Isaac Asimov's Foundation: Holistic Analysis of the Asimov Universe - The Original Trilogy - Foundation
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 Seriesand 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 before continuing on this article on Foundation.
“The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.”― Isaac Asimov, Foundation
Foundation is the first book of theoriginal 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 (and the Empire Series to some extent). Foundation consists of five short-stories, four of which was published separately between 1942 and 1944 in Astounding Magazine. The fifth story, the first one in the plot chronology of the book, was added before publication in book form.
As mentioned in the analysis of the prequels to the Foundation Series, the style of the original trilogy comprises of chronological chapters set to follow one another between long intervals.
Since the core material for Foundation, the first book of the original trilogy, was originally inspired and written in the form of short stories, this choice of style may initially have been more compulsory than voluntary. It would be safe to assume that since he devised the first book of the original trilogy in a way which could be described as “a chronologist’s narrative of events” with already-developed characters; it was only natural for him to continue with the same style in the second and the third books of the trilogy.
However, as Asimov’s own views on his version of fictional history within the future of humanity expanded – not only with the addition of prequels and sequels to the Foundation Series, but also through the introduction of the Robot Series - his original choice of style also underwent a self-evident and self-explanatory change. Although he never stopped introducing fully developed characters, Asimov seems to have chosen his chronologist’s narrative of chapters with long intervals when his Macro Plot required focus on events, rather than on individual characters. On the other hand, he seems to have employed 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 were of equal significance in his point of view with regard to his Macro Plot of the future within the future consisting of the two above-mentioned interrelated major columns.
As will be seen in the plot analysis below, even the stories with long intervals between them have a hierarchy with regard to the importance attached to the protagonists mentioned in them. For instance; Salvor Hardin, the first Mayor with real political power in the Foundation history and the founder of a long line of powerful and active Mayors, and who faced the First Seldon Crisis - the first of many which were calculated long ago by psychohistory to be able to steer the Foundation toward a future designed by the Great Hari Seldon himself - is allocated two chapters in Foundation, whereas the rest of the protagonists, however significant they may seem within the micro plot of the book, are allocated only one.
The following plot analysis of Foundation, and the future analyses of the following books of the Original Trilogy, are, therefore, divided into chapters so as to convey, at least, a small portion of the grand design of one of the greatest authors of the genre.
Q. You do not consider your statement a disloyal one?
A. No, sir. Scientific truth is beyond loyalty and disloyalty.
― Isaac Asimov, Foundation
Now, it is the 0th year of the Foundation Era (12.068 Galactic Era). Following the events mentioned in the prequels, Hari Seldon has perfected his scientific method of psychohistory and is now capable of predicting what the future holds in its veil with regard to the coming millennia of once a strong and – seemingly – infallible Galactic Empire. Although the Empire is still considered to be a powerful and efficient structure by its over-500 quadrillion citizens settled in the inhabited worlds of the Milky Way Galaxy, psychohistory - the application of mathematical statistics over the behavioral patterns of an enormous quantity of people throughout a gargantuan amount of time – calculates the remaining and irrevocable life-span of the Galactic Empire as a mere 300 years. After the relatively imminent collapse of this gigantic power structure, if no effort is exerted -at least- to enhance the preservation of the cumulative human knowledge and civilization, the dark and barbaric ages to come would add up to 30.000 years. Nevertheless, Hari Seldon has already devised a Grand Plan.
By publicizing parts of psychohistorical predictions in the galactic capital, Trantor, Seldon is able to manipulate the bureaucratic monster of the Empire into arresting him over his traitorous comments about the fall of the Empire.
During his trials, he is able to convince the Committee of Public Safety that although the Empire’s collapse is inevitable, there may be an alternative future for the barbaric ages and that alternative could be set in motion by preserving the cumulative knowledge of humanity all across the galaxy by compiling an Encyclopedia Galactica.
