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Foundation's Edge
Foundation #4
by Isaac Asimov
Doubleday, 367pp
Published: June 1982

Wow, this one's been a long time coming! If you were wondering where my runthrough of books that won the Hugo Award for Best Novel went, I've been on a side trip. I noticed last June, after reviewing C. J. Cherryh's 'Downbelow Station', that next up was this one, 'Foundation's Edge'. It's the fourth in his 'Foundation' series, a trilogy for almost three decades, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with it. If memory serves, I bought this when 'Foundation and Earth' came out in 1986 and read all five books, then the prequel, 'Prelude to Foundation', a couple of years later. I don't think I ever got round to the last book, 'Forward the Foundation', which fits in between the prequel and the original.

So, given that this was longer ago than COVID, I re-read the original trilogy, thirty-five years old back then and seventy now, reviewing each book here at the Nameless Zine. This fourth was a huge deal in 1982, becoming an unlikely bestseller to the mainstream press but an "About time, Isaac!" from sci-fi fans, who awarded it the Best Novel Hugo and Locus. In hindsight, it surely won based on nostalgia—I remember well that it was seen as the best science fiction series of all time at that point—and deep thanks that Asimov had finally returned to the series.

What I found in 2022 is that it's a long read that feels like it's as long as the entire preceding trilogy, even if it may not quite have been. The prose is really smooth, more so than in the originals, because Asimov had written million of words in between them, so it's easy to fall into the page count and find yourself immersed. However, there are very long scenes of dialogue and, while I was OK with them in early chapters, they got a little draining towards the end, when we're waiting for the revelations we expect from the finalé and have less patience for pages of dialogue.

The other note that has to be made here is that Asimov had clearly made a decision to combine quite a few series into one universe. Before this book, the 'Foundation' books, the 'Galactic Empire' books and the 'Robot' books were distinct series, but 'Foundation's Edge' changed that, while 'Foundation and Empire' cemented the new single universe mindset. Everything in each of these series became a component part of a bigger picture and I'm still not convinced that this approach was a good idea. It mostly appears in preparatory form here, setting the stage for 'Foundation and Earth', but it's still a little jarring.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I see 'Foundation's Edge' as a combination of every genre that Asimov had explored in his fiction and a few new ones too. Sure, it's science fiction and the very nature of the 'Foundation' concept means that there's a lot of political intrigue going on, but that's not all of it. There's a murder mystery partway through that reminds how fond Asimov was of writing mysteries, both inside and outside the science fiction genre. A couple of the primary characters have quest narratives. One of them is driven by what could be considered today a conspiracy theory, albeit one that turns out to be true. Long sections of the book are a buddy movie in space.

And, above all of that, there's a palpable glee in how Asimov wraps everything up. For the most part, I wasn't put off by the long scenes of dialogue, because the prose is so smooth and the novel flows in easy fashion. I may not agree with the "one universe" approach but it's not too much of a deal at this point and I could accept it. However, Asimov gradually introduces a number of what appear to be plot holes that jar us and jab at our brain as we read on, only to explain them away late in the book, with a gleam in his eye as if he was saying, "Gotcha!" That was really what annoyed me the most, the idea of an author playing a cleverly obscured game of chess with us, perhaps more than writing a story.

The thrust of the narrative is to bring certain very different people together in the same place at the same time, which suddenly seems completely obvious, even though we don't realise that for most of the book.

Some start out on Terminus, the home of the Foundation, which mostly believes itself to be the only one, the Second Foundation having been destroyed decades earlier. The mayor, Harla Branno, is not one of these people and she sends one of her Council members, Golan Trevize, into exile, tasking him with a quest to find the Second Foundation. His travelling companion is Janov Pelorat, a mythologist and historian dedicated to locating Earth, the legendary origin of humanity. She also sends Munn Li Compor to follow him and monitor his actions. All of these people have crucial parts to play in a story that Branno thinks she sees but doesn't.

Some start out on Trantor, the home of the very much still active Second Foundation, which continues its mission to monitor the progress of the Seldon Plan, an attempt to reduce the dark ages following the collapse of the Galactic Empire from thirty millennia to merely one, and to make subtle changes to the minds of key players if such should be deemed necessary. Stor Gendibal is a Speaker on the rise who realises that the Seldon Plan has been adhered to so closely that there must be other hands at work beyond their own. This prompts him to be sent on a mission to discover who, why and how, with an anomalous Hamish girl, a native of Trantor, Sura Novi, as his companion. Both have crucial parts to play in a story that Gendibal thinks he sees but doesn't.

They all end up in the Sayshell Sector, where they hear stories of a world called Gaia, which is weirdly able to stand completely aside from the rest of the galaxy, to the degree that it may or may not exist. It does and... well, I'm not going to spoil everything that happens from that point on. You should dive into this series yourself, because the 'Foundation' trilogy is essential science fiction, however dated it sometimes seems, with its computer printouts and lack of women doing anything of substance. I'd recommend this book too, even if it's a weak Hugo winner, because it does a heck of a lot that's oddly effective, given how different the book is from its predecessors.

One way to look at its success is to think about the broader series. I'm very happy to have re-read the original trilogy before continuing with this one, even though Asimov does a capable job of summing up the more crucial aspects of them for new readers, to ensure that they didn't get lost. Doing that gave me a fresh perspective into how different this fourth book really is, both for good and bad. Had Asimov written this in, say, 1955, it would have been almost unrecognisable from this book. However, it carefully sets up 'Foundation and Earth' and I should want to dive into that immediately, but I find that I may avoid doing that, because I don't think I want to go where it goes. ~~ Hal C F Astell

For more titles by Isaac Asimov click here
For more titles in the Foundation series click here
For more Hugo winners click here

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