Second Foundation

Author: Isaac Asimov
Published: 1953
Website: Wikipedia Page

Second Foundation reminded me why I like science fiction. It had all the fun of parallel worlds, advanced science and extraordinarily intelligent quasi-humans with Asimov’s amazing imbuing of political intrigue. The mystery of Second Foundation, which sat a little awkwardly the last book, comes to its full flowering the last book of the trilogy, which ends satisfyingly and exhileratingly.

Because it’s Asimov, sometimes the character names and even the characters are hard to remember. I found myself flipping back several times to remember exactly what it was the Mule (the villain in the last half of the last book and the first half of this one) had done when and why. Also, because there were more than two sides in the conflicts (Foundation, Second Foundation, Galactic Empire, Mule’s Empire), tracking who was winning was difficult. But that complexity also lent the book a depth which wasn’t there in the second book. It made the reader invested and it made reading extremely enjoyable.

And in Second Foundation, Asimov finally gives sufficient time to developing a character. All of his characters are interesting and intense and far too smart for their own good, which makes even the shortest of sections in Foundation worthy of emotional investment. That was all the more true, though, with Arkady Darell, a brilliant, logical, slightly impulsive, adventurous space traveller, spy and novelist. She doesn’t know everything (in fact SPOILER it turns out she’s being manipulated the whole time) but her streaks of deductive reasoning are extraordinarily fun to follow. Also, in a world where you’re not quite sure who the good guy is, the reader is always on Arkady’s side.

It was fun to see where Asimov was coming from, philosophically. The Second Foundationers communicate without speech, which in the book means perfectly, without guile, deception or misunderstanding. Quite a position for a novelist to take. Also, psychohistory, the fundamental plot point of the series, does not work on an individual level (as is mentioned many many times), leaving conceptual room for free will, something clearly important to Asimov. There is a long history of science fiction used to explore politics, philosophy and ethics as much as science and fantasy, and Asimov contributes to it beautifully.

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