He suggests that if the Encyclopedia could be finished before the fall of the Empire, the dark ages to come would be reduced to a mere millennium. The Committee exiles Seldon to a remote world, Terminus, in the periphery of the galaxy, along with others in his band of followers that will help him in his seemingly crazed and eccentric effort to create the Encyclopedia. Thus, “the Seldon problem” in the galactic heart of the Empire is solved, in the eyes of the bureaucratic monster, without making Seldon a martyred hero. In a remote world with no mineral resources, the name Seldon and his psychohistory will be lost forever to the average galactic citizen.
What the Committee did not suspect, however, is the fact that Hari Seldon’s Grand Plan has been initiated with the first spoken words of Seldon’s defense at the trials, and that whatever verdict they would have passed regarding the future of Seldon and his psychohistory movement was once merely a statistical alternative that had been calculated for a long time, both for the scientific colony of the Encyclopedia Galactica Foundation on Terminus and its sister “...at the other end of the galaxy, …at Star’s End”…
“I wanted to be a psychological engineer, but we lacked the facilities, so I did the next best thing - I went into politics. It's practically the same thing.”― Isaac Asimov, Foundation
50 years have passed since the initiation of the Seldon Plan. At the only habitable piece of land, called Terminus City, on the remote planet of Terminus, under the management of the Board of Trustees of the Encyclopedia Galactica Foundation, solely comprising of physical scientists, the scientific colonists – duly named the Encyclopedists – are hard at work for the creation of the Encyclopedia Galactica, which - they were led to believe by their founder Hari Seldon - would bring down the barbaric era to follow the collapse of the Galactic Empire into a mere thousand years. The bureaucracy of the Terminus City, however, is placed under Mayors to keep the Board of Trustees away from the mundane tasks of running the city, and therefore the planet itself.
The current Mayor of Terminus City, Salvor Hardin, believes to have stumbled upon a divergence in the great Seldon Plan of compiling an encyclopedia to offer salvation to the galaxy. With the tension escalating between the Foundation and its neighboring prefects that have recently broken all communication but diplomatic ties to Trantor, the Capital Planet of the Empire, and started calling themselves The Four Kingdoms, Hardin believes that the survival of Terminus, and hence the Foundation, lies with a politically and bureaucratically empowered Mayorship.
As he averts the attempt of one of the Four Kingdoms to establish military bases on Terminus in order to exploit the advanced nuclear power of the Foundation – which, as a science-based colony, maintained a high-regard for scientific advances, while the Four Kingdoms refrained from anything scientific as the decline of the Empire becomes evident in the peripheral sectors – he finds proof to his beliefs and the ultimate solution for Terminus’s survival.
Finding no other political way to circumvent the Board of Trustee’s influence on the scientific community than to attempt a coup d’état, Salvor Hardin schedules his bold and risky move on the same date that the great Hari Seldon’s recorded holographic image is supposed to appear and convey his wisdom from the past for the Encyclopedia Foundation in the Time Vault of Terminus City.
Hari Seldon’s recorded message delivers the final blow to the Board of Trustees by stating that the Encyclopedia has always been a bait for the Imperial bureaucracy and that even though there is much to be salvaged from the cumulative human knowledge of 12.000 years, the Foundation’s real purpose has never been to be a publishing-house but to shorten the barbaric aftermath of the First Empire as much as to pave a more stable path to the formation of a Second Galactic Empire.
As the First Seldon Crisis involving the actions of the Four Kingdoms that threaten the very existence of the Foundation is announced by the great Hari Seldon, its solution is also offered, however cryptically, by the holographic image of Seldon from many years ago. Hardin, a politician among a colony of scientists, seems to be the only one to have understood the possible uses of science in other walks of life better than the scientists themselves.
For it is the chief characteristic of the Religion of Science, that it works, and that such curses as that of [the High-Priest] are really deadly.― Isaac Asimov, Foundation
It is now 80 F.E. (Foundation Era). Three decades after the consolidation of Mayoral power by the indirect use of science, the Foundation's scientific advance has provided it with a higher-hand when dealing with its neighboring Four Kingdoms.
