I loved the Robot Series and was distinctly unimpressed with the Galactic Empire Series, so I was a bit concerned about the Foundation Series. This book, however, was great.
This book flows nicely from the Robot Series (though lots of time has elapsed). The events in the Galactic Empire Series, which took place in between, seem not to have had much relevance. In addition, much of the history that had been lost during the time period of the Galactic Empire Series had been rediscovered.
We also get back to the most interesting story lines from the Robot Series, like the spacers vs. settlers issue and the robots issues. The settlers seem to have decisively won and expanded throughout the galaxy – what was tens of planets is now thousands or millions of planets. The remnants of Aurora are still around – there may be some spacer remnants there too. There are definitely some human-form robots remaining, but we don’t yet know how many. Asimov also gives us some detail on the empire that is the background to the Galactic Empire Series. It’s modeled on the Roman Empire.
The book is about Hari Seldon, who is developing psychohistory. Psychohistory seems to be a huge regression equation that will probabilistically predict the future.
What I found most interesting was that the presence of at least one robot who lived through all the millennia in which the universe was settled and the empire was founded gives a great sense of societal decay.
We tend to think of decay, retrogression and the fall of civilizations as events that happen on some specific date, but the reality of large-scale decay is that it happens slowly. Decay is masked to any individual observer because it happens so slowly. It’s also masked by progress in certain, isolated areas. To robots that have seen it all, however, decay is painfully apparent.
Our old friend, Daneel, is interested in psychohistory because of the limitations on his actions due to his hard-coded ethical system. He can act to benefit humanity, even if doing so harms a specific individual human, but it’s very hard for him to know what will benefit humanity. Psychohistory would allow his to quantify the costs and benefits of various actions with respect to humanity. Perhaps, allowing him to act to prevent decay – or at least to act to minimize the fallout.