Filling in the “Foundation” Series–The Second Foundation Trilogy

Second Foundation Trilogy
In a recent podcast guest Bill Walko commented he was looking for people interested in taking his characters and incorporating them into their own writing, a mindset unusual enough that it generated considerable discussion. That comment reminded me of a similar successful effort related to one of the all time great science fiction group of stories, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. His estate commissioned three novels, collectively know as the Second Foundation Trilogy, after his death to add depth to the story flow: Foundation’s Fear by Gregory Benford, Foundation and Chaos by Greg Bear, and Foundation’s Triumph by David Brin.

Asimov took on an immense task just with the original three books of the Foundation series (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation), envisioning a thousand year span covering the fall and subsequent rebirth of the galactic empire. In those three books he managed to cover only the first 500 years or so, and even then many of the interesting events are glossed over or hurriedly addressed. His later works tying in his robot series to the Foundation series (Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation, Foundations Edge, Foundation and Earth) left even more interesting bits of the story minimally addressed. As an avid reader of the stories I often wondered about those elements and their background, and was ecstatic when I learned the Second Foundation Trilogy had been authorized by Asimov’s estate.

Foundation’s Fear, the first of this trilogy, fills in the details (and intrigue) behind Hari Seldon’s appointment to the position of First Minister. It takes place roughly between the first and second sections of Forward the Foundation. The sections that deal with Seldon read very much like something the Good Doctor would have written, although Benford’s version is much more a pacifist than Asimov’s “Twister” Seldon. The persona of Hari Seldon (and other key continuing characters) is greatly enhanced in this book; characterization was never one of Asimov’s strengths. And Benford attempts to provide answers to one of those questions raised in the original series: upon what exactly did Seldon base his insights into psychohistory? Benford also sets the stage for future concepts in the series (e.g., the planet Gaia) and provides the backdrop for the two books in the Second Foundation Trilogy to follow. There are also elements that don’t fit into the universe that Asimov created–different technologies (wormhole transportation versus hyperjumps), intelligent alien races, and all manner of new technologies. Overall it’s not a book that would be mistaken as one of Asimov’s, but in the end it stays true enough to the basic outline that it’s easily seen as an extension of the Good Doctor’s work.

The second of the Second Foundation Trilogy books is Foundation and Chaos, which takes place at the same time as the first section of Foundation. Greg Bear takes the first essential element in Asimov’s original Foundation, Hari Seldon’s trial for treason, and provides an engaging look at the events that lead up to it. The book expands the background and the intrigues that precede the trial, and provides a far more detailed explanation for why the trial ended as it did. Bear’s book also provides a robust follow-on to a key element in Forward the Foundation, providing background on the development and growth of the Second Foundation with roughly the same level of detail Asimov used to describe the development and growth of the First Foundation in Foundation. In the original Foundation Trilogy the Second Foundation just “is”; Bear provides the backdrop for its later appearance. His book also continues the incorporation of Asimov’s Robot series into the Foundation story, introducing a secondary story-line involving R. Daneel Olivaw’s efforts behind the scenes and a robot conflict between the Calvinists (those robots who believe in only the original Three Laws of Robotics) and the Giskardians (those who, like Daneel, believe in the Zeroth Law). With its focus on primary themes and characters from Asimov’s original Foundation and Robot series, this book feels more like it belongs in the Asimov universe than Benford’s Foundation’s Fear. It succeeds nicely in beginning to reconcile the pieces of Asimov’s original works that hadn’t been previously addressed. The only slightly jarring aspect of this book is Bear’s far more complex word usage and writing style, which certainly differentiates it from Asimov’s writing.

The final book in the Second Foundation Trilogy is Foundation’s Triumph, which takes place at the tail end of Seldon’s life, after the seeds of the two Foundations have been planted (roughly between Parts 1 and 2 of Foundation). In it David Brin deliberately picks up what Bear started in the previous novel–reconciling the inconsistencies and unanswered questions that came about as a result of combining two monumental series. Hari Seldon goes off in search of an answer to the one remaining major question he encountered during his development of psychohistory–the causes of periodic outbreaks of chaos, where worlds experience a tremendous outburst of creativity and then inevitably violently collapse. In the course of Seldon’s journeys (and at the same time as Dors Venabli, Daneel and Seldon’s granddaughter Wanda are off dealing with other issues), Brin manages to tie up the loose ends and provide reasonable explanations for apparent inconsistencies (for example, why has Man not encountered aliens in the course of inhabiting the known galaxy? Why has there been relatively little technological progress in all the millennia the Empire has existed?). He also nicely incorporates references to other Asimov novels (e.g., Pebble in the Sky and The Stars, Like Dust), not normally considered part of either the Foundation or Robot series, into his narrative. And of the three books in the Second Foundation Trilogy this one feels the most like something the Good Doctor might have written himself.

I wanted to bring attention to these three books for those who enjoy Isaac Asimov’s work but might not have heard about this extension of his literary universe. As I’ve noted there’s variability in how strictly these novels adhere to Asimov’s writing, from both a conceptual and stylistic standpoint. Some of the new concepts these writers introduce feel out of place in an Asimovian universe, and that might be a turn-off to true fans of Asimov’s work. Overall, though, I think the Second Foundation Trilogy does a good job of creating missing detail and more effectively tying the Foundation and Robot series together. And the books are all fun reads on their own.

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