Isaac Asimov's Foundation: Holistic Analysis of the Asimov Universe - The Original Trilogy - Foundation and Empire

Be warned, all ye late visitors entreating entrance at Asimov's chamber door: Heavy spoilers as well as philosophical commentaries on fictional sociopolitical structures and scientific progress abound...

This series of analyses is meant to explain how the great Isaac Asimov wove a gargantuan number of micro plots into one continuous story that encompasses many thousands of years: the existential conflict and the struggle for survival of the humankind in the future. However, the Macro Plot shall materialize in the minds of the readers if, and only if, all the micro plots of the books in Asimov's Foundation Series and Robot Series (and the Empire Series to some extent) are set in order and analyzed accordingly. Therefore, the readers are kindly reminded to feast their eyes and minds, so to speak, on the analyses of the Prequels and Foundation before continuing on this article on Foundation and Empire.

Foundation and Empire (1952)

He is a dreamer of ancient times, or rather, of the myths of what ancient times used to be. Such men are harmless in themselves, but their queer lack of realism makes them fools for others.
― Isaac Asimov, Foundation and Empire

Style Analysis

Foundation and Empire, published in book form in 1952, is the second book of the original Foundation Trilogy, upon which the great Isaac Asimov would build his ever-lasting philosophical and science-fictional empire, an empire that expands over 30,000 years into the future of humanity in two major interrelated columns: The Foundation Series and The Robot Series. Foundation and Empire consists of two stories that were originally published in Astounding Magazine, although with different titles, in 1945.

The style of Foundation and Empire, although conceptually and essentially not different from the first book of the original trilogy, Foundation, may seem to have diverted from the two distinct style choices Asimov applied so far within the fictitious time-line of his over-all story-telling. 

It is evident that Asimov chooses to convey his chronologist’s narrative of chapters with long intervals when his grand plot requires focus on events, rather than on individual characters, while he prefers to employ a more character-driven style when both the events and the individuals that are both shaped by the events and, in turn, shape the flow of those events are of equal significance in his point of view with regard to his grand plot of the future within the future. 

However, with Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation, the second and third books of the original Foundation Trilogy, Asimov seems to have blended his two distinct styles and preferred to reduce the number of stories, with intervals between them, into two. Apart from the fact that the content were originally written in story form  It would be safe to assume that the reason for this blend in style is two-fold.

The first and foremost reason in Asimov's preference seems to be the that both the events described and the characters that are caught under the influence of the events required a somewhat balanced focus, as opposed to Asimov's prior plot designs.  

Here, I believe a brief visit to the plots of the two parts of the book would provide some valuable insight on why both the characters and the events do bear an equal significance in Asimov's grand-plot. 

In the first part of Foundation and Empire, Asimov, rather than breaking it down into smaller chapters, as he did in Foundation, clearly wished to allocate more space to conveying the one and only backlash of the old Galactic Empire against the Foundation, which now moves steadily into becoming a galactic power by use of trade and technological advances, the likes of which has never been seen even in the glorious golden-days of the Empire itself. In doing so, the great master of science-fiction further aims at pointing to the fact that a direct military threat, even from the Empire – which, despite its avalanche of decline both sociologically and technologically, still possesses the most powerful navy –, is doomed to fail against psychohistorical calculations. The Foundation has been forged and shaped by a series of Seldon Crises, through which there has always been only one “correct” way to steer clear of impending destruction of the Foundation, as foreseen by Hari Seldon’s psychohistory, and being able to theorize and apply the correct solution for each of the different types of crises, the Foundation now shines as a beacon, toward the eventual galactic dominance as opposed to a 30.000 years of barbaric violence that would ensue after the colossal fall of the Galactic Empire. The era of physical threats is over, and there is only one possible risk remains, which can bring the Seldon Plan to a halt.

In the second part of the book, a more sinister and deadly enemy makes himself known to the Foundation and threatens to bring down the comfort-zone the Foundation has been steadily progressing through: The Seldon Plan. As far as the Foundation is aware, the Seldon Plan had calculated every possible bump they may be facing on their path from scratch to the Second Galactic Empire. However, with the rise of a protagonist, only known as the Mule, a mutant with semi-psychic abilities, the Foundation faces a divergence from the Seldon Plan with possible catastrophic outcomes that have never been thought of before. Deducing from the limited knowledge they have been provided about Hari Seldon and his Grand Plan since the establishment of their Foundation, which would, from now on, be called “the First Foundation”, the Foundationers swiftly get on with their search of a fail-safe mechanism that may or may not have been devised by Hari Seldon…

As the characteristic of the existential struggle of the Foundation changes course as summarized above, it becomes clearly understandable that Asimov needed to employ a blended style so as to convey the equally irrevocable impact of the characters and events on his micro and macro plots.

The second reason for a blended style is far more pragmatical.  Foundation and Empire is the first book in the Asimov universe that ends with a final, but not a conclusion. In this capacity, while the book provides a sense of completion to the random reader, it most strongly encourages Asimov fans to keep reading about the fate of the beloved Foundation and to solve the mystery of the rumored and mythical Second Foundation.

Plot Analysis

Part I. The General

Bel Riose, by Donato Giancola

It has been roughly 200 years since the establishment of the Foundation. Apart from the indirect technological help it provided for the Republic of Korell during its unsuccessful confrontation with the Foundation, the old Galactic Empire has never been directly involved in a challenge against the Foundation. In fact, until one of his prominent and fast-rising generals, Bel Riose, finds about mystical and mythical rumors about some “magicians” located somewhere in the periphery, the Galactic Empire did not have the slightest knowledge about the Foundation and their progress toward galactic dominance, save perhaps some obscure information about a colony of scientists moving to a remote planet of Terminus some 200 years ago.

