Foundation's Edge (1982)
Doubleday, New York; ISBN: 0-385-17725-9; Pages: 366
Review © 2003 Branislav L. SlantchevIt is almost five centuries from the establishment of the First Foundation, the entity organized by the psycho-historian Hari Seldon to shorten the anarchic interregnum between the fall of the Galactic Empire and the emergence of the Second Empire from thirty thousand years to only a millennium. Half of that period has passed, and the Foundation is on its way to forming that second Empire under the great leadership of Mayor Branno. During these five centuries, the Foundation has survived the threats of militaristic neighboring kingdoms, the falling Empire itself, and even the onslaught of a mutant, unforeseen by the Plan, who managed to conquer it temporarily. Yet, with the death of the Mule, and the destruction of the Second Foundation, the shadow ruler behind the technological strength of the First, the Foundation seems to be on an inexorable rise to power. Yet there are men who doubt that the Second Foundation has been destroyed, and one of them is Councilman Golan Trevize of Terminus.
Trevize is quickly exiled on board of the most advanced ship in Foundation's possession, and is ordered to locate the Second Foundation. Mayor Branno is hoping to use him as the lightning rod that would reveal the location of the secret enemy, whose existence she is also convinced of. Trevize is accompanied by one Professor Janov Pelorat, a specialist of ancient history, who has dedicated his life to the search for Earth, the near-mythical birthplace of all humanity before it settled throughout the Galaxy. This search, it is presumed, would provide the perfect cover. And so it does, in a fashion.
The Second Foundation on Trentor is itself in the throes of court intrigue. The ageing First Speaker senses the approach of a crisis but it is not until the junior Speaker Stor Gendibal shows him the extent of the danger that a new unknown organization represents that he is spurred into action. He is hampered by the machinations of another Speaker, the ambitious Delarmi. With the help of Novi, a harmless local farmwoman, he manages to outmaneuver the Table, and wins in direct confrontation with Delarmi by showing that someone has manipulated Novi's mind. This someone, Gendibal is convinced, is a world of Anti-Mules, that is, of mutants capable of manipulating emotions. Therefore, it is they, not Terminus, that is the gravest peril to the Plan. The Speaker is sent on a search for these Anti-Mules, accompanied by Novi, whose simple "symmetric" brain he intends to use to detect attempts to tamper with his own.
Trevize and Pelorat soon become intrigued by the dogged determination with which their apparently harmless quest for Earth is being repulsed. They are told Earth does not exist, that it is unreachable in hyperspace, and that even if it did exist and could be reached, it is radioactive, and therefore uninhabitable. Finally, the obtain some scant information about a world called Gaia, and Trevize convinces himself that it is there that they must go in the search for the Second Foundation.
Gaia, however, turns out not to be Earth, but a planet that is one conscious organism, of which every human, every animal, every insect, every plant, and every rock, is a member. Gaia possesses mental capacity far exceeding that of the Second Foundation, and it has used it to guide Trevize, Mayor Branno, and Speaker Gendibal to converge on the planet. The Foundation's formidable warships arrive together with Gendibal and Novi in another gravitic ship, and Trevize with Pelorat in a third one. Branno believes she is protected by the mentalic shield the Foundation has secretly developed, and Gendibal is just as sure he can penetrate it. A Vietnamese stand-off ensues, with Branno temporarily paralyzed by Gendibal, who at the same time is himself cut off by Novi, who turns out to have been Gaia as well.
Trevize must decide the outcome because Gaia has determined that he is able to reach correct conclusions on the basis of insufficient data. That is, the fate of the Galaxy is thrown to intuition. Trevize is offered three futures. One, under the First Foundation, would be a Second Empire, much like the old one, but better. Another, under the Second Foundation, would be a benevolent unseen rule by the masters of mentalics, that would establish an Empire almost free of strife. And yet another, in which Gaia would embrace the entire Galaxy to create one galactic whole, Galaxia, in which there will be no conflict but only harmony.
The choice is clear... and Trevize does not make it! He selects Galaxia, the irresponsible fool. What? Has Asimov gone mad? What normal human being would like to be a cog in a galactic machine, to lose his/her individuality, and to share everything with plants and rocks? Yet this is precisely what Trevize chooses for everyone else, despite the fact that he has doubts, and despite the fact that he honestly wishes not to see this future himself. This is the most disappointing turn in the series, for now Seldon's Plan is undone, the two Foundations are reduced to shadow puppets whose inconsequential glow in the Universe would flicker and soon die. Instead, we shall have a gigantic kraken, spreading its tentacles to all populated and unpopulated worlds, extinguishing individuality, thereby making liberty meaningless, thereby making humans, well, non-human.
In the next novel, Asimov would attempt to undo some of the harm done in this one, but to no avail, for he will make it even worse, both in terms of prose and story. The weak link with the robot universe will also be established in the next one (which is why, I assume, there are all these scattered references to robots here). It will be even less satisfying.
August 4, 2003