broken citations from which precede each short story) and to conserve the knowledge necessary to revive the Galaxy once the Galactic Empire disappears. The second, secret Foundation of people with the rare ability to influence others has moved to another distant planet, as a form of a back-up plan and support in case the original Foundation fails. Hari Seldon has succeeded (finally) with his psychohistory and has predicted several crisis, through which Terminus must go through, in order to reduce the necessary 30 thousand years for the rising of a second great empire to only … one thousand.
The short stories follow the different measures taken by the men of the day to restore stability or bring Terminus to the verge of yet another crisis, when the only right choice to act will represent itself. The only choice that will ensure that the Foundation is moving along the right path to preserving the knowledge and restoring the empire. Interestingly, the first approach used to control the neighbouring worlds is…well religion. I had a rather passionate discussion with a friend a few days ago exactly on the subject of religion. He is a believer, which I respect, but I am certainly not, and our clash of views led me to think about the imminent problem with religion – its power to control people using artificially created symbols. Isaac Asimov, a fervent defender of science (and as a matter of fact an atheist) clearly shows how a carefully designed group of Gods can lure people into doing almost anything. And that’s exactly what the Foundation does. Concealing its true purpose behind priests, temples and miracles (accomplished through the power of the atomic energy) it manages to ensure the stability around itself and to protect its legacy against rebellions. It says a lot about the power of religion, in a bad way.
When the power of religion to control is exhausted at some point (as it always is) the followers of Seldon turn to other measures of control – trade and gold. As the short stories unfold the clash between the surviving Galactic Empire and the Foundation seems inevitable. It is always the case though – the cancer sells must be fully destroyed before a new life can begin. In this case, a new Galactic empire.
I already said how much I admire and enjoy Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series so it’s unnecessary to repeat that once again. However, I am ever thankful to be born after he wrote his two prequels. Foundation would have made much less sense (to me at least) without having read before about Hari Seldon’s life and the development of the psychohistory. In that sense, sometimes prequels are not only good, but completely necessary.
More from Isaac Asimov: