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Foundation is the first book in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy (later expanded into The Foundation Series). It is a collection of five short stories which were first published together as a book by Gnome Press in 1951. Four of the stories were originally published in Astounding Magazine between 1942 and 1944 and the fifth was added when they first appeared in book form. Decades later, Asimov wrote two prequels to it.
The novel was written as a series of short stories which were only later collected in one book. Four of the stories appeared in Astounding with different titles than they were given when published in book form. While both titles are given below, the stories are generally known by their later designations.
The story begins on Trantor, the capital planet of the Galactic Empire, which has existed for 12,000 years. Though it has endured for so long and appears outwardly to be strong and stable, the empire has been imperceptably declining for centuries. The only one who realizes this is Hari Seldon, a mathematician who has created the science of psychohistory by which it is possible to extrapolate from historic trends large future events. He has set up a project which is increasingly harrased by Imperial officials from the Commission of Public Safety -- the actual rulers of the Empire. They finally arrest Seldon and Gaal Dornick, a young mathematician who has just arrived to join the project.
At Seldon's trial more details come out. Seldon predicts the empire will collapse within 300 years, leading to a 30,000 year period of anarchy before a Second Empire is established. The purpose of his project is to influence events so that the interregnum period will be only 1,000 years and not 30,000. This will be done, he says, by the production and dissemination by his team of an Encyclopedia Galactica which will contain all human knowledge. The commission is satisfied that Seldon's project is not a threat to the Empire but wants to quiet him. He and his team are exiled to Terminus, a small planet on the periphery of the galaxy, to work on the encyclopedia.
The Encyclopedists (published May 1942 as Foundation)
Fifty years after the events in The Psychohistorians, Terminus is facing the first of the "Seldon crises," the events which will force it into choices that will eventually lead to the Second Empire. Four nearby provinces of the Empire have rebelled, forming indpendent kingdoms. Those kingdoms are fairly barbarous and the leaders of the most powerful, Anacreon, begin threatening Terminus, which they covet for its strategic location vis-a-vis their rivals and for its advanced technology. The Foundation's Board of Directors is blind to the danger, spending all of its time working on the encyclopedia. The planet's Mayor, Salvor Hardin, does perceive the danger and during the crisis is able to wrest effective control of the Foundation from the Board of Directors. He realizes that the key to beating this crisis is to play the four kingdoms off each other.
The Mayors (published June 1942 as Bridle and Saddle)
In the third part (The Mayors), years later, relationships between the Foundation and nearby systems are based in technology transfer and religion. A bellicose warlord in planet Anacreon tries to take over the Foundation but Seldon's inevitable psychohistory saves the day again, and gives the Foundation a little more power.
The Traders (published October 1944 as The Wedge)
In the fourth part (The Traders), later again, a Foundation priest is killed and a traitor is being charged for it, but it is finally proved that he [the priest] was a spy from another powerful system.
The Merchant Princes (published August 1944 as The Big and the Little)
In the final part (The Merchant Princes), trade has become the main link between the Foundation worlds. A trader has been held captive in a hostile planet, and a Foundation agent must use greed to manipulate the locals, so they free him.
The Foundation is still far from the huge power the former Empire had, but it's rapidly growing.
Forward the Foundation
|The Foundation Series||Followed by:
Foundation and Empire