BOOK REVIEW: Foundation and Earth, by Isaac Asimov

-spoilers for the entire Foundation universe-

earth.jpg

Publisher: Grafton

Genre: Social SF

Series: Foundation (#5)

Pages: 462

Publication Date: 1986

Verdict: 4/5

Golan Trevize has chosen Galaxia over the Foundation, but fears his mind is being influenced by another power. Together with his old friend Jabov Pelorat and new companion Bliss, he sets out to find the culprit, who resides on the lost planet of Earth . . .

And so after nine months and eighteen books, our grand reread of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga comes to an end. But what of this eighteenth book? Well, Foundation and Earth is more like three books in one, so let’s look at the different ways to read it.

First of all, it is a direct sequel to Foundation’s Edge. Though I haven’t done an exact page count, it’s likely that we spend more time with Trevize and Pelorat than with any other Asimov character. The only exception is R. Daneel Olivaw, who makes an appearance at the very end of this book. Foundation and Earth picks up several plotlines from its immediate predecessor, notably the rise of Gaia and the search for Earth. To be honest, I’m not entirely keen on Gaia, and by extension Bliss and Galaxia. The sections where the hive-mind ideal of the human race is the focus are the novel’s weakest. The episodic planet-hopping in the search for Earth are far better.

Which brings us to the second way to look at this book, and that is as a companion piece to Robots and empire. Like that book, we skip from one planet to another, getting a glimpse of how people live their lives before moving on. Many of these planets are the same in both books. Aurora, Solaria, Earth and Baleyworld, now Comporellon. Seeing how each planet has changed ove rthe course of twenty-thousand years is the best part of the book, and shows all of Asimov’s strengths. Taken alone, each planet is a fun little adventure, but at the end you can look back and see the common themes emerging. It’s almost tsarnge how little role the Foundation itself plays in events here, being little more than a distant threat to stop our characters going home.

The final way of reading this book, as I have done in this reread, is as capstone to the entire Foundation saga. Dozens of various elements have been drawn togther, though in hindsight rather than looking forwards as earlier attempts to tie together the series did. Though there are inconsistencies, it is amazing how strong the overall future history is, and all of the callbacks feel earned. As well a sthe obvious visits to Spacer worlds, there are references to Pebble in the Sky, and Olivaw’s endeavours to prolong his lifespan echo the life of Andrew, the bicentennial man. While Olivaw’s ability to mastermind events across the Galaxy stretches credulity, it is in keeping with the thematic changes Asimov wrought in his later works, so I’m willing to give it something of a pass.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, only halfway through Hari Seldon’s Plan. In spite of this, and perhaps because of its age, the series doesn’t feel incomplete. It’s an open ending, which I suusally don’t like, but it is still a satisfying one. Everything is explained and justified, and there are answers to all our questions. It’s a very different universe to the one introduced all those books again, but still recognisably Asimov’s.

Looking back over the series as a whole, I’m happy to say it largely holds up for a modern reading. Some of the language and character portrayals are dated, but the ideas still hold their magic, and ideas are what Asimov did best. If you haven’t checked out this masterpiece of science fiction yet, you owe it to yourself to give it a look. And if you have read it, it’s never a bad time to give Asimov a second reading.

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