Moreover, as Salvor Hardin politically foresaw and as predicted by the great Hari Seldon’s psychohistorical calculations, the lack of scientific studies in the Four Kingdoms, and over all the periphery of the Empire for that matter, provided an excellent method to the Foundation to indoctrinate the ignorant populations of the peripheral kingdoms with a new “religion”, called Scientism.
It is through Scientism that the Foundation successfully shares technological products with the semi-barbaric kingdoms, while keeping the scientific teachings and studies required in producing technology as secrets that are fundamental to the core of the said religion. The maintenance technicians trained in the Foundation comprises the priesthood of Scientism, while higher echelons of religious leaders – who are aware of the real agenda of Scientism – are appointed as ambassadors to the Four Kingdoms.
Salvor Hardin has consecutively been reelected Mayor and the sole ruler of the Foundation since the First Seldon Crisis. His major opposition within the Foundation has, for some time, been demanding that the Foundation cease the sharing of technology with the Four Kingdoms and enter a state of war against the kingdom or kingdoms that may militarily confront the Foundation.
On the eve of the Second Seldon Crisis, when the contenders for galactic power both within and outside the Foundation openly praise one sort of violence, or another, to bring an end to the stalemate, it would be up to Salvor Hardin to prove the truth behind his most famous saying:
“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”.
As the escalation of tension between the most powerful of the Four Kingdoms, Anacreon, and the Foundation develops into a threat of full-scale war, the invention and successful planting of Scientism among the ignorant masses proves to be more effective a weapon than atom-blasters and nuclear spaceships; or, in more subtle words from Hardin:
“An atom-blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways”.
There's something about a pious man such as he. He will cheerfully cut your throat if it suits him, but he will hesitate to endanger the welfare of your immaterial and problematical soul.― Isaac Asimov, Foundation
The events depicted in The Traders take place around 135 F.E. At the time, the Foundation has spread its influence over a great many number of neighboring planets in exchange of shared technology to attain an ever-growing political, social, and economical power. This period of the history of the Foundation brings about the change of “the spread through Scientism” policy toward “spread through trade” policy.
Traders, a socio-economic class of Foundation citizens - who boldly trespass the ethical borders of individual entrepreneurship - , Foundation secret agents, and with their scientific and social skill sets as a result of the high level of education they received within the Foundation, who can easily be termed as Galactic Renaissance-people, are officially appointed by the Foundation to advance the sphere of its influence throughout the galaxy.
One such Trader, named Linmar Ponyets, becomes ultimately instrumental in defying a major clog in the spread pattern of the Foundation. Since the use of Scientism became acknowledged as part of the Foundation’s strategy to spread its influence, some planets started to revert back to religious fundamentalism in order to keep the advances of the scientific Foundation away from themselves. The religious taboos that are in place in such planets are so effective that Foundation agents/individual traders caught in the business of even advertising technological products can found themselves counting their days in the death row.
It is on such a planet that Linmar Ponyets, in order to secure the Foundation’s advance further into the galaxy, discovers the next strategy, foreseen by psychohistory - as usual. To be able to hack into rigid social structures, such as religious fundamentalist societies, the Foundation needs to have more liberal individuals with more liberal minds (liberal as used in connotation to both philosophical and economic theories) than otherwise trained within the religion of Scientism. Ponyets figures this out during a crisis in which he uses every alchemists’ dream of a machine, the transmuter, to convert iron into gold in order to be able to bribe the leader of one of the religious fundamentalist planets, called Askone.
Ponyets’s major success in paving the way for a more secure advance of the Foundation is realized, however, by his use of the transmuter itself as another bribe for another high-level bureaucrat within the religious power structure of Askone. By doing so, he not only proves that a more liberal approach would fare better when dealing with fundamentalist and taboo-based societies, but also that planting technology itself as a bribe into the bureaucratic power structure would inevitably lead more demand for once-hated technology, let alone legitimizing its use in time.
