FoundationFoundation and EmpireSecond FoundationFoundation’s Edge. It is a universal phenomenon. Forged from the singular imagination of SF Master Isaac Asimov and critically revered around the world, the Foundation series is the most widely read science fiction work of all time. Now in a landmark publishing event, the monumental saga continues with FOUNDATION AND EARTH, the fifth and most thrilling novel yet.

Barley a millisecond has passed since the close of Foundation’s Edge, and Golan Trevize, former Councilman of the First Foundation, finds himself entrusted with an awesome task: to determine the very future of Galactic development. Rejecting the anarchy of a Galactic Empire built on the technology of the First Foundation, as well as that of an Empire based on the mentalics of the Second Foundation, Trevize chooses Gaia. The planet Gaia is a superorganism, a psychic confederation of peoples that finds its strength in mental unity. And merged with humankind, it will metamorphose into a supra-superorganism dedeicated to the common good—a world Trevize calls Galaxia.

But what instinctive force has led Trevize to this extraordinary concept—does it perhaps lie deep within the ancient history of another great world known as Earth? Trevize is compelled to learn the answer. Discovering that all reference to Earth is mysteriously missing from the Galactic Library at Trantor, he sets out in search of the “lost” planet. And as he and his companions, historian Janov Pelorat and the beautiful Gaian woman Bliss, travel from one forbidden world to the next, they face a daring and danger-filled odyssey that will decide the fate of the Empire—and humanity itself.

This is without a doubt my least favorite of the Foundation books, and one of the very few books by Asimov I don’t particularly like.

There is also no doubt as to the reason I don’t particularly like it—it activates all of my “golden age” red flags. Asimov had been inching the Foundation and robot books together ever since Foundation’s Edge, and here he makes the connection final, solid, explicit and in a way that really bothered me, by introducing R. Daneel Olivaw as an actual character in the Foundation series.

So much for the last ten pages.

My general reaction to the rest of the book is that it is overly long and frightfully padded. Asimov himself was rather proud of the fact that he built up suspense by having Trevieze and Gaia (in the person of Bliss) argue for most of the book about the virtue of Trevieze’s decision at the end of Foundation’s Edge. It didn’t work for me; it simply made the book tedious. And having two of the main characters harp at each other for the bulk of the story simply left me disliking both.

Moreover, there’s no real suspense because we already know Trevize made the right decision back in Foundation’s Edge. The whole point of that novel was that Trevize would make the correct decision (by some unspecified definition of “correct”). This means that the arguing between Trevize and Bliss isn’t so much over the correctness of the decision, but over Trevize’s discomfort with the decision he made. He doesn’t know why he made that decision, after all, and that bothers him. That’s a reasonable motivaction for a hero, granted, but the bickering about it is generally not presented in those lights, and in any event, it goes on and on and on and on.

And the fact that our heroes manage to find the Earth at all seems pretty coincidence-driven, almost as much as a Charles Dickens novel or Pebble in the Sky. This is not necessarily bad—Pebble, after all, gets away with it—but it needs a book which is otherwise very solid to make it work. I did not find Foundation and Earth sufficiently solid.

As with other late Foundation books, the plot is largely a travelogue (with an unusual amount of sex thrown in for Asimov). And as with other late Foundation books, Asimov shows increased ability to portray different cultures—and yet, again as elsewhere, they are more interesting than the characters, which seems a weakness.

Still, they are the book’s saving grace. Even more than Foundation’s Edge, we get a solid sense of the real complexity of the Foundation’s galaxy—dead planets that nobody knows about anymore (plus what happened on each), hidden planets that aren’t part of any government. The fate of the Solarians is particularly well-handled, I think, and Fallom is a reasonable extension of that. He/she is also a rare Asimovian manifestation of a “non-human,” and, indeed, of that good old 30’s stereotype, the out-evolved human who feels nothing but contempt for his unevolved cousins—and Asimov does it well.

On the whole, then, this would be for me a much better book if it were tightened by about a third, lost most of the bickering between Trevieze and Bliss—and ended very, very differently.

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