Foundation (novel)

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Psychohistorian: Hari Seldon
Psychohistorian: Hari Seldon

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 (with different titles) 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 Psychohistorians


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 imperceptibly 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 harassed 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. Several fascinating conclusions are reached during Seldon's conversation with Dornick: for example, that the Psychohistorians of Trantor maneuvered the Commissioners to move the Foundation to Terminus; and that the Foundation is an active rebellion against the authoritative Empire, which Seldon says 'Has lost all virility it once had.'


The Psychohistorians is the only part of the Foundation Trilogy that was not originally published in Astounding Magazine and was, in fact, the last part of the trilogy that Asimov wrote (though, chronologically, it describes the earliest events). Asimov wrote this story circa 1950 when the series was being prepared for publication in book form by Gnome Press, who felt that the series began too abruptly. However, most people do not know that there was another, very brief, opening[1] ( that originally preceded Foundation (which was later published as The Encyclopedists), which was the first story written.

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 independent 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 Trustees 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 Trustees. Hardin had the good fortune to have been trained by Dr. Bor Alurin, the only Second Foundationer (see Second Foundation), to have settled on Terminus, as a psychologist. Hardin did not complete his studies under Alurin, and so he was unable to become a psychological engineer, so he entered local politics instead. 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)

Three decades later, relationships between the Foundation and nearby systems are based in technology transfer and a religion which the Foundation sets up around its technology to control the several larger systems that surround them. Only the priests (who are educated on Terminus) have the knowledge to use the technology (which they think is mystical, not scientifically explainable). The Priesthood system, while an effective hold on the Four Kingdoms (Anacreon, Smyrno, Konom and Daribow), caps any possible scientific rebellion and delocalization of knowledge: the most brilliant students of the sciences remain on Terminus as research students and finally citizens, drastically enhancing the scientific superiority of the Foundation.

A bellicose warlord, the Prince Regent Wienis, from Anacreon, the largest of the four kingdoms surrounding Terminus, tries to take over the Foundation by force of arms and the fortuitous recovery and salvage of a mighty warship, an old Imperial frigate restored by Foundation Fleet Technicians as an attempted appeasement. However, Seldon's inevitable psychohistory does not permit this, as the people of the Kingdoms already look to the Foundation for authority, while the secular power of the Kings is already a sub-function of priestly, and therefore Foundation control.

The Traders

(published October 1944 as The Wedge)


About 75 years after the events of the previous story, Limmar Ponyets is dispatched to Askone, a world which has thus far spurned any commerce with the Foundation, for fear that it would lead to the Foundation's contrived religion controlling their society. Ponyets's job is to negotiate for the release of Eskel Gorov, a Foundation agent who was sent to find a way to initiate trade with Askone. This was a violation of that planet's law and Gorov is scheduled to be executed.

The Askonian society is dubious of technology and practices ancestor worship. The Grand Master (their elderly leader) is firm about not accepting any technology from the Foundation and about proceeding with Gorov's execution. However, Ponyets convinces them to release Gorov in exchange for a gold transmuter jimmyed out of a food irradiation chamber (basically a presumably more advanced microwave oven).

More importantly, Ponyets accomplishes Gorov's mission of creating an opening for Foundation trade. He blackmails a member of the governing council, Pherl, to buy all of his cargo, which consists of many devices and machines forbidden by Askonian law. This council member, who does not believe in his culture's superstitions against technology, then has an incentive to work towards the legalization of those machines, so that he can begin using and selling them to recoup his loss. It is indicated that Pherl, who is young for someone so important in government, will be the next Grand Master shortly, further hastening Askone's susceptibility to Foundation trade and the controlling religion that it brings with it.


Though The Traders takes place before The Merchant Princes, it was actually written and published later. Asimov went back to write it to make the transition from the Foundation's religious control to its economic influence more understandable and believable. This was made easier because there is a reference in The Merchant Princes to what happened on Askone (it is briefly indicated that Askone first allowed trade with the Foundation and was soon inundated with missionaries and lost its power to the Foundation).

Interestingly, the character of Limmar Ponyets is named "Lathan Devers" in the original story. Lathan Devers is the name of the trader who is heavily featured in The General (first published as The Dead Hand), the first of two stories in Foundation and Empire.

The Merchant Princes

(published August 1944 as The Big and the Little)

Additional years pass and the Foundation's economic influence and religious control of surrounding worlds continues to grow, though this is not yet matched with military and political domination. Several of the Foundation's atomic-powered ships have disappeared near the Republic of Korell, a nation that is suspected of developing advanced technology of its own, which would threaten the Foundation. Hober Mallow, a master trader (though not a Foundation agent), is sent to Korell on a trade mission and told to keep his eyes open and learn what he can about their technology and the missing ships.

Korell does little commerce with the Foundation, and their leader, Commdor Argo Asper, is reluctant to adopt their technology. It is learned that Askone did indeed fall under the control of the Foundation's pseudo-religion after it became dependent on Foundation technology. However, Mallow is not interested in proselytizing, he just wants to make money--and convinces the Commdor of this. After demonstrating the many useful products that he can sell them, ranging from steel foundry technology and portable forcefield generators to miniature launderies and floor-scrubbers, Mallow signs contracts to provide them with such things, making huge profits for himself. He sees no sign of the missing ships while there, but he does discover that the Korellians do retain some vestiges of atomic technology in the shape of atomic handguns.

After returning to Terminus, Mallow is denounced as a traitor for not spreading the Foundation's religion along with trade. Mallow argues that religion has played itself out as a means of furthering Foundation control. Trade, for now, will be the Foundation's tool for expanding into the Second Galactic Empire. Mallow is arrested for allegedly allowing a Foundation missionary to be killed while he was on Korell but the event was shown to be staged. Mallow eventually wins the next mayoral election, becoming leader of Terminus.

The Foundation is still far from the huge power the former Empire had, but it's rapidly growing and expanding its control and prestige.

External Links

Preceded by: Series:
Followed by:
Forward the Foundation Foundation Series Foundation and Empire

es:Fundación (novela) it:Fondazione (libro) sv:Stiftelsen


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