Foundation and Chaos – Greg Bear (1998)
‘In ‘Foundation and Chaos’, one of science fiction’s greatest storytellers takes one of its greatest stories into new and fascinating territory. Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation series is back.
Hari Seldon, approaching the end of his life, is on trial for daring to predict the Empire’s fall. At the same time, final preparations are under way for the long-anticipated migration to Star’s End. But R Daneel Olivaw, the brilliant robot entrusted with this great mission, has discovered a potential enemy.
At a critical moment in the Empire’s fall and the Foundation’s rise, Hari Seldon is about to face the greatest challenge of his life.
Blurb to the 2001 Orbit Paperback Edition
The novel runs concurrently with Part I of Asimov’s original novel, cleverly using Hari Seldon’s trial – originally seen from the viewpoint of Gaal Dornick – as a central focus to examine events behind the scenes of which Gaal Dornick was unaware.
The trial dialogue is identical, but Asimov’s rather dry ‘transcript’ version has been dramatised – if one may use that word in this context – brilliantly and, if anything, creates a tension and suspense where in Asimov’s version of events there is merely his cosy sense of certainty and destiny. The reader was never in any doubt that the Seldon plan would succeed. It was just a matter of trying to work out how.
Behind the scenes, Hari’s grand-daughter, Wanda, is gathering ‘mentalics’ – human mutants capable of manipulating the thoughts of others – as the core of Seldon’s ‘Second’ Foundation.
Bear’s Foundation universe is a darker and more complex place than Benford’s, and it is to his credit that he manages to capture some of Asimov’s atmosphere whilst fully updating it for a contemporary readership.
Here, the robots take centre-stage and their millennia-spanning plans and behind-the scenes manipulations are put into a different perspective.
Lodovic Trema, an ancient robot and long-time associate of Daneel R Olivaw’s plans for humanity, has been altered by Voltaire (an AI personality first encountered in Foundation’s Fear). He no longer is bound by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics which forbid him to harm humans, and undergoes a form of robotic exegesis, coming to believe that Daneel’s protective stance of humanity as a whole is a restrictive suffocating policy.
The robots’ disparate philosophies and organisations are described using religious terminology with Humanity in the position of God/Creator. Originally united, the robot population was divided and subdivided by schisms, with some becoming Calvinist (after Susan Calvin from Asimov’s original ‘Robot’ series) and others becoming Giskardists following the philosophy of the robot R Giskard Reventlov. To add support to the religious connection there is a conversation between Daneel and the sim personality construct of Joan of Arc in which it is implied that Daneel’s God is Humanity, which in a sense is true if one applies the human religious hierarchical framework to Robots. Humans are the creators. They breathed life into the robots in a far more evidential way manner than God breathed life into Adam.
Oddly enough, the robot featured in Asimov’s ‘I, Robot’ or at least in the twilight Zone adaptation, was indeed called ‘Adam’, thus endowing the whole of this robotic narrative thread with a kind of theological thematic consistency. This means that the evolved humans now having abandoned their Gods, it is time for the Robots to do the same.
Were this not a posthumous sequel with a solid body of work stretching back – with various degrees of quality – to the Nineteen Forties, the concept of a robot in the late Nineties novel would only work in some ironic post-modern sense, as it does in ‘Roderick’.
The concept of a Galactic Empire is also one which modern writers approach at their peril, but here, given its cosy familiarity from the Asimov legacy seems – along with the robots – not out of place.
Bear, following on from Benford, fleshes out the power-structures and goes a long way toward making the Empire, and the complex power struggles which pervade it, a plausible entity. It’s fascinating to see how Bear, noted for novels of solid scientific speculation and Big Ideas, copes with what is essentially Space Opera, but cope he does, and extraordinarily well.
One of the best scenes involves two of the robots travelling to the secret robot base at Eos, a small blue moon of a green gas giant, orbiting a double star. There, an ancient robot with four arms, three legs and seven vertical sensor strips on its face ‘two of which glowed blue at any given time’ performs necessary maintenance on those robots who come in for their MOTs.
It’s a poignant and evocative section, laced with a Golden Age sense of wonder.