In a chivalrous and romantic attempt to bring back the golden days of the Imperial power, Riose believes that if he can reestablish the influence and presence of the Empire to the peripheral systems, he would be fulfilling his duty to the Empire and the Emperor. As he follows the rumors of so-called “magicians”, he discovers for himself what the Foundation is and what the Foundationers firmly believe their role in the future of the galaxy will be. Although being warned about the great Seldon Plan, however superficially, he dismisses his chances of failure by comparing the Plan to the “dead hand” of Hari Seldon.

What Riose refuses to see, in his romantic blindfold of the Imperial structure whose resources and military power still outmatches those of the Foundation, is that the Empire has moved far too much downward in the spiral of collapse that his success as a capable general would bring unwanted attention to his would-be ulterior motives, for many generals before him craved for and tried to grab the title of Emperor. On the other hand, should he fail, it would force the Imperial politics to dismiss him as another short-lived hero. Since there is no third option other than success or failure in his military campaign against the Foundation, Bel Riose was doomed by the current political paranoia of the falling Empire, which means that the “dead hand” of Hari Seldon check-mated the Imperial interference against the Foundation almost 200 hundred years ago.

The Imperial threat comes to an end, as implied, without any direct action on behalf of the Foundation other than fighting some defensive battles. Thus, as in Hober Mallow’s time, the faith in the Great Seldon Plan, which inherently advises the Foundationers to do absolutely nothing since the critical period of the establishment of Foundation influence all over the periphery has been managed by technology, religion, liberalism, and plutocracy respectively, saves the Foundation, and coddles its citizens and administrators alike in a soon-to-be-falsified sense of security. 

Part II. The Mule

It has been roughly 100 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire’s last major threat to the Foundation. During the years that followed the first and last military confrontation between the Empire and the Foundation, the Galactic Empire has been reduced to only a handful of agricultural planets; the once-proud Galactic capital, Trantor, has been sacked; and most of the galaxy , save for the periphery which is under the influence of the Foundation, has deteriorated into barbaric kingdoms.

The Foundation’s last change of strategy, from religious manipulation to plutocracy, has long brought its fruits and now, just as the case was with its former strategies, has started to ooze poison into the social and economic progress of the Foundation. The once-upon-a-time-saviors of the Foundation, the Traders, have been cast down to the pits of the socio-economic structure, and the Mayorship of the Foundation has become a birth-right rather than the ultimate prize of free and democratic elections. As the acknowledgement of the Seldon Plan spreads, so does the semi-religious belief in the inevitable and mysterious ways of the Great Hari Seldon in forging a Second Galactic Empire; and hence, the core Foundation worlds’ population, and the administration alike, have become stagnant and conformist. It seems highly likely that for the first time in its 300-year history, the Foundation will be facing civil war, between the Traders - symbolizing the ever-needed constant of change in the social and political structure - and the Mayorist Dynasty, supported by the Foundation's Bureaucracy, in the current form of a Seldon Crisis.

However, an unpredictable development occurs. Defying psychohistory’s statistical ignorance of the fate and the deeds of a single individual as opposed to the behavioral patterns of the masses, a man single-handedly brings destruction into the doorstep of the Foundation. Until the Foundationers gather reliable intelligence on this new threat of a dictator, who is only known with the alias he has chosen to name himself, The Mule, the planets on the outer circle of the Foundation’s influence fall into his control.

Confident that the Great Hari Seldon must have predicted the Mule’s unbreakable and almost supernatural progress in his battle against the Foundation forces as a Seldon Crisis, the ruling elite of the Foundation eagerly waits for the long-established date of the holographic appearance of Hari Seldon in the Time Vault, as experienced in the very early days of the Foundation, in hopes of receiving much needed counsel of their founder. 

As the prerecorded hologram of Seldon appears and starts talking about a civil war between the Foundation and the Traders, instead of the attack by the Mule, The Foundationers realize that the Seldon Plan, which has been in motion for almost three centuries toward the creation of a second and better-structured Galactic Empire, has been ultimately broken. At the same instant, the Mule’s forces start their attack on Terminus and the Foundation collapses into surrender.

The Traders, who form the majority of the dwindling pockets of resistance against the Mule’s tyranny, quickly gather an expedition party in search for the rumored Second Foundation, which may possess the knowledge how to defeat the Mule and set the Seldon Plan back in its tracks. The expedition party consists of Toran and Bayta Darell, a resourceful couple with ties to the Foundation and the Traders; Ebling Mis, an eminent Foundation psychologist of high value - since from the beginning of the Foundation, it was clear that physical sciences and scientists were invested in, while social sciences were mostly ignored -, and a former court-clown escaped from the Mule’s oppression. As the expedition party travels though numerous star systems, it becomes evident that the Mule is a mutant and that he possesses the ability to sense and manipulate emotions of the others even through vast distances.

The party decides to visit the former galactic capital, Trantor, to gain access to the Great Imperial Library located on the planet. Shortly after they set foot on Trantor and Ebling Mis starts his research in the library with hopes of uncovering the secret location of the rumored Second Foundation, however, the events take a dramatic turn. Bayta Darell, suspecting that the semi-telepathic presence of the Mule is among the expedition party, feels obliged to shoot and kill Ebling Mis before he can reveal the location of the Foundation.

With Ebling Mis dead, the rest of the expedition party feels assured that the secret location of the Second Foundation, now more than a rumor with tangible evidence of its existence, cannot be retrieved in time by the Mule or his followers before the Second Foundation is ready to make its move and take the abhorred mutant down.

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Isaac Asimov's Foundation: Holistic Analysis of the Asimov Universe - The Original Trilogy - Foundation and Empire