Top positive review
My personal favorite of the Foundation series
on September 6, 2003
I've tried reading some of the newer SF authors and some of them, especially in the last several years, have turned out to be surprisingly excellent. Nevertheless I keep returning to the old masters with whom I grew up.
You know which three. Just so you know where I'm coming from: I've always been primarily a Heinlein fan and Asimov was a close second; although I've read Clarke I never really got into him too much. (Among SF writers since that time, my main loyalties have been to Spider Robinson and James Hogan, and among the _really_ recent ones I've been especially impressed by China Mieville, Richard Morgan, Neal Stephenson, and Robert Sawyer.)
Of the big three, Asimov undoubtedly had the highest literary output as measured in sheer wordage. I've been of the opinion for several years now that the only reason the Good Doctor stopped writing is that somebody went and told him he'd died. I have my own views about what parts of his output were of the highest quality, but there's little doubt that the Foundation series (not a "trilogy"; it was originally published as a series of short stories and novellas) is among his best known.
(He's also known, of course, for his famous robot stories. Long before the current generation of cyberwriters started screaming mouthlessly and crashing snowily, Asimov was writing compelling tales of mechanical intelligence on the presumption that such technology was on _our_ side. And like Heinlein -- and with just as little credit among modern writers -- he anticipated the recent explosion in information technology. For Heinlein, see especially _Friday_; for Asimov, drop by Trantor and visit the Galactic Library.)
He had secured his place in SF history fifty years before his death. But (again like Heinlein) he spent some of his later years tying up his better-known works into one big future-history package (including not only his Foundation stories but also his robot stories and his Galactic Empire novels). I think he did this more successfully than even Heinlein did.
This one -- _Foundation's Edge_ -- was his first return to the world of the Foundation stories after some thirty years. In it, he began to address a big fat problem he had left at the end of the original series of tales: how come the First Foundation bought so easily into the fabrication that the Second Foundation had really been defeated and dismantled, when in fact it hadn't?
Now, I have to say at once that purely _as_ a Foundation novel, this one probably isn't the most satisfying of the bunch. In fact both _Prelude to Foundation_ and _Forward the Foundation_, (excellent novels both, by the way) include _much_ more interesting Foundation-y stuff. But the very points that make this one weak as a Foundation novel also make it strong as an SF novel.
You see, it's hard to write really engaging novels about Hari Seldon's science of psychohistory, because the science itself is supposed to be statistical and to work only in the abstract with large masses of human beings. That fact means that a good psychohistory tale is bound to focus on broad historical forces at the expense of individual character development. Indeed, even in the original series of stories, Asimov had to introduce a radical departure from the Seldon Plan (via the Mule) in order to generate a really compelling human-interest tale.
This novel is probably among Asimov's best in terms of character development. That's one of the reasons I like it best as a novel; it's probably that I tend to empathize with the rebellious Golan Trevize (and to some extent with the equally mavericky Stor Gendibal) and to enjoy hopping around the galaxy with these guys nearly as much as with Lazarus Long.
Unfortunately that's also why it doesn't advance the ball much as far as Foundation history is concerned. _Prelude_ and _Forward_ are filled to the brim with scientific research, Imperial intrigue, and cool plot twists; this one is more of a character piece. It's not that nothing interesting or significant happens; far from it. It's just that the cool stuff mostly doesn't involve the outworking of the Seldon Plan.
At any rate, the Good Doctor was an expert at telling an engaging tale and keeping the reader involved until the very end. I, at least, have found this to be one of his most unputdownable (and the two Foundation prequels are darned close).
I didn't like _Foundation and Earth_ as well (and I'm not sure Asimov served the series terribly well by trying to tie in all the robot stuff), but I hope it returns to print so that I can buy a replacement copy.