Sunday, July 31, 2016

Book Review: Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov

The first book in the trilogy was a series of political episodes spanning for centuries. I was elevated by the series of upcoming crisis and how wonderfully and convincingly they were taken care. Then, with high hopes and hungry for more drama I went ahead to read the next book: Foundation and Empire. I can say I was not completely disappointed with this novel, but I had mixed feelings about it. I really did not feel much about it except for the twist in the end. It may be because of the expectations I had for the story.

Now just to make ends meet, I reluctantly picked up the third book: Second Foundation. During the ending of the first half, I was completely elated. Believe it or not, I started writing this review when I was at this point. Because the story began subtly and unfolded itself the reason and motive in a grand fashion! I felt this was gravely missing in the second book. In other words it would be better to say, in the second book a new concept was merely introduced make it explode in the third. Not only is it described nicely but it also gives scientific answers to "how" and "why" of the concept in a fictional way convincingly. It extrapolates the ingenious idea that Asimov gave birth: psychohistory.

The first part of the book is the fight between the Second Foundation and The Mule. Just when it seems that the other one is going to lose, the situation turns nicely. The concept which I mentioned is quite simple, but it teases your brains when you read it. For me it was like I knew about the concept all along but there were hardly any words to put my thoughts together. I will share the passages that got my mind rolling (I trimmed a few lines not to make this post look too long):
Bail Chanis said, "... It was a time of absolutes, of the great final generalities, at least in thought. It was a sign of decaying culture, of course, that dams had been built against the further development of ideas. It was his revolt against these dams that made Seldon famous. It was that one last spark of youthful creation in him that lit the Empire in a sunset glow and dimly foreshadowed the rising sun of the Second Empire."
The Mule: "Very dramatic. So what?"
"So he created his Foundations according to the laws of psychohistory, but who knew better than he that even those laws were relative? He never created a finished product. Finished products are for decadent minds. His was an evolving mechanism and the Second Foundation was the instrument of that evolution. We are the guardians of Seldon’s Plan. Only we!"
"Are you trying to talk yourself into courage," inquired the Mule, contemptuously, "or are you trying to impress me?... And in any case, poor fool, speak of the Second Foundation in the past tense, for it is destroyed."
The First Speaker of Second Foundation smiled: “Why, the man you call Bail Channis performed his mission well... I can see, of course, that you have mistreated him... He volunteered for this mission although we were able to predict mathematically the huge chance of damage to his mind—a more fearful alternative than that of mere physical crippling.
"Emotional contact such as you and I possess is not a very new development. Actually it is implicit in the human brain. Most humans can read emotion in a primitive manner by associating it pragmatically with facial expression, tone of voice and so on. A good many animals possess the faculty to a higher degree; they use the sense of smell to a good extent, and the emotions involved are, of course, less complex. Actually, humans are capable of much more, but the faculty of direct emotional contact tended to atrophy with the development of speech a million years back. It has been the great advance of our Second Foundation that this forgotten sense has been restored to at least some of its potentialities. "But we are not born with its full use. A million years of decay is a formidable obstacle, and we must educate the sense, exercise it as we exercise our muscles. And there you have the main difference. You were born with it."
Well, are you not seeing the level of standard in the language; and also the depth of thoughts expressed? They are at the highest level of literary discipline as opposed to classical literature. Well, here is another one to justify what I said: The second part of the book explains the origins of psychohistory, i.e. the Seldon Plan. What I really loved is the fact that it makes you believe that the idea really exists. Hitherto I thought that the plan is purely fictitious. So I had swallowed it because the concept seemed foolproof. This excerpt below tells us otherwise:
"Good," said the First Speaker. "And tell me, what do you think of all this. A finished work of art, is it not?"
"Wrong! It is not." This, with sharpness. "It is the first lesson you must unlearn. The Seldon Plan is neither complete nor correct. Instead, it is merely the best that could be done at the time. Over a dozen generations of men have pored over these equations, worked at them, taken them apart to the last decimal place, and put them together again. They’ve done more than that. They’ve watched nearly four hundred years pass and against the predictions and equations, they’ve checked reality, and they have learned."
You see there is realism in it. The story honestly admits imperfection; which is why you can relate to it closely. The portrayal of ideas is so futuristic that I was completely stunned by them. Also, the writing is very clever in the sense that the story flows in a subtle way; all the details are not just thrown to you; you have to read between the lines. And there are instances where it will become clear in the later chapters. So you will devour the pages all the way until the reason for your hunger is completely satisfied. My mind went restless when I was nearing the end of the novel as it got electrified by intense suspense backed up by high-octane science. Indeed, it was as good as a roller coaster ride for me!

Ah, I think these doses are quite enough. I am not here to spoil your party so early; not in the least! Now I understand why there was a slight dip in my excitement about the second book: Foundation and Empire. I guess it was a deliberate move by Asimov as he wanted his fans to rejoice the third book. Thus, making it a fantastic trilogy!


Today, in the age of science we have abundant knowledge and information at the tip of our fingers. Sci-fi movies are made using CGI to depict the film maker's ideas on the screen; and we're often awed by it. Just imagine, back in the 1950s resources were limited and science was budding. These great writers: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke et al had already transcended jet age. These men with their vivid ideas driven by profound imagination made people live in space age only by words. Their work is truly commendable. Hats off! On the lighter side of things, I am happy and proud of myself because so far this is the only trilogy I read as a book series. I am glad it was an enjoyable journey all along.

Further reading: Second Foundation quotes by Isaac Asimov

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