The Foundation’s move toward a new era of liberal and overtly-pragmatist strategies is underlined when Ponyets, facing criticism regarding his seemingly lack of morals during the recent crisis, refers to yet another famous quote by the First Mayor Salvor Hardin:
"Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right!"
The Merchant Princes
Now any dogma, based primarily on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never be turned on the user.― Isaac Asimov, Foundation
It is now 155 F.E. The Foundation, established in disguise of a cultural preservation project of encyclopedic proportions, has become a serious power in the Galaxy. It has long wrestled its neighboring Four Kingdoms into submission and managed to expand to various solar systems thanks to its technological and commercial success. However, as its sphere of influence continues to reach out of the periphery of what was once known as the Galactic Empire, a new threat to the Grand Seldon Plan emerges.
The mysterious disappearance of three Foundation ships around planets within the Republic of Korell raises suspicions of technological development originating elsewhere. In fear of a new Seldon Crisis, administrative and religious bureaucrats of the Foundation design a scheme of their own not only to tackle the too-liberal methods and the unchecked autonomy of the Traders, but also to be able to appraise the unknown technological source or sources of the Republic of Korell.
Master Trader Hober Mallow, a fast-rising Trader who is also offered a place in politics, is selected for the Foundation’s mission in Korell. His first test is thrown at him, as a legal crisis with religious undertones, erupts as soon as he lands on Korell. Scientism missionaries are not allowed to operate on Korell, like many other systems lest they meet the fate of Askone, which has now been converted into another Foundation colony by the influence of technology and Scientism.
When an alleged Scientism missionary, escaping from a mob of angry Korellians, seeks asylum in Mallow’s ship as he waits for clearance in a space-port, Mallow manages to turn the crisis into an opportunity by handing over the missionary to the local authorities. The clearance and an actual invitation Mallow receives a mere half-hour later to meet Korell's authoritarian president, Commdor ("First Citizen of the State") Asper Argo, proves that Mallow’s instincts were correct regarding the missionary crisis.
Marlow’s ideas about how Scientism has become redundant and counter-productive in spreading the influence of the Foundation, and therefore, works as an anti-agent against the Great Seldon Plan are confirmed when he learns from Argo that it is the Scientism he despises not the technological gifts Mallow subtly bribes him with in order to initiate a lasting trade-partnership.
During a tour to one of the steel factories of the Korellian Republic, Mallow discovers that the guards of the Commdor are carrying nuclear blasters. Moreover, these guns have the markings of the Galactic Empire, whose influence and control over the periphery is thought to have been lost for quite some time.
Mallow has found the evidence he has been looking for with regard to the unknown source of Korell’s technological advances. Suspecting that the Empire is trying to rebuild its control and presence in the peripheral systems, he decides to pay a visit to one of the Imperial provinces. What he learns there regarding the technological and military power of the Empire will help him form the next strategy of the Foundation.
Following his success in averting the Korellian crisis and bringing out in the light the political coup designed to disgrace the Traders in favor of a fundamentalist Scientism movement within the Foundation itself, Mallow gets elected the Mayor of the Foundation and the High Priest of the Scientism Religion.
Thus, when confronted with the Third Seldon Crisis since the initiation of the Foundation – in which, as foreseen by psychohistory, a war is declared upon the Foundation by one of the barbaric states in the periphery – he has the ultimate power to do absolutely nothing other than cutting down the trade with the Republic of Korell, which, in a turn of three years, brings the now-technology-dependent Republic to its knees.
This turn of events also marks the end of pseudo-religious practices and the beginning of a plutocracy, as the name Merchant Princes suggests, along with the first-drawn lines of economic warfare against the possible enemies of the Foundation.
However, toward the eye of the spiral that is named The Milky Way, there still lurk the two most formidable clogs in the path devised by the Great Hari Seldon, both within the path itself and out of it...