Prelude to Foundation, by Isaac Asimov (pub. 1993)
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Caution: Spoilers. Oh, lots of spoilers (including of major deaths), which I regret, but it's unavoidable, if I want to explain anything of the plot in anything more than the simplest, most ineffective of terms. It should also be noted that this is the seventh book in the Foundation series, in the order that the books were written by Asimov, though it is the second book within the chronological setting of the story. I will assume that you've definitely read "Prelude to Foundation" before reading this book, so I won't consider any revelations about that book to be spoilers, in this review. It's also possible you will have read the other five books in the series, unless you choose to read the series in chronological order rather than by date of publication. So... some things I say here might- for you- constitute spoilers for those books, or not.
Part I - Eto Demerzel
So. This book picks up in 12,028 G.E., eight years after the events of "Prelude to Foundation." Unlike that book, which covered a period of roughly a few months, this one covers the remainder of Hari Seldon's life (in 10-year intervals), concluding with his death, in 12,069 G.E. (1 F.E.) The first part concerns the rise of a sort of conspiratorial group that wants to overthrow First Minister Demerzel, though really it's more of a cult of personality than a conspiracy... A man named Laskin "Jo-Jo" Joranum is becoming quite popular on Trantor, a fact which is brought to Hari Seldon's attention by Yugo Amaryl, who is second only to Seldon himself in the Psychohistory Project at Streeling University. (But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself; the Project didn't technically exist as yet, actually. Hari and Yugo had been working on it in secret for years now, while they both had professorial jobs at the University, Hari as head of the Mathematics Department. At this point, they had still made practically no real progress in developing psychohistory.)
Soon after Yugo's warning, Hari breaks up an unauthorized assembly on the campus, being led by Gambol Deen Namarti, who was Jo-Jo's right-hand man in the Joranamite movement. I want to mention at this point that in "Prelude," we'd seen that Hari had some skill at fighting, using a Heliconian style we might call a martial art. I don't believe a name was ever mentioned in that book for the fighting style, but in this book it is frequently referred to as "Twisting." Hari remains a pretty good Twister, though at forty years old, it's not quite as easy for him as it used to be. Though his foster son, Raych, who was 12 in the first book and 20 now, has become an excellent Twister, himself.
Hari soon becomes more concerned about Demerzel's safety, especially after his wife, Dors Venabili, let him know that he was wrong to assume Demerzel was untouchable. The reason Hari had assumed this is something I had avoided spoiling in my review of the previous book, but I'll reveal it now: I said before that Chetter Hummin was in fact R. Daneel Olivaw, but what I failed to mention was that Hummin was also Eto Demerzel, Cleon's First Minister, against whom Hummin himself, ironically, had initially warned Hari. And so, Demerzel, aka Daneel, is a robot, one with mentalic powers that could affect human minds. But Dors explained to Hari something that I thought should have been perfectly clear to him by the end of the previous book, that the use of that power required minimalism, to avoid unforeseen and undesirable consequences. Anyway, Hari decided to talk to Demerzel about Joranum, though before he could do so, he had a meeting with Joranum and Namarti (and brought Raych along). Of course, like everyone else who learns of the existence of psychohistory, Joranum wants Hari to use it for him (which, naturally, he thinks will be to the benefit of the Empire).
When Hari does see Demerzel, he hopes the First Minister may be doing something to stop Joranum... and Demerzel is doing all he can, but he tells Hari it's not enough. Hari will have to do something, himself, though neither of them has any idea what. But there were a couple of important points. One, Hari had determined that Joranum was not, as he claimed, from the provincial world of Nishaya. In fact, his guess was that Joranum was actually from the Mycogen Sector of Trantor. Two, Joranum's message of equality for all sectors appealed to people from the Dahl Sector, like Raych. So, he came up with a plan of sending Raych to Dahl, in the hopes of meeting Joranum and convincing him he was on his side.
Raych does meet with Joranum and Namarti, and tells them something I won't spoil for you. But while Namarti thinks what Raych says is ridiculous, Joranum believes him- because he's Mycogenian, he's eager to believe it. And at first, this seems to make things worse for Demerzel, but ultimately, his belief leads to his downfall (which is ironic, considering what Raych said was true, even if Raych himself didn't believe it). In any event, all this was Hari's plan, which he maintains was not psychohistory, but at the very least I'd call it an impressive bit of psychology, which is after all an important component of psychohistory. One thing he didn't plan on, however (and which I've no choice but to spoil for you), was that Demerzel chose to leave office himself, after the crisis was over, and Cleon made Hari his new First Minister, a position Hari certainly didn't want....
