Foundation’s Triumph – David Brin (1999)
‘As for me, I am finished.’
With these words, a frail, dying Hari Seldon completes his life’s work. The old man has just recorded messages for the Time Vault of the First Foundation. And psychohistory’s Seldon Plan is unleashed, propelled by the ponderous momentum of destiny.
Younger hands will now take up the task.
But Seldon knows that neither the First nor the Second Foundation will provide ultimate solutions. The Seldon Plan has three possible outcomes. None of them fills him with joy but he is consoled by the thought that any of the three is better than the chaos that would have happened without him.
However, the future still holds some surprises for Hari Seldon.
Blurb from the 2000 Orbit paperback edition.
An exceedingly suitable and satisfactory denouement to this posthumous sequel to Asimov’s Foundation series. Following a rather disjointed opening Benford’s ‘Fear’ and a sublime sequel in Bear’s ‘Chaos’, David Brin wraps it all up very neatly with a highly readable tale of Hari Seldon’s final adventure.
The three authors have very cleverly managed to weave a complete new story over and around the original Foundation trilogy with a complexity that borders on X-Files level conspiracy. In some ways it is a little disappointing to discover that Hari Seldon’s predictions – such as the secession from the Empire by Anacreon which left Terminus alone and undefended – were to a large extent ‘helped along’ by interfering robots and telepaths. (Those pesky interfering robots!).
There was a kind of precise beauty in the way Seldon’s mathematics predicted the outcome of each crisis and to some extent these late revelations (not really helped by Asimov’s own additions to his Milieu) lessen the power of the original trilogy. However, these novels are a great tribute to a Golden Age of SF and all three manage to evoke the spirit of a bygone period in SF history while infusing a contemporary flavour.
In Brin’s finale, the robots once more are heavily involved in meddling behind the scenes in human affairs and Dors Venabili (a robot designed as a guardian and companion to Seldon) discovers that it is not only human history that has been repressed for the last twenty thousand years.
Dors is bequeathed the head of R Giskard Reventlov, a robot visionary and allegedly the creator of the Zeroth Law of Robotics which negates the famed Three Laws of Robotics in the case of a robot having to protect the long-term security of the Human Race as a whole.
The series as a whole has wasted an opportunity to create an objective view of human nature, to examine what it is to be human in terms of Seldon’s mathematical waves of human progress. We know far more now than Asimov did in the Nineteen Forties of body language, human interaction, the psychology of crowds etc. Seldon’s aim in this final book is to refine his equations by finding reasons why Chaos worlds (planets which undergo a sudden and inventive renaissance) should subsequently fall into pandemonium and madness.
It is disappointing to discover that that the Chaos worlds are suffering the effects of a Chaos plague, an ancient designer disease akin to that of Brain fever, another manufactured plague designed to attack the most intelligent children and prevent a rise in the IQ level of the general public.
We also discover that many planets are being kept docile by robot telepathic machines left in orbit about these worlds. One can see now how Asimov muddied the waters of his premise by attempting to conflate his various work into one great galactic history. We can no longer watch the intricate interplay of unstoppable forces of change because the basic concept has been undermined by the intrusion of these robotic and other influences.
It’s a daunting task (and one does have to question why it was ever done at all) to produce a posthumous trilogy with three different authors engaged on the project, and to be constrained not only by Asimov’s original trilogy, but by his later additions and qualifications.
One can see why the writers thought that the only way they could do it was by treating the original trilogy as the exoteric (i.e. the public) version of events and this set of novels as the esoteric machinations (quite literally) of the robots behind the scenes of the events of the classic original series.
Yes, it works, and it is, as I have said, a decent tribute to Asimov who, despite later rather negative reassessments of his work, was a major influence on and supporter of, SF as a whole.
One could argue however, that had Asimov left his original trilogy alone it would shine much brighter than it does with the baggage of a welter of sequels and additions.
It looks as though there will be further additions since Brin has left ‘openings’ for other writers who wish to take up the baton. Hari Seldon has apparently been cloned and possibly rejuvenated by one of the robot factions; the robots Dors Venabili and Lodovic Trema have ‘evolved ‘ human reactions and emotions and find themselves drawn to each other, and there is Mors Planch, the rebel starship Captain who has been catapulted five hundred years into the future to a time when a decision must be made on Galactic coalescence into a single consciousness and the ensuing Human Transcendence.
A valuable appendix to the book is the very helpful timeline of Asimov’s future history which not only marks important dates and events in the Foundation galaxy’s chronology, but annotates the relevant books and stories in which these events either occur or are ‘re-examined’ for want of a better word.