I finished reading Asimov’s Foundation Saga yesterday, and truth is, it has blown my mind. The sheer number of characters, worlds, plot-lines, and events dotted throughout the entire saga is insane. Science fiction doesn’t get any better than this.
Having a story that spans over half a millennium inadvertently led to tons of characters being introduced and cast away. I think what really stood out for me here is that the individual really is powerless, and effectively irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. What one person does can’t ever impact what larger social and economic forces will eventually do. The best example here is the collapse of the empire’s effort to encircle and besiege the Foundation, regardless of the main characters of the time who tried to play their parts as heroes but later realized they have no position within Seldon’s timeline.
I really wanted Asimov to dive deeper into how psychohistory works. We really don’t know anything, apart from the fact that the prime radiant is the single most important tool available to the Second Foundation, and that it’s a predictive science. The only semblance of ‘work’ we have is people like Yugo Amaryl and Seldon staying locked in their offices almost the entire time (with the story detailing what happens when they’re not working). Another thing that I really didn’t get was the contrast between the Trantor we see at the start of the first Foundation book, and the Trantor we see at the end of the second prequel series book. Foundation started off with depicting Trantor as this colossal metallic world, technologically advanced and densely populated with vibrant civilians. However, the Trantor we see at the end of Forward the Foundation is a bleak, dull world with no semblance of life. A world stumbling in its own steps. In fact, the entire premise of the first book was that the glory of Trantor would be tarnished with time and large forces, but the second prequel presents an already worn out Trantor. Lastly, I really don’t see how the empire’s “slow” disintegration into barbarism takes place over a single lifetime. While the Foundation grows strong over hundreds of years, the entire galactic empire splits apart within a maximum of fifty years. Weird.
However, the entire saga clearly had its highs. I absolutely loved Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. Here are some of my favorite moments from the entire saga:
- Bayta Darell shoots Ebling Mis/Reveals the Mule’s identity – Maybe the most well-executed twist I’ve ever seen in writing. Executed to perfection, such that every single event that occurred before seemed to fall into place and conform to this obvious pattern everyone missed. What struck me even more was the Mule leaving Bayta free of being manipulated by his psychic powers simply because she was the first person in his life who genuinely showed caring for him. Powerful. I think what Asimov meant to convey here was that emotions can play a huge role too in any story. Succeeded to some extent.
- The Mule finally conquers Terminus – I really adore the twist that comes with Seldon’s recording being not even remotely close to what’s actually happening. It’s utterly shocking, and after two books which kept Seldon and his psychohistory as the bedrock of the entire story, pretty impactful too. Really just conveys the gravity of the situation, and how big a threat the Mule is.
- Seldon’s hearing – Seldon vs Trantor, or rather the Empire is entertaining. It’s a classic play on those science versus politics debates we still have today. Seldon’s assertion of how “Scientific Truth is beyond loyalty or disloyalty” is also pretty chilling.
- The Mule’s showdown with the Second Foundation – I enjoyed this entire scene just for the thrill it provided. Psychic powers versus psychic powers was pretty eventful. Really caught my attention. Every person trying to double cross the other and control the situation as per his plan, and every single move turning out to be part in a different person’s setup, so much so that even the reader didn’t know who was who until the Mule was defeated. However, I was a bit shocked by how the Second Foundation sacrificed the people of an entire planet just to defeat the Mule.
- The Second Foundation’s location is revealed – I think this is the zenith of the entire saga. Everything really just falls down from here. At this point, everyone is wondering whether the Second Foundation is located at Terminus, Trantor, or another obscure world in an infinitesimally large galaxy. I sort of spoiled it for myself by flipping through the first book, and realizing how Seldon told Gaal Dornick that some would stay behind for another purpose. The part of this entire reveal that really struck me wasn’t the reveal itself, but how Trantor is the place where the “Stars end,” which is quite poetic and somewhat stunning. Brought out some nostalgia as well.
- Salvor Hardin subdues Anacreon – Liked this thing simply because of the way Hardin brought an entire empire to its knees using the wonder of science, or rather the dependency of an entire empire on it. A bit like Rick bringing down the value of the galactic currency to null.
- Foundation’s Ending – The dialogue about the sun and spear was brilliant. Really put the notion of this ant that the Foundation was at the point facing the mammoth that was the empire, set the tone perfectly for the second book in the series (admittedly this drops off a bit at the start of the second book). I view this entire thing as a giant octopus unfurling its tentacles.
What I loved about the saga was the fact that it explored nearly every facet of human existence, and the sheer quality of science fiction it had. Countless characters; degrading and improving technology; falling and rising galactic empires.