* Prices may differ from that shown
With Isaac Asimovs death it was reasonable to assume that the Foundation saga, a series of novels that began with the first groundbreaking Foundation Trilogy, was finally over however the temptation to write follow ups was too great for his estate. In the late 90s three successful Sci-fi writers Gregory Benford, Greg Bear and David Brin were employed to carry on Asimovs series. The original trilogy comprises 'Foundation', 'Foundation and Empire' and 'Second Foundation' and decades later Asimov added 'Foundations Edge', 'Foundation and Earth', 'Prelude to Foundation' and 'Forward the Foundation'.
Foundation and Chaos is the second of this Second Foundation Trilogy and in essence it is a sort of prequel to the original story. The Second Trilogy also includes Foundations Fear (previously reviewed) and Foundations Triumph
In the original trilogy humanity has stretched out over the known universe and a vast galactic empire has been formed. The Empire is all-powerful, a huge economic and military power that has provided security and wealth for all its citizens for millennia. But this is far from Utopia, corruption has reached the very highest layers in society. The early signs of trouble are there but it is difficult for anyone to imagine that such as strong political regime can be threatened.
On Trantor the capital planet of the empire one man an enlightened thinker and mathematician (mathist) Hari Seldon has developed a new science called Psychohistory, which is able to predict human action by ignoring human individuality but instead treating it as a mathematical model based on the collective action of population masses. Using this new predictive science Seldon has made a horrific discovery. The Empire will fall and a catastrophic dark age will follow. The Trilogy tells of how Seldon and his followers try to avert this Dark Age using psychohistory to guide their actions.
Although Hari Seldon has the creator of Psychohistory is the pivotal figure of the original trilogy he doesnt feature very much directly. Asimov tells us little of Seldons life or how he came to create this new science. For fans this has always been a tantalising mystery and most thought that with the death of Asimov it was to remain so.
THE SECOND TRILOGY
Foundation and Chaos sees Hari Seldon older and out of favour with the new ruling elite. His predictive Psychohistory, now almost fully developed is seen as deeply subversive and he finds himself on trial for treason. After a period as the empires first minister Seldon now finds himself marginalized by the new Emperor and the power behind the throne the enigmatic head of the sinister Commission of Public Safety, Chen Linge the true power in the Empire. Adding to Seldons problems is the emergence of a power struggle between different secret robotic factions on Trantor. The Giskardians also known as the mythical Ancients lead by R. Daneel Olivaw have attempted to expand the basic law or robotics from the original three to favour including by including the Zeroth law that allow Robots to cause harm to humans if this action lead to a wider benefit for humanity. Another group the Calvinian prefer to adhere strictly to the three original laws as devise by Susan Calvin in the ancient past. Both groups also have to content with the emergence of mentalist, humans that have great mental power able to persuade, manipulate or even kill by the power of thought. But this is not all an ambitious politician is now attempting to hunt down both mentalics and Robots in order to advance his own career. All this could spell disaster for Seldon and his plan and even he begins to doubt the very premise that a mathematical theory alone can help save human civilisation.
WHATS IT LIKE?
After reading the first instalment of this second trilogy I was slightly, very slightly disappointed. The first book Foundations Fear was very ambitious book but ultimately failed to capture the inventiveness and excitement of Asimovs original. It tended to get bogged down in too much philosophising and intricate detail. However this second novel could not be more different. It was a joy to read and fairly un-put-downable. I suppose in a sense it was an easier book to write since it build upon much of what was set up in the first instalment and so could avoid the detailed explanation of the struggle within the empire, but even taking this into account I found Greg Bears style much more accessible.
The story is still very complex, there are plenty of mysterious characters and you are never quite sure where the story takes you. Part mystery, part conspiracy, part old school sci-fi this book had me gripped from the very first few pages when an entire solar system is destroyed by a super nova and millions of inhabitants die.
Ostensibly this is the story of Hari Seldon and his trial although Seldon is in the centre of the plot machinations at all times, there are plenty of other great characters that take centre stage. For the real science buffs there is plenty of techie detail as Bear convincingly takes us through hyperspace travel, wormholes and light-speed technology. We also find out more than ever before about the robots and how they originated within the context of the empire. Of course the robots first appeared in another Asimov series begun with I Robot and the Elijah Bailey mysteries Caves Of Steel and The Naked Sun but this history is unknown to the Empire since the timeline is so far further into the future that the existence of robots is now just a myth and event he location or existence of Earth has been forgotten. Bear fills in the gap and explains how the robots came to be divided and how their influence on humanity is still ever-present even though it is unseen and unknown.
One of Asimovs strengths in the original foundation stories was his description of the political struggles and manoeuvring that inevitably permeated through the vast Galactic Empire. Asimov was a master at constructing seemingly impossible situations for characters to deal with and then coming up with a logical and yet almost unpredictable solution. Bear manages the same level of Machiavellian plotting. The character of Chen Linge a cold calculating political operator that is ruthless in controlling his grip on the Empire is a great creation and the sparring between him and Seldon is one of the highlights of the story.
At just over 400 pages Foundation and Chaos is quite a bit shorter than Foundations Fear and is better for it. It seems to draw a fine balance between being an intriguing mystery, an action packed adventure and good old-fashioned Space Opera in a grand style and so I would guess manages to please very many different types of readers.
If you come to the series without knowing any of the original stories then you would still find these enjoyable but I would urge any uninitiated reader to first read at least the original trilogy and possibly the first sequel 'Foundations Edge' as well as at least the first I robot collection, you will get so much more from this second trilogy having this basic background. There are numerous references to episodes in both the original foundation and robot stories and for the first time apart from Seldon Himself we come across characters such as Gaal Dornick who play a major part of the Asimov trilogy.
I hadnt read any of Greg Bears previous work but I was quickly impressed with his writing style and storytelling skills. I would guess he has a science background and makes the future science included in the book awe inspiring but not incredible always a difficult thing to do in this genre. Although not particularly detailed the characterisation is effective and with Seldon especially we empathise greatly with the great man now much older coming to the end of his life. I would certainly consider investigating other works by Bear on the evidence of this book.
Foundation and Chaos is a triumph for Bear in and a great addition to the Foundation world. By the end we have a much clearer picture of where Psychohistory will lead us and tantalisingly introduces us to roots of concepts about human mutations and the unpredictability of predictions based on mathematical models that played such a huge and entertaining part in Asimovs trilogy. For such a fast paced and thrilling book we are also faced with some examination on the essence of humanity and the problems that we might face when Artificial intelligence becomes so advanced that it has evolved to be essentially human.
At the end of this novel although a lot is resolved we are left in no doubt that the success of the Seldon plan is still on a knife hedge cue the third instalment Foundations Triumph but thats another story, which I very much look forward to reading.
Foundation and Chaos (paperback 448 pages published by Orbit- ISBN: 1857237366) can be bought at Amazon.co.uk for £5.59 + (p&p)
Thank you for reading and rating this review.
© Mauri 2005
Isaac Asimov's Foundation series is known to millions of readers throughout the world. Before he died, however, he made it clear that there were areas he had not explored. Greg Bear now takes up that challenge and an epic story of galactic intrigue and incredible science takes a staggering new twist. Hari Seldon's life's work is about to come to an end. The science of psychohistory he has developed can be refined no more, and the plans for the Foundation, which will steer mankind through the dark centuries ahead, are complete. But it may all be for nothing if the political factions on Trantor succeed in destroying Hari's work. Accused of treason against the Galactic Empire, the most important trial of all time is about to begin.