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It turns out that Hari Seldon has a backup plan. Granted, this plan pushes the credibility of the series to its limits but from a narrative point of view it really works! Seldon has foreseen that there may be times when the first Foundation may go astray and so has planted a second foundation full of competent psychohistorians and telepaths at the other end of the galaxy in order to watch over them. The location of the second Foundation however cannot be known to the first otherwise they will attempt to use the information gained by them to sttemopt to alter the future and the Galactic Empire will never be reinstated.
The first half of "Second Foundation" sees the end of The reign of The Mule thanks to the timely intervention of the Second Foundation. Its another thrilling sci-fi cum detective story that grips all the way to its final conclusion. The main centerpiece of this novel though is the second part, which sees the Foundation learning of the existence of and determined to find and wipe out the Secopnd Foundation. Having begun to grow in power they feel intimidated by the idea of a race of psychohistorians looking over them, despite the fact that Seldon, now virtually a mythical figure himself, warned against this attitude. Thus Asimov yet again leads the way intellectually in pitting individuality against social determinism whilst mainataining an astounding level of thrill and excitment. Asimov isn't strong when it comes to characterisation or a magnetic prose style, but he damn well makes up for it elsewhere.
Thus ends the first Foundation Trilogy; bowing out on a high, Asimov wasn't to write another Foundation book for 20+ years until he succumbed to the pressure and gave us Foundation's Edge.
For many years the First Foundation had been following the Seldon Plan, quite unaware that there was a Second Foundation out there. In fact it merely referred to itself as The Foundation. Hari Seldon, using the science of Psychohistory, which he had developed, foresaw the way the future would turn out. He foresaw the end of the Galactic Empire, the fall of the galaxy into anarchy and barbarism for 30,000 years; he foresaw, more importantly, the way to reduce those 30 millennia into a single millennium, and the development of a new, better empire. Using Psychohistory, the application of mathematical formulae to the response of large groups of people to stimuli, he also foresaw the need for a Second Foundation, set up in secret at an undisclosed location, to oversee the Plan. He understood the need for the First Foundation to be ignorant of their existence. He foresaw everything
except The Mule.
The Mule was a mutant with the power to control peoples emotions, and thus convert his staunchest enemy into his most loyal ally. The Mule, however, believed that the Second Foundation existed and knew of its power to stop him. So he searched, using one of his old enemies, Hans Pritcher, along with a young man called Bill Channis, who was not under The Mules emotional control which was why he was needed. The Mule suspected that those he controlled lost something of the drive and initiative they formerly had, so he needed some fresh blood. It was a risk but it had to be taken. Thus the search for the Second Foundation, which The Mule had been agonisingly close to completing, was on again
The second half of the book is set a considerable time after these events, and the Second Foundation faced a new enemy the First Foundation itself. Having become aware (or at least, some of the populace had become aware) of their existence, the inhabitants of the First Foundation feared that they would be manipulated by and act as puppets for the Second Foundation understandably, not a prospect that enthralled them. Thus the Second Foundation once again had to defend itself without, however, upsetting the Seldon Plan. At the very best, this was going to be tricky
The third-written book in the Foundation series (4th if you count Prelude to Foundation, which was written later), and the final book of the original trilogy, Second Foundation builds on the previous two books and, to me, improves on them in every aspect. The characters, though being somewhat thinly drawn, as is Asimovs trademark style, are interesting and varied. Their motives are believable and a fair amount of humour is injected into the proceedings, especially when Arkady, a young girl who is too smart for her own good, makes an appearance in the second half of the book. The action sequences and psychological battles are enthralling and overall the writing just seems to have a vibrancy that the previous two books didnt quite have. The psychological battles are basically a game of bluff on double bluff on treble bluff and they all seem entirely reasonable until you finally know the whole story.
The thing that really makes Second Foundation thoroughly absorbing, however, is the fact that the Second Foundation and its inhabitants are described for the first time. Their manner of speech and thinking, which is very different to that of any other group encountered in the series, is explained intriguingly and without too much detail. Enough questions are answered, but not so many that were not left with more to ask.
If you like your sci-fi fast, direct, and somewhat mind-bogglingly complex, youll love this. For real fans of Asimov only I think, but if you are a fan, this is among his best. You probably do need to read the books in sequence (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation) to get the most from it.
Amazon.co.uk have it new for £4.79, and of course any self-respecting bookstore with a sci-fi section will have it.
On reading 'Foundation and Empire' I was fairly staggered by Asimov's planning, and the intricacy of the plot. Time after time my perception of events changed as new light was shed on them. Second Foundation takes this to extremes. Just when you believe you know what's what it gets turned on its head, and then turned on its head again...and again...and again! It focusses on the second of Hari Seldon's two foundations, set up at opposite ends of the galaxy, to be the germs of a new Empire. The First was the seat of all physical science, whilst the Second is the seat of mental science, and the guardians of the Plan. The First Foundation get wind of the fact that they are being steered, and rather resent it; so they set out to find and destroy the Second Foundation. But, since the Second Foundation have the ability to manipulate them, can they be sure when they have found it; can they even be sure it exists? Time after time someone will present their view of things, and you believe everything has fallen nicely into place, only to find there are several other perspectives that also explain all the facts. If you liked Total Recall, or the Matrix, then this is going ot blow your mind!
The third volume in the Foundation saga. Psychohistorian Hari Seldon was the only man in history to have understood the shifting patterns of the inhabited cosmos. He foresaw that the Foundation he set up on the planet Terminus would be vulnerable, as it was to be attacked by the Mule.