Review: Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov (1951, 1952, 1953)

img_0712I liked the first book of the Foundation trilogy enough to push on through the remaining two, and I’m glad I did (Foundation review).  Although they retain some of the faults of the initial novel both Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953) retain the intellectually stimulating plot, broad scope, and good pace of the first, with the bonus of directly addressing, and developing the plot around one of my main complaints about the first book – the predictive sociology of the Seldon Plan.
The plots of both revolve around the possibility of individuals disrupting the plan, and in the third, the need for both conscious maintenance of the plan and the difficulties of this when working at the individual, or even sub-planetary scale.
Spending more time in the universe also made me realise one of the other elements I liked about the first book – the setting of a collapse of empire through stagnation, dissolution and loss of vigour and will to progress (Asimov was inspired by Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire).  I was also drawn to the idea of the small monastic enclave ascetically committed to scientific values and to reviving the guttering civilisational flame, shortening the darkness.
The universe also remains very 1950s, which I also enjoyed: everyone smokes all the time, especially cigars; there are few women – only one significant female character in each of the latter two books; they still use physical currency; and, an automated ticket machine is a source of wonder.
The plots are full of twists and plans and scheming, as before, and the characters remain almost ciphers – sketched only far enough to allow them to fulfil their roles in the plot.  Again, there is a feel of chess being played (a metaphor that crops up more than once within Second Foundation itself).
I’m not as taken with these novels as Paul Krugman seems to be (he gives a good review of the trilogy) but I’d agree with him that a moral complexity and ambivalence marks the trilogy and is a great strength (are we pleased when the Second Foundation succeeds at the end? Are we supposed to be?).  Entertaining and interesting, I’d particlarly recommend the Foundation Trilogy to any budding teenaged social scientists.