Top critical review
A good idea with only mediocre execution
on September 2, 2001
After the first few Foundation stories were published (those that ended up collected in the "novels" called Foundation, and Foundation and Empire), Asimov stated that he couldn't write any more stories in the series because with the Seldon Plan in motion, everything was already determined. Importantly, it should be noted that the Plan was not about establishing a Second Empire after the fall of the first, but only reducing the time between those Empires (and therefore, reducing the amount of strife and hardship). To continue the series, Asimov had to create crises to be resolved.
The first crisis was the attack of the Mule, which followed the idea that one powerful man might be able to alter the course of history, or at least disrupt the Plan. This was the equivalent of introducing a Genghis Khan, Alexander, or Napoleon. It's a matter of debate whether they actually altered the course of history (e.g., they don't speak Macedonian in Iran, or Mongolian in Russia), so the Mule's disruption would be one of timing, not the ultimate establishment of the Second Empire. Thus, the series rested for 20 years.
By its nature, technological advances cannot be imagined by more "primitive" scientific societies, and this is the crisis that sets up this novel, Foundation's Edge. Just as our great political philosphers of the 19th century could not have predicted nuclear weapons, Hari Seldon could not predict the technological advance of the First Foundation. Thus, some of the Foundation's leaders decide the time has come to dispense with the Plan, and by extension the Second Foundation. This is an intriguing setup, and like all of Asimov's works, you are quickly drawn into the story and immediately get to know the characters intimately. It centres around an exile - Trevize - sent out by the leader of the 1st Foundation as a "lightning rod" to try to flush out the Second Foundation. Naturally, the Second Foundationers find out and take moves to stop it. Both Foundations are also concerned that the Plan is too precise - is there something/someone else guiding the plan for its own purposes?
Unfortunately, the story doesn't live up to its promise, or rather, the characters and specific situations don't. They just aren't as interesting or likeable as in other books written during the same few years - namely, the final two robot books (Robots and Empire and Robots of Dawn). It even suffers in comparison to Second Foundation, the immediately previous book in the Foundation series (written 20 years earlier). Thus, while interesting, and a must read for Foundation (and Asimov) fans, it's a little disappointing relative to his other works.