Foundation's Edge by Asimov, Isaac, 1982
Apocryphal stories about the two concluding books of Foundation by Asimov abound on the net, and most people who are interested enough to have clicked on a link to come here probably know them all already. Suffice it to say that Foundation's Edge is the first of the last four Foundation books that Asimov wrote, though there are approximately a half-dozen other books by a variety of authors. It is set four hundred plus years after the time of Seldon, and a couple of hundred years after the time of the Mule. The Foundation has endured the legacy of the Mule, and has put itself back together after his death as the Saxe-Coburg house did after the time of William the Conqueror; though with the unseen hand of the Second Foundation guiding them from behind the heavy curtain of mental control. As the Foundation again asserted its influence and technological mastery over the galaxy, one councilman in Terminus, Golan Trevize, stirred up controversy and was labeled a seditionist because he thought that the Second Foundation survived the war with the Mule. In fact Trevize was right, and the government of Terminus suspected that he was right too. Because of a burst of popular approval following the resolution of the latest Seldon Crisis, the mayor succeeded in banishing Trevize by concocting a mission for him; he was to explore the galaxy with an historian named Pelorat who sought the mythical home of mankind: Earth. While searching for Earth Trevize was told to keep an eye open for evidence of the Second Foundation, and if he heard or saw anything that the Mayor would want to know about, she would consider allowing him back to Terminus. Until then she wanted him gone as he represented a potential rallying point for the countervailing political viewpoint, and was an opinionated pain in the butt otherwise.
Despite the fact that decades had passed between Asimov's last SF novel and this one (he had written some non-related short stories, I think) it is hard to see any big differences in the author's style. I have always complained that Asimov was stilted, boring and a stuck-up sounding, and sadly none of that has changed. As a leading proponent of the Golden Age of SF that was in full flower in the late 30's, Asimov was clearly stuck back in that time, with that voice, at least as it applied to his character's traits and his narrative tone. Upon the Mayor's order that Trevize be given a ship and pointed away from Terminus:
Trevize searched his mind rapidly and finally said with a smile that he very much hoped looked unforced, "The time may come, Madam Mayor, when you will ask me for an effort. I will then do as I choose, but I will remember the past two days."
Mayor Branno sighed. "Spare me the melodrama. If the time comes, it will come, but for now - I am asking for nothing.
Maybe itís just my own prejudice, but I imagined Asimov preparing for this book by watching some WWII news reels or something like that, so as to get into the proper mood to write this WWII era story:
The connections with the Outer Worlds, from which Trantor obtained the resources it required, depended upon its thousand spaceports, its ten thousand warships, its hundred thousand merchant ships, its million space freighters.
Then again, as with just about every other Asimov piece I have ever read, just as I had decided that I was reading my grandfather's SF, Asimov saved the day and gave some intense, incredible, easily visualized awesomeness:
No city so vast was ever recycled so tightly. No planet in the Galaxy had ever made so much use of solar power or went to such extremes to rid itself of waste heat. Glittering radiators stretched up into the thin upper atmosphere upon the nightside and were withdrawn into the metal city on the dayside. As the planet turned, the radiators rose as night progressively fell around the world and sank as day progressively broke. So Trantor always had an artificial asymmetry that was almost its symbol.
What really worked well here was the plot of the book. It was really excellently conceived, and Asimov was even fuller of ideas than usual. Foundation's Edge is a SF novel, but it's also a mystery and espionage novel too. Asimov has always reveled in the swings of fortune that he threw at the Foundation. It always seemed to me that Asimov enjoyed tearing down more than building up. Consider: there were only five original short stories about the Foundation building its influence. The following four longer stories were all about tossing wrenches into the Seldon Plan. This book is no different, and in fact he introduced an even more powerful adversary than the Second Foundation. And despite the problem noted above, itís terrific.
While searching for Earth Trevize and Pelorat tracked down and visited a planet called Gaia. It turns out that this planet was the original home of the Mule, and the epicenter of a global consciousness. Citizens of Gaia were highly skilled mind readers and had powers that dwarfed that of the Second Foundation. They had reached the full flower of their culture; Gaia was one mind, though the people were still individuals. They could easily control the minds of normal humans, but they needed a special skill of Trevize's. For some reason he and he alone has the unique ability to achieve a state of perfect surety about things. Gaia wishes to bring the rest of the galaxy into their peaceful commune, but to begin expanding on their own and force the rest of the galaxy planet by planet to accept their gifts is beyond their abilities. So they fully inform Trevize about what it is Gaia has to offer, and lets him make the decision. Unfortunately this gift was never explained. It was just something that the Second Foundation spies had "noticed" about Trevize, and once revealed the rest of the characters just took it for granted. Asimov may have hinted at some genetic or evolutionary reason for the gift, but neglected to clearly share it with the readers.
Other than that, Asimov did a fine job tying up loose ends, and with all the other technical issues that arise in the penning of a SF novel, both literary and with the sciences in the book. I doubt that I am ever going to read an Asimov book that really moves me, though I have to say that despite the obvious problems I do find it easy to get into them. There is a reason that this guy is a grandmaster, after all.
Copyright © 2009, Gregory Tidwell