Part II - Cleon I
The next part takes up the story ten years later, in 12,038 G.E., when Hari Seldon was 50. He has spent the past 10 years as First Minister of the Galactic Empire, which naturally takes a great deal of his time, which means he has had relatively little time to devote to psychohistory. During his first year in this position, there had been an attempt on his life, which was stopped by his constant protector, Dors, after which she would come to be known as "The Tiger Woman." There was also a gardener named Mandell Gruber, who had tried to be of assistance in stopping the assassin, and ever since then, Hari had been friendly with him, whenever he saw him tending the Imperial Palace grounds.
While Hari himself had little time for psychohistory, Yugo worked on it constantly, as did a team of technicians, though only Hari and Yugo knew what it was really all about. At least, there seems to be more progress being made by this point, and we also find that Hari and Yugo had a device they'd constructed called the Prime Radiant, which provided a holographic display of their equations, which provided an as yet dim view of future historical probabilities. (It's a nice touch, for anyone who's read the earlier books, in which the members of the Second Foundation use a Prime Radiant.) Using this, Yugo has seen an impending crisis: either something bad will happen on Trantor, or the Outer Worlds will begin to break away. Hari decides that somehow, they must keep Trantor safe, as losing some Outer Worlds would be a smaller problem- for trouble on Trantor could mean they wouldn't be free to continue developing psychohistory.
We soon find that there is a new Joranumite conspiracy, headquartered in the Wye Sector, led by Namarti. They've been causing breakdowns in various systems around Trantor, which is meant to make the current government seem ineffective. Meanwhile, Raych has a job in the Ministry of Population, and is finding out just how hard it is to implement the ideals of equality that Joranum used to talk about. Which leads to the realization that human nature hasn't changed much throughout history, and it seems impossible to change it. Which brings to my mind the nature of the world of Gaia, from the fourth and fifth books (a nice, subtle touch, I felt, but I won't spoil its nature here). Anyway, Hari has suspicions about the breakdowns, as well as about the murder of an old Joranumite in Wye. So he sends Raych to investigate.
Meanwhile, Cleon, reminded of the story of Gruber trying to help Hari during the assassination attempt years ago, takes it into his head to make Gruber the new Chief Gardener, as the current one is nearing retirement. This would mean administrative work rather than actual gardening, an idea that Gruber finds devastating. He cannot, however, refuse the Emperor, nor can Hari offer any hope of talking Cleon out of his decision. It seems a trifling matter, perhaps, but it will eventually have greater ramifications than Hari could have imagined- though I really think he should have, if he hadn't been so preoccupied with other, more obviously dire matters. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In Wye, Raych (using the name Planchet) meets a woman named Manella Dubanqua, who, in a way, introduces him to a man named Gleb Andorin, who was one of the top people in the Joranumite conspiracy now led by Namarti. There is some talk of Joranumite ideals as "democracy," which doesn't seem to be a well-known word, in the Empire. Anyway, Namarti plans to have some of his people infiltrate the Imperial Palace grounds in the guise of new gardeners, to be brought in, as is the custom, when a new Chief Gardener is appointed. Andorin suggests Planchet be one of the infiltrators, and kill Cleon. However, Namarti doesn't want Cleon dead, he wants to use him as a figurehead. He only really wants Hari Seldon dead, both as revenge for Joranum, and so that Namarti can become First Minister, himself. Of course, Andorin was a member of the Wyan Mayoralty family, who of course were basically using the Joranumites as a means to get rid of Cleon and set themselves up as an Imperial dynasty. In spite of this disagreement, the two do reach an accord based on mutual convenience.
Already I feel I've given too many details, so I'll refrain more any more set-up, but of course, it is regrettably the case that I can't avoid some spoilers of this section before moving on to the next section of the book. So I'll say that in the end, Hari is not killed, but Cleon is... and nevertheless, Namarti's and Andorin's plans fail.
Part III - Dors Venabili
The third part of the book is set in 12,048, when Hari Seldon was 60. Shortly after Cleon's assassination 10 years earlier, Hari had resigned as First Minister, and a military junta took control of the government. Hari returned to Streeling University. Raych is now married to Manella (much to Dors's chagrin), and they have an 8-year-old daughter named Wanda. Hari's young granddaughter was upset because she'd recently had a bad dream about him dying, which causes Dors to feel concerned for Hari's safety.
Meanwhile, Hari has had a bit more time this past decade to actually concentrate on the development of psychohistory, along with Yugo Amaryl (who, as always, was more single-mindedly devoted to it than anyone, including Hari; Yugo had also been the one to suggest isolated Foundations to serve as the seeds of a new and better Empire). Of course, they now headed a larger team of psychohistorians than ever before. At last, the Psychohistory Project was in full swing. And things were getting more promising, since a set of "achaotic equations" had been devised by one of the Project's mathematicians, a man named Tamwile Elar. He had also created an enhancement to the Prime Radiant, called the Electro-Clarifier, with the help of one of the Project's nonmathematicians, Cinda Monay. Elar had also been the one to suggest a sixtieth birthday celebration in Hari's honor, which was being arranged by Manella.
