Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Well, what do you know? Asimov CAN actually write a decent book! I’m literally shocked! After reading the absolute disasters that the first two Foundation books were in terms of both plot and writing (the writing was atrocious, along the lines of a young high schooler with a couple of years of English classes under his belt at best), I was convinced that Asimov’s incredible reputation was completely fraudulent and I was curious how he or his publishers had pulled it off. This book helped repair that image to a certain degree in my eyes. In this book, it’s apparent that Asimov might have actually taken a college English class or two, maybe even a writing class, in between writing the previous Foundation books and this one, because he has now learned the meaning of the word “transitions,” something he had previously never heard of. It’s still not his strong point and I suspect it never will be, but at least he can now string a few sentences and paragraphs together in English without sounding like a total idiot. He’s also learned a little bit more about character development, not enough, but much more than he ever displayed in the previous Foundation books. That’s a bit of a relief. Furthermore, after almost completely ignoring women as characters in the previous books, particularly the first one, a couple play prominent roles in this book, particularly one young teenage girl who plays a very strong role in the second half of this novel. Refreshing. Maybe he’s not a total chauvinist pig after all. I suspect he is, but maybe he’s trying to overcome that to some small degree.
Second Foundation is the third book in the original Foundation trilogy, given the one time Hugo award for the best sci fi/fantasy trilogy series of all time, beating out Lord of the Rings, among others. That continues to astound me, as I can find no rational explanation for that. Nonetheless, the series is held in high regard by many. The first book centered around one Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian in the far distant Galactic Empire which is crumbling and he knows it, so he sets about mathematically sort of telling the future and developing a plan to put together a second Empire within 1,000 years and to do so, he establishes two Foundation worlds on opposite ends of the galaxy to prepare for this. The first Foundation is comprised of physical scientists who deal mostly with nuclear energy and who go on to dominate the worlds around them, creating their own small empire. They are destroyed by a mutant called the “Mule” in the second novel. The second Foundation is made up of psychologists who have developed mind control techniques similar to the Mule’s own abilities and who are determined to remain hidden and follow the Seldon Plan no matter what.
This book is divided into two halves. In the first half, five years after the Mule has conquered the first Foundation, he is ready to seek out and find and conquer the second Foundation and for that he sends his general Hans Pritcher with an accomplice in search of it. And it seems they find it. And the Mule shows up hot on their tail, seeking to confront the First Speaker of the Second Foundation, only to find more than he bargains for. It’s a pretty cool scene. In the second half of the book, 50 years have gone by and the First Foundation has now become convinced that the Second Foundation is their real enemy, for some bizarre reason, so they’re paranoid and groups of them are searching for the location of the Second Foundation. Meanwhile, the Mule’s replacement warlord on a nearby planet decides he wants to conquer the first Foundation and prepares to attack. A 14 year old Foundation girl, Arcadia Darell, stows away on a ship bound for his planet with a family friend being sent there presumably to study the Mule for academic purposes, but actually to spy for Second Foundation evidence. Arkady becomes friendly with the leader’s mistress, who helps her escape when war is imminent, and she leaves for Trantor, where she is “saved” by a farmer and his wife, who take her in and take care of her, particularly after they find out about the war between Kalgan and Foundation. Her father, and some friends, are leading the war effort, but they’ve also been leading in the secret fight against the Second Foundation, so when Arkady finds out the location of the Second Foundation, somehow, somewhat miraculously, she convinces her farmer protector to fly to Foundation and take food to aid the Foundation people and to tell her father five words that he would be able to interpret and would enable him to know where the Second Foundation is located. The things that follow are enough to make anyone’s head spin, because there are so many twists and turns and stops and starts and crazy things happen and you get to what you think is a happy conclusion, only to find there’s one more chapter, and with it, perhaps an even better conclusion. Great ending to a meh series. This is probably a five star book, but I can’t bring myself to give it five stars because I’m still so ticked off at how utterly bad and horrible the preceding book was, a one star book, and at how fairly bad the first book was, and at how overrated this whole series is. I’m also astonished at what I think is Asimov’s lack of sci fi foresight. Even writing as far back as he did, he still should have been able to predict some technology advances better than he did. Philip K. Dick was writing at the same time and did a much better job, on the whole, than Asimov did. For instance, this is what, 30,000, 50,000 years in the future, and people are still reading hard copy newspapers when they get out of their space ships? Seriously? In his books, microfilm is about as high tech as digital storage gets. Nuclear energy and power 50,000 years in the future is the pinnacle of scientific advancement and civilization. Obviously, it never occurred to Asimov that maybe, just maybe, humanity might have advanced beyond the nuclear era sometime over the next 50,000 years. It’s utterly mind boggling how devoid of sci fi ideas he was. And he was a scientist. That’s the thing that really gets me. I’ve got to say that in my opinion, he’s got to be the most overrated writer in the history of humanity, with 500 books to his credit, yet displaying very little imagination on the whole, total male chauvinism throughout his career, complete lack of sci fi technological foresight, his total obsession with Multivac in his short stories, the one and only world wide computer that is hundreds of miles big. He can’t even comprehend desktop computers. He takes a stab at palmtops, but can’t even come up with laptops or cell phones or email or the Internet or anything cooler than that that might turn up 100, 1,000, 10,000 years from now. No imagination. Where did he get his reputation from? He was pretty original with his robots, but after his first robot story or two, it got pretty repetitive and he spent half of his future stories rehashing the Laws and everything they implied. Boring. This book was good and I enjoyed it and for that I was glad. I’d like to give it a higher score, but in my opinion, the Foundation series is at best a three star trilogy, so at best, this is a four star book. Whatever the case, this book, at least, is recommended, unlike the others.