BOOK REVIEW: Forward the Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

-spoilers for the entire Foundation universe-

forward.jpg

Publisher: Doubleday

Genre: Social SF

Series: Foundation Prequels (#2)

Pages: 416

Publication Date: 1993

Verdict: 4/5

Hari Seldon works tirelessly on his psychohistory project. But even as governments come and go, and the Galactic Empire slowly breaks apart around him, the greatest threat may yet be time. Time, and Seldon’s own mortality . . .

The final novel Asimov wrote before his death, and published posthumously, Forward the Foundation is the last piece of buildup to his magnum opus. The last few threads are tied together, the last few seeds are sewn, and from here on we go to the truly Galactic stage. But first, there is this. A book at once a sweeping story of interstellar politics and also a character-driven insight into one of science fiction’s most famous characters. This is a story of two halves, travelling the same line, but in different directions.

The first story arc is that of psychohistory itself. As a rereader, we know that psychohistory will prove to be a success, not to mention a key element of human development. yet there is still tension to this exploration of the early days of the field. Various goverments, both Imperial rulers and military juntas, seek control of the project. Not to mention the internal arguments between Seldon and the mathemeticians. While we know what the outcome will be, how we get there is still exciting. The political backstabbing and moral quandries Seldon and the others face shine a new light on the Foundation itself, providing a solid bedrock to support the novels still to come.

The second arc is a more intimate one. Asimov publicly admitted that large parts of Seldon were based on himself, and so the painful journey of Seldon as he reaches old age takes on a new meaning. The fact that Asimov died so shortly after completing Seldon’s story make sit all the more poignant. If anyone ever tells you that Asimov was a poor writer of characters, just point them to this book and they’ll see how wrong they are. Seldon’s truggles to balance work and family, and the losses he suffers along the way, are all too realistic. Asimov spent over half a century developing this character, and that investment shows clearly.

This is not a perfect book, however. Broken up into sections, each spaced a decade apart, it can feel disjointed. Especially when we meet the same cast of characters in each part, at various stages in their lives. Foundation at its best covers centuries, but here it does feel like skipping to the best parts of a story, with a sens ethat there’s so much left remaining untold. Several key character are killed off the page, when it would have been nice to fully deal with the ramifications of their deaths. There are loose ends too. Dors and Demerzel both disappear during the narrative, and though the latter will eventually return at the end of the series, the departure of Dors is a mystery that Asimov never had the opportunity to solve.

While Forward the Foundation may not be Asimov’s greatest work, it is a fitting epitaph to his career, and indeed his life. A greater legacy is hard to imagine.

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