Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Forward the Foundation is the second prequel to the Foundation Trilogy, yet the seventh and last book written in the series, literally right before Asimov’s death decades after he wrote the original trilogy. And I think it’s genius. Let me provide some perspective. I had heard of the Foundation trilogy for some time, of course, but when I finally read it, I was unimpressed. In fact, I thought the first two books were so poorly written, that the man clearly showed he had no clue of basic grammatical concepts, such as transitions, and writing devices, such as plot and character development. And his dialogue was atrocious! Since then, I’ve read a lot of Asimov, including many of his later works and have concluded that he grew and matured as a writer. He learned how to use transitions. He learned a little bit about plot and character development. He never did learn how to write dialogue that wasn’t wooden, stilted, overly formal, inauthentic, and just plain stupid, but no one’s perfect. When I picked up his fourth book, I loved it. Thought it was brilliant. So I bought the “last one,” the fifth, and hated it because of the nonstop sniping and bitching between two of the characters on every page of the book. I didn’t even finish it.
So it was with some trepidation that I picked up the first prequel a few weeks ago, the sixth book, Prelude to Foundation, where we meet Hari Seldon and his companions and learn about the beginnings of psychohistory and I was struck by how good it was. I loved it! And I thought the ending was spectacular. So I picked this book up, the seventh and last book – but the alleged “second” in the series – that is meant to be read last and just finished reading it a few days ago. I’m only now getting around to writing this review because I’ve had to let thoughts percolate for a few days.
Forward the Foundation covers a hell of a lot of ground and it has to if it wants to tie in with the first Foundation novel. Because of that, the book is divided into five parts, each concerned with a major character – and Hari – and each taking us one decade further in Hari’s life. These parts are of Eto Demerzel, Cleon I, Dors Venabili, Wanda Seldon, and an epilogue.
The first part of the book starts when Hari is turning 40 – 40! – and he and his colleague, Yugo Amaryl, are working to improve psychohistory so that one day it can help foretell future probabilities and create a second Galactic Empire after the fall of the Empire they currently live in. Demerzel is the emperor’s First Minister and a very interesting individual. We meet him in the previous novel and he turns out to be Hari’s champion. Unfortunately, there’s an opposition leader who’s gathering populist support in an effort to unseat him and take his position and Demerzel can see his days are numbered. Even as Demerzel defeats this challenger, saving his position, he gives it up by turning in his notice to the emperor and naming Hari as his successor, much to Hari’s horror. Demerzel then disappears.
The second part of the book has to deal with Hari at age 50 and as acting First Minister to the emperor. An early attempt is made on his life and Dors, his wife and protector, saves his life. She doesn’t have the most pleasant personality and is kind of a little too focused, but she’s extremely devoted. Meanwhile, Hari continues to devote time to the research and pursuit of psychohistory. During this time, it seems the empire is crumbling. Infrastructure is decaying, money is disappearing, fringe planets are fleeing the empire, rebellions are fomenting, and the opposition party from the first part still exists. Hari hears rumors of this and, rather stupidly, convinces his now grown son, Raych, to go to Wye to infiltrate and report back. What he doesn’t expect is for his son to be recognized and to be used as an assassin to kill Hari. At the section’s climactic end, two things happen. Raych raises his gun and points it at Hari, as does as second assassin, and a female undercover agent who Raych took as a lover blows the other assassin away, saving Hari’s life while Raych is overcome. However, shots are heard and elsewhere on the property, the emperor lies dead at the hands of the new chief gardener, who didn’t want his promotion. The empire is about to disintegrate.
In the next chapter, titled Dors, Hari and Yugo and a huge team of scientists and historians have made substantial progress in psychohistory. But Hari is getting old. He’s now 60 and feels it. The government is run by a military junta and things have fallen apart. Hari has landed back at the old university he used to teach at. Raych has married that agent and has had a young daughter, Wanda, now eight, and another small child. Wanda has had a bad dream just in time for a three day birthday party celebration thrown in Hari’s honor. She’s dreamed he’s going to die, be killed. She overhears two men talking about it. No one takes her seriously. Except for Dors. Who starts questioning people. And questions a new, young supergenius mathematician, who has been instrumental in bringing psychohistory along. She confronts him and he levels some accusations against her, and attempts to kill her, weakening her greatly before she somehow kills him first. She reaches Hari, tells him the story and dies in his arms. It’s tragic.
In the Wanda section, Hari is now 70. His friend, Yugo, has died at a young age from overwork. His friend Demerzel is no longer with him. Dors is dead. Psychohistory is in danger of dying out due to lack of funding. The empire is nearly dead. Crime and anarchy are everywhere. Hari is attacked multiple times. On one occasion, Raych saves him. On another, a young researcher named Palver saves him and becomes his bodyguard. Wanda is growing up and is obsessed with psychohistory. And it appears she has some interesting mental powers. These intrigue Hari. See, he has some ideas about something he calls a Foundation. Or rather, two Foundations. To save the galaxy. With Wanda’s help, they encounter more mentalists, including Palver, and these people form the foundation of the people who will become the Second Foundationers. But Raych and his family, minus Wanda, move to another planet, saying goodbye to Hari forever. Now Hari has been abandoned by virtually everyone he has ever cared for in his life at this stage in his life. He feels old and helpless. Yet he must plug on. However, by the end of this section, Wanda and Palver leave Hari too, to go in search of others like them, to form a Foundation for the future of psychohistory and the galaxy. Hari is now truly alone.
The epilogue is quite short, just a couple of pages. Hari is 81. He has recorded his holograms for the First Foundation crises he foresees. Psychohistory has done all it can do and he has too. Everyone has been taken from him. The last thing we see is his seeing his life’s work, Foundation, Dors! And he is found slumped dead over his desk. It’s so fucking sad, I literally cried. I know there’s hope in Wanda and the two Foundations, but this book was so bleak and so sad, and yet so essential to the creation of the Foundation Trilogy, it was impossible not to read and understand and engage. But, damn, was it depressing! But, well done. Well done. Of course, the big secret about Dors comes as no surprise to anyone, but that’s okay. And not only was it sad to see Raych and his family leave, but to find that he is killed in a rebellion on his new planet while his wife and youngest child are lost forever on a starship that is never found. Hari’s tragedies. He dedicates his whole life to psychohistory and his fellow man and loses everything in the process. It’s a fucking tragedy. As is the case with all Asimov books, I’m not sure this merits five stars, due in part to poor dialogue, at a minimum. But I think I can overlook that in this case. It was an excellent book. Five stars. Recommended, but not as the second prequel. Instead, read it as the seventh and last book of the Foundation series to gain the greatest understanding as to what’s going on. Most definitely recommended.
2 thoughts on “A Review of Forward The Foundation”
Sounds like a real tear jerker. 😦
It really was. Massively so.
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