* Prices may differ from that shown
Having reviewed the first two instalments of this continuation of Asimovs Foundation series I was always going to get around to reviewing the third and last book Foundations Triumph written by David Brin.
Three successful Sci-fi writers Gregory Benford, Greg Bear and David Brin with the blessing of the Asimov estate wrote the three books that make up this second Foundation Trilogy. 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'.
Foundations Triumph is the third of this Second Foundation Trilogy, which in essence it is a sort of prequel to the original story. The Second Trilogy also includes Foundations Fear and Foundation and Chaos
In order to get a background to these books it is worth knowing something of the original trilogy. 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
Foundations Triumph being the last book in the series tries to tie up all the different threads from the first two novels and answer all the question posed there and by Asimovs original stories. Once again Hari Seldon is our hero. Now much older and confined to a wheel chair he is really waiting die having done all he can to prevent human civilization degenerating into millennia or disorder and violence however even now he has doubts as to the effectiveness of his plan. Seldons great discovery the predictive method of Psychohistory might still be derailed by unseen factors indeed was Psychohistory ever meant to be a final solution or was it merely a tool employed by other unseen forces in the universe to further their own ideas of what kind of future humanity should have.
In the previous novels we came across secret sects of robots that followed different philosophies as to how to conform to the basic Laws of Robotics (first outlined by Asimov in I Robot) that ensure the primacy of human life over that of robots. The most powerful of these groups is led by R. Daneel Olivaw who attempted to expand the basic law or robotics from the original three to include the Zeroth law that allow Robots to cause harm to humans if this action lead to a wider benefit for humanity. All these groups are still active and engaged in an unseen power struggle.
However there are other mysteries surrounding human civilisation and these are brought vividly back to Hari when a young bureaucrat contacts him about soil samples from different planets in the empire. What at first seems a mildly amusing distraction for Hari ends up high adventure as Hari and his companion travel across the galaxy trying to find the truth behind the empire and humanitys sustained existence.
WHATS IT LIKE?
This is probably the most ambitious of the three books and because of this the clarity and pace of the story suffer a little. Brin deals with questions that were originally posed by Asimovs stories, Why has humanity become so successful over the last 40 millennia expanding throughout the known galaxy and yet it has never encountered alien life form on more than 25 million colonised worlds? Also why if the Galactic Empire has been around for almost 20 thousands years has there been little if any technological advancement in all that time? Why is brain fever an infection that only affects a certain part of the population of above average intelligence endemic through the galactic population? Why was Earth abandoned and now all but forgotten by the empire?
In addition to these problems, which we can trace back to Asimovs writing Brin and his co-authors gives us the idea of Chaos as an inevitable human state. By their definition chaos will inevitably affect all human populations that try and advance their cultural and technological boundaries. Even within the stability of the Empire planets will go through periods referred to as renaissance characterised by an age of swift technological and cultural development and usually as reaction against the conservative values of the Empire. But in all cases the outcome is an implosion of their society into panic violence and eventual decline.
Is Chaos a fatal flaw of the human spirit as inevitable as human curiosity and inventiveness or is there another explanation for these phenomena? In answering this final question Brin draws together threads from all the Asimov stories, the Robot series, the previous Foundation series and some other novels such as Currents of Space and Pebble in the Sky which where set in the fledging Galactic Empire.
This is truly Sci-fi on a grand scale. Intelligent philosophical questions are posed along with fast paced adventure, conspiracy theories and good old classic space Opera. The style and pacing werent as good as Greg Bears splendid contribution Foundation and Chaos but was good enough to keep me hooked to the story. One slight criticism I would have was a habit on Brins part to repeat himself throughout the text, maybe from a conscious realisation that the complexity of the story was such that some readers might be lost without a real emphasis on summarising key events at regular intervals. I found this rather annoying and felt it disrupted (a little) the flow of the story.
Another problem I had with the content of the plot rather than the style is the rather stale and disappointing view of basic humanity that the story tended to imply. Without giving too much away, lets just say that individualism and human spirit are not highly praised in the Foundation universe.
As always in the world of the Foundation political machinations, conspiracies, double crossing and the like are still the order of the day and Brin has written this third book in that spirit which makes for an intriguing read.
At about 450 pages Foundations Triumph is a surprisingly quick read. Its not quite as successful as Foundation and Chaos in balancing the need for action packed narrative with a need for a more contemplative style required by some of the subject matter but it is still a very good read for sci-fi fans.
Foundations Triumph is a worthy addition to the second Foundation series and to the legacy of Asimovs foundation novels. All the questioned are answered by the end and any Asimov fan will be pleased with the care and obvious admiration of Asimovs work with which the project was attempted. Asimov will definitely not be turning in his grave!
A knowledge of the original stories is not strictly essential before reading any of the second series but it will give a reader invaluable background and make the whole experience more worth while. A last word of warning for reader who come to these of any of Asimovs novels expecting a space adventure in the Star Wars mould Asimov was never like that and the three author involved in this series have rightly followed Asimovs style. This is a thinking persons sci-fi. big themes are dealt with and the enjoyment is partly about the thoughts these provoke as much as the story on the page.
I stated earlier in this review that this instalment was going to be the last of the Foundation series and it does seem at the end that most if not all previous questions are resolved, however Brin leaves us enough to play with, a couple of key characters whose future is uncertain and a few new set of questions to ponder about that maybe there is still scope for the story to develop further although almost 5 years since the publication to my knowledge there are no immediate plans for more books to be written
Foundations Triumph (paperback 440 pages published by Orbit- ISBN: 1841490008) can be bought at Amazon.co.uk for £5.59 + (p&p)
Thank you for reading and rating this review.
© Mauri 2005