Tag Archives: Sociology

Asimov, Isaac: Foundation series

The Foundation series continues on from the Elijah Bailey series. The reason I call it a continuation of the series becomes apparent as one reads the books (too much of a spoiler to tell). If you go to Wikipedia, they will tell all. Having said that, their page carries quite an excellent description of the books along with analysis and links. For another in-depth analysis of Asimov’s work go to Wimmer & Wilkins’ blog. Asimov’s home page contains more general information about his life’s work.

Isaac Asimov brought fresh air into science fiction when he arrived on the scene in the 40’s. He wasn’t afraid of taking a hard look at the possible future of mankind based on what he knew of the day’s theories on sociology and psychology. The Foundation series is considered one of the most important contributions to the field of science fiction, a well-deserved opinion.


PRELUDE TO FOUNDATION (1988) AND FORWARD THE FOUNDATION (1993)

SciFi and Fantasy Art PRELUDE TO FOUNDATION by Slawek Wojtowicz
Cover for Polish Prelude to Foundation
by Slawek Wojtowicz

The Foundation series was started in the 1940’s, but for easier reading you should start with Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. In Prelude we meet Hari Sheldon, the inventor of psychohistory. Hari’s goal was to be able to predict the general future of humanity, and during a conference he presents his fledgling theory to fellow scientists on the planet Trantor. Unfortunately the Empiror finds Hari’s theories a threat and begin to persecute him. This makes it necessary for Hari to flee, and his flight takes him around Trantor. In Forward the story of how Hari develops his theory continues. Sadly for Hari, the people he loves die off (naturally and unnaturally). Hari refuses to give up and finally develops what ends up being called the Seldon Plan, a way to save the future of humankind.


FOUNDATION (1951) / FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE (1952) / AND SECOND FOUNDATION (1953)

Cover for Polish Prelude to Foundation
by Slawek Wojtowicz

After this introduction to the future Galactic Empire, The Foundation Trilogy with the books Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation, follow. These are Asimov’s first installments in the Foundation history. When you read these books, please keep in mind that the series was written well before Wikipedia or the internet came into existence. As such, they seem a bit dated. Some of the theory can be tedious, but the adventures and people we meet are quite fun. The titles are a dead give-away, so we know well ahead of time that the Foundation is bound to survive. But we know nothing about the road taken.

In Foundation and Empire the leaders of the Foundation has become corrupt. The internal strife that arises from that makes the organisation susceptible to “The Mule”. The Mule advances, conquering planet after planet, making the Empire deviate from Seldon’s plan. The Foundation does not have it in them to win over the Mule, and desperately some of the members begin seeking a rumoured Second Foundation.

The title Second Foundation kind of gives it away. In this novel we are going to discover the rumoured savior of the Empire while enjoying adventure, science and social interaction. The only way to kill the Mule is by allowing members of the Foundation to find members of the Second Foundation. But this also reveals the fact that there is a Second Foundation and that its nature is somewhat different to the First one’s. Herein lies the conflict.


Foundation’s Edge
by Michael Whelan

FOUNDATION’S EDGE (1982) AND FOUNDATION AND EARTH (1986)

And so we come to the two final books in the Foundation series: Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth. We meet Golan Trevize as main protagonist in both books. He is convinced the Second Foundation has survived the attempt to exterminate its members, and goes looking for them. His search brings him to many planets and finally to the ancient planets (no longer on any star-chart) of Solaria, Aurora and Melpomenia. Each journey brings Trevize closer to a conclusion that may or may not satisfy the reader. I felt ambiguous, and that seems to be the intent of the author.


  • 1966 –  Best All-time Novel Series Hugo Award for the Foundation series
  • 1983 –  Hugo Award for Best Novel for Foundation’s Edge
  • 1983 –  Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel for Foundation’s Edge
  • 1996 –  A 1946 Retro-Hugo for Best Novel of 1945 was given at the 1996 WorldCon to “The Mule“, the 7th Foundation story, published in Astounding Science Fiction

Asimov, Isaac: Elijah Bailey/Robot series

Isaac Asimov was my introduction to science fiction. I imagine he has been for a lot of people. The libraries here in Norway didn’t have a lot of fantasy/science fiction material in my youth. But there were a few robot anthologies with Isaac. I fell in love.

