One of science fiction's legendary science fiction writers, Isaac Asimov, is best known for his series of interlocked stories depicting an extensive future history of humanity. This was not his original plan: The multiple series in which he depicted this future—the Robot series, the Empire series and the Foundation series—were only linked together later in his career and after several of the novels were already written. Science fiction fans, despite the subsequent set of occasional internal inconsistencies he introduced in doing so, rejoiced. The stories are popular and fertile enough that stories are still be written in it today, as evidenced by the recent publication of Isaac Asimov’s I Robot: To Obey by Mickey Zucker Reichert. This is the second part of a look at Asimov's extensive future history. In Part 1, we looked at Asimov's much-loved Robot stories and novels. We also looked at the Empire novels which served as an early introduction to one of science fiction's most beloved series, the Foundation novels. What's next?
Asimov's Foundation Stories
Asimov wrote seven Foundation novels throughout his long writing career. The first five of them take place chronologically. The last two are prequels to the first novel. The Foundation series is essentially a science-fictional retelling of the decline and fall of the Roman empire.
The first book, written in 1951, was simply called Foundation. (Actually, its a fix-up novel of five connected short stories, published as a single volume.) Foundation introduced the mathematician Hari Seldon, who developed a new branch of mathematics known as psychohistory. Psychohistory could be used to generally predict the future of society (and not individuals). Using psychohistory, Seldon has foreseen the fall of the great Galactic Empire followed by a dark age of 30,000 years before the rise of a Second Galactic Empire. Nothing can be done about the fall, but Seldon creates a Foundation to minimize the pending dark age to a mere 1,000 years. (Hence the title of one of the five originating stories being titled "The 1,000-Year Plan.")
In Foundation and Empire (another fix-up written in 1952, this time two stories), the Foundation comes under attack from the Galactic Empire itself and (a century later) an unknown outsider known as The Mule. It is also revealed that there exists a Second Foundation, focused on the study of mental sciences as opposed to physical ones. The third book written, Second Foundation (1953), is about that other foundation's attempts to fight The Mule and about the contention between both foundations.
Foundation's Edge (written in 1982, nearly 30 years after the previous Foundation book, due to reader demand) takes place after the war between the two foundations. The first foundation has emerged victorious and all is going according to Hari Seldon's plan. But Golan Trevize thinks that things are going too perfectly and suspects that (gasp!) the Second Foundation still exists behind the scenes, pulling the strings of humanity. He's right, but not necessarily about who. Stor Gendibal of the Second Foundation also suspects tampering with human society by an even greater threat, so he tracks Trevize to uncover the truth, which may be tied to a mythical planet known as Earth. Foundation and Earth (1986) depicts Trevize's search for Earth. He finds it, and the ultimate secret behind humanity's guiding hand.
Although the Foundation story was complete, that didn't stop Asimov from writing two prequel novels, both of which take place before the first written novel, Foundation. Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993) revolve around Hari Seldon's early years developing the science of psychohistory and the setting up of the two foundations.
Asimov's Robot and Foundation stories are still in print. The have also spawned many other stories, sequels and series that expand this universe. I want to say "well-conceived universe," but even Asimov himself said that connecting the two series was an afterthought that has resulted in some internal inconsistencies for eagle-eyed readers. Nevertheless, both series exemplify some of science fiction's best features: grand scale ideas and sense of wonder. It's no wonder that it has spawned so many other stories. Using the science of psychohistory, I predict there will be a part three to this article next week. Stay tuned!