Review of “Second Foundation” by Isaac Asimov

I’ve been reading these books in chronological order within the series, not in the order they were published. Asimov’s oldest books in the series are packed with interesting ideas, but the writing tends to be . . . underdeveloped. The newer books are well written but, at times, they struggle to tie together story lines from lots of earlier books (it’s incredibly impressive that Asimov was able to tie it all together as well as he did, but it’s often a stretch).

This one is a one of the older books. It would probably have seemed much better if I’d read the books in the order they were written. As I read them, this book seemed rather dull.

The big surprise is supposed to be that a Second Foundation dedicated to “mentallics” – which is basically a mental ability to communicate with others and influence the opinions and actions of others – exists separately from the First Foundation, which is dedicated to science.

If you read the books in the order I read them, there’s nothing surprising about the Second Foundation.

This book is divided into two parts. In the first part, the Second Foundation defeats the Mule. Frankly, the first part was pretty bad. There was very little development, so the end wasn’t particularly interesting. The Second Foundation manages to turn the Mule into a benevolent dictator (apparently it can’t use his incredible powers to speed up the original plan at all).

However, in defeating the Mule, the Second Foundation revealed its existence to the First Foundation. The second part of the book deals with the efforts of the First Foundation to find and destroy the Second Foundation.

I found this a bit far fetched. The First Foundationers basically worshipped Hari Seldon as a god, but apparently wanted to wipe out the Second Foundation. Anyway, the First Foundation eventually finds what it believes is the Second Foundation and wipes it out.

Once the Second Foundation is revealed, it’s not clear why they haven’t found any way of improving on Seldon’s original plan. After all, in hundreds of years, some variables should have changed, right?

Anyway, I’ve got two books left in this series, then I’ll be looking for other good fiction to listen to on my commute. Recommendations are always appreciated.

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18 Responses to Review of “Second Foundation” by Isaac Asimov

  1. FD says:

    GRRM and Joe Abercrombie if you’re open to fantasy.

    If you have time to read rather than listen, grab Aquarium by Viktor Suvorov.

  2. Isegoria says:

    If you haven’t already read The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (volumes 1, 2A, and 2B), I would do that.

  3. Hubbard says:

    In many ways, I think it makes more sense to read the Foundation books in the order Asimov wrote them, rather than how the occur chronologically in the Foundation Universe (I’d say the same for C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia).

    After the original trilogy, Asimov hit a snag: he wanted to sketch a better way to handle civilization, but wasn’t sure where to go. He’d modeled the old Galactic Empire on Rome, with Gibbons’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as inspiration, but he was also trying to build up a civilization. Another big influence was that as he started the series, WWII was raging, and he noticed in the thirties that people tended to put off dealing with a problem until it became a (Seldon) crisis. He wasn’t crazy about democracy, which was the system of government that the First Foundation developed, but he was also skeptical about a technocratic elite, which is the sort of government the Second Foundation would bring about. Asimov suspected (correctly, I think) that a democratic civilization like the First Foundation would despise rule by the Second, and would try to destroy it.

    He had, in other words, written himself into a trap. The monarchy/tyranny of the Galactic Empire was out, but he was intellectually honest enough to see too many flaws with the First Foundation’s democracy and the Second’s aristocracy.

    His first attempt out of the trap was Foundation’s Edge and <Foundation and Earth. They didn’t satisfy him or many of his readers, and I think they’re the weakest books in the series.

    His second attempt was with the prequels, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. And here, again, contemporary events were on Asimov’s mind. He thought that scientific advancement was stagnating and crime was rising (remember that he died just before Giuliani turned his beloved New York City around). It also seems that Asimov identified thoroughly with Hari Seldon. He was trying to figure out some way to create a better civilization, and knew as he wrote it, dying of AIDS, that he wasn’t going to be there to see it.

  4. joetexx says:

    My every attempt to reread 2nd Foundation founders on the insufferable Preem Palver. At the age of 14, a supertelepath mastermind posing as a rustic
    farmer in the ruins of a galactic capital who spoke in the dialect of a 1910 pushcart peddler in Manhattan seemed pretty funny at first.

    But I grew up among people who cultivated the land and raised livestock.
    Some of them, granted, were telepaths… My great-aunt Lauretta comes to mind. But it just seemed unlikely that they would every talk like big city street vendors. I relegated Pa and Ma Palver to the vaudeville ranks.

    Yea, and the whole motivation of the 1st Foundation in tracking down its twin was lame.

  5. NZT says:

    Your description of Asimov’s writing reminds me of Neal Stephenson. His first few books were rough around the edges in their style and organization, but they had tons of personality and idiosyncratic humor, and as a relatively unknown author he was forced to be economical to keep the reader’s attention. His later books still have some neat ideas in them, but the writing style is more bland and he seems incapable of writing anything shorter than 800 pages now (his last few books all involve HUGE segments that are just characters trying to travel from point A to point B while the main plot is put on hold). Cryptonomicon was probably his peak; it’s a long book but almost every page has something original, interesting, or hilarious going on.

    • Foseti says:

      I hadn’t thought of that, but that seems right to me.

    • asdf says:

      I’ve only read Snow Crash and Anathem. They both have all the exact same flaws, except its almost like he learned how to hide them a little bit over the years. Snow Crash is unreadable garbage. I actually lit the book on fire.

      • Isegoria says:

        Snow Crash really, really rubbed me the wrong way. Despite hating Snow Crash, I wanted to like Quicksilver, based on the subject matter, but it quickly began to grate on my nerves as well. Phant’sy that!

  6. Mike43 says:

    That appears to be a natural development in authors. Unless hubris takes over, and the editor fear of the famous author prevents some slashing and tightening.

  7. spacenookie says:

    Space Viking by H Beam Piper. It must be Space Viking. This book has everything you wanted but found to be missing in the Foundation books. You can get a free audiobook from http://www.booksshouldbefree.com

    • Isegoria says:

      I’ve recommended Piper’s Space Viking before as shockingly Moldbuggian. The characterization is close to nil, and the historical parallels are a bit too spot on, but I found it (oddly?) compelling.

  8. Handle says:

    Here’s three by Cormac McCarthy in order of recommendation:

    1. Blood Meridian
    2. The Road
    3. No Country For Old Men

    I’ve heard Suttree is good, but haven’t read it. I didn’t care for the borderlands Trilogy books – All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities on the Plain, but even so, his writing is always superb.

  9. Lenior says:

    Try “The van Rijn Method” by Poul Anderson. Anderson is much more poetic and humanistic than Asimov.

    • Foseti says:

      Thanks. I’d love to read some Poul Anderson, but it’s hard to figure out where to start

      • Isegoria says:

        Poul Anderson wrote in a variety of different styles. His van Rijn stories are pretty light pulp, built on much harder science than usual, but still pretty light. The heroes are also unusual — they’re merchants.

        His fantasy works are rather dark, in an authentically Nordic way.

        The few serious SF short stories of his that I’ve read were really, really solid, including the one that inspired (some elements of) Avatar.

        I read his regrettably titled time-travel classic, “The Man Who Came Early,” in high school, and it stuck with me. It can be found in The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century. You might also try his Time Patrol collection; I plan to.

  10. Alex J. says:

    Vernor Vinge. I don’t know if he’s in audio form, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could get A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky.

  11. Tarl says:

    In the last couple of weeks I’ve read most of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. I like ’em.

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