It’s incredible to me that Asimov began the Foundation series in 1942. I would begin my reading with the Robot series (Elijah Bailey series). These four books give the reader an excellent starting point for understanding Foundation: The Caves of SteelThe Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn, and Robots and Empire (these are links to Wikipedia so spoiler warning is necessary).

michael whelan_isaac asimov_the caves of steel.jpg

Michael Whelan – Caves of Steel

The Caves of Steel (1954) is the very beginning of the Foundation series. Far into the future (approx. 3000 years) mankind has discovered hyper-travel and has emigrated to the stars. Fifty planets, known as the Spacer worlds, have been terraformed and enjoy a low density of humans. Robots are used for labor intensive jobs. In the meantime Earth is over-populated and have passed laws against the use of robots. Elijah Bailey lives on Earth in one of the domed cities.

A Spacer ambassador has been found murdered outside his domicile. Elijah is forced to go work with his partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, a human-looking robot. Unfortunately one of things Elijah holds against Daneel is the fact that he looks just like the murder victim. On their journey of discovery they end up visiting the Spacer worlds.

Some of the themes Asimov explores in this combination of sci-fi and mystery are over-population, technology and prejudice.

The-Robots-Series-1

The Naked Sun (1957) brings us to the world of Solaria. Solaria is a planet where the population is kept at 20000 and robots serve the human population. In fact robots outnumber the humans greatly. This time the victim is a genetic specialist in the birthing center of the planet. On a planet where contact between people is kept at a minimum, we get a real locked-room mystery. Once again Elijah and Daneel need to solve the murder mystery.

In the Elijah books robots are for the most part treated as property and expected to do as their masters say. When Elijah calls the robot “Boy” it might be seen as Asimov’s way of breaching the topic of racism/slavery/prejudice. Asimov was agoraphobic and as such Solaria would probably be the exact opposite of his heaven. Elijah certainly has to struggle quite a deal with his own agoraphobia in this novel. We also get a look at the way we tend to make assumptions without enough information. The rest of Solaria just “knows” that Gladia has to be guilty of the crime, but Elijah is not as certain of that.

Daneel, Elijah and Giskard in hovercraft by Seabird

In The Robots of Dawn (1983) we once again meet Gladia from Solaria. She has settled on the planet Aurora. A roboticide has occurred and Elijah and Daneel need to find the killer. R. Jander Panell was another humaniform robot created by Han Fastolfe. The robots of Aurora are incredibly lifelike and their interaction with their humans can be quite intimate.

To aid in their investigation, Daneel and Elijah are assisted by another of Fastolfe’s creations, R. Giskard Reventlov. They discover that Jander was a member of Gladia’s staff. In fact, she considered him her husband. Some of the possibilities for motives are jealousy, power and greed. While Asimov’s Robot books are mysteries, they are also an exploration of sociological possibilities. The impact of technology (in this case robots) is one of Asimov’s recurrent themes. How far do we take technology or let technology take us? The Robots of Dawn is also very much about human relationships. How much do we let our urges, the taboos of society and our individualism steer our lives?

The Zeroth Law by Hera of Stockholm

Robots and Empire (1985) is the final book in the Elijah Bailey/Robot series. By this time Elijah has died and we encounter one of his descendants, Daneel Giskard. In it we get a step closer to Asimov’s Foundation series – a natural continuation of the Elijah/Robot’s series.

For most of the Spacer population Earth people are seen as vermin. They have been forbidden emigration to other planets and are forced to stay on over-populated, capped earth.

However, Earth people are overcoming their agoraphobia and are using faster-than-light transportation to get to planets away from the Spacer Empire. These “Settlers” see the Earth as something to revere. One of these Settlers is Daneel Giskard.

On a trade journey Daneel discovers that Solaria seems empty of humans. The robots are left, still working with their previously assigned jobs. Gladia Delmarre is still alive on Aurora and she is asked by Daneel to help figure out what has happened on Solaria. She brings R. Daneel and R. Giskard to aid in the investigation.

Once again Asimov explores the theme of technology and its effect on humans. The ending of Robots and Empire was quite touching and a fitting end to the Robot series. When you read the Foundation series, you will see just how Robots and Empire merges these two series. These books are a treat. While they are dated in some respects, their themes are incredibly relevant today.