The entire University was given over to an elaborate three-day celebration, which Hari would rather not have had at all, but even he couldn't help but be impressed and flattered by it all. Shortly thereafter, Hari had a meeting with the latest head of the junta, General Dugal Tennar. Tennar's advisor, Colonel Hender Linn, tells him- in the old, familiar pattern of things- that psychohistory could prove useful to the junta, but only if Seldon can be gotten rid of in a manner that seems natural, so that someone more sympathetic to them could take over the Project. However, Hari and Yugo clearly had some kind of plan for dealing with the General, which they didn't share with anyone else... but it involved the first true test of psychohistory as a viable tool.
But Dors continued to worry about Hari. She breached the Palace grounds during his meeting with the General, to confront Linn, and threaten him, should Hari come to any harm. Later, she conducted her own little investigation within the Project, trying to find out if anyone there might wish to harm Hari. Eventually, she comes to the conclusion that the Electro-Clarifier may be causing Hari's and Yugo's health to deterioriate- moreso Yugo's, since he spends more time using the Prime Radiant than Hari, and Yugo is clearly in worse health than Hari, in spite of being 11 years younger. Her suspicion proved wrong, but it led to the truth... and sadly, I must once again divulge a tragic spoiler. Dors's investigation led to her own death, but not before she stopped the traitor within the Project's ranks. We also finally learn, unequivocally, that something one might have suspected about Dors throughout the sixth book, especially at the end, and which was hinted at several times in this book... was, in fact, true. Meanwhile, Hari and Yugo's experiment proved a success, and the junta would soon be toppled.
Part IV - Wanda Seldon
The fourth part takes place in 12,058, when Hari Seldon was 70. Or, principally it does. The book has included flashbacks before, but it seems to do so a good deal more in this section. It begins with Hari limping into the Galactic Library, where he had an office to conduct some of his research. On his way, he overheard a few people having a discussion, which echoed his own ideas about the decline of the Empire. He ended up setting up a meeting with one of them for the next day. But now, he continued on to his meeting with the Chief Librarian, Las Zenow, who informed him that a suitable world for Hari's purposes had been located, on the Periphery of the galaxy. A world called Terminus (which as we all know very well, becomes the seat of the First Foundation). Of course, Hari has to lie to Zenow, and pretty much everyone, about his true intentions for Terminus, claiming the project he has in mind is the compiling of an Encyclopedia Galactica, of all the knowledge of the Empire....
Meanwhile, he ruminates about the events of the past several years. Six years earlier, when Wanda was 12, Manella gave birth to another daughter, Bellis. Raych, meanwhile, had become a minor celebrity due to the success of a book he'd written about Dahl, and was often called away to give lectures about it. And so, of course, Wanda felt neglected by her family, and wound up spending more time with Yugo. He showed her some of the equations of the Prime Radiant, just as a colorful display, but she somehow noticed something wrong with a certain set of equations... a set which Hari, when Yugo later told him about it, pointed out that Yugo himself had been concerned about. Hari believed Wanda had read Yugo's mind, and this led him to a new train of thought concerning the future of psychohistory....
Hari hoped to find more people with such mentalic abilities as Wanda's, that he might establish his latest idea, the Second Foundation. His first hopes of finding a means to locate such people came to naught, and the story skips ahead 2 years. In those two years, he had kept a private office at the Galactic Library, but it was only now that he first met Las Zenow. He requests more space at the Library, so that some of his associates can work on the Encyclopedia Project, until a suitable world can be found for it. However, the Library's Board is unwilling to approve this, and Zenow hasn't the power to force the issue. In fact, they might vote not to renew Hari's lease of his current office.
Meanwhile, Hari visits Yugo on his deathbed, and tells him of an expansion of Yugo's own plan to have two separate Foundations. Hari's idea is for one Foundation to be made up of physical scientists, while the Second Foundation would be made up of psychohistorians, who were also mentalics, like Wanda. They would introduce fine adjustments to the Prime Radiant over time. This knowledge made Yugo's final moments happy ones.
Later, during a meeting with Gennaro Mummery, the head of the Library's Board, and the chief opposition to Hari's presence at the Library, Hari at least gains some small measure of hope. The trouble is the Library- like everything else in the Empire, in these times of decline- has less credits than it once did. If Hari could find a way for more money to come in, he might have a chance. (Incidentally, this is also the first time Hari hears himself referred to as "Raven Seldon," a nickname which was mentioned in the first story of the first Foundation book.) And so, Hari appeals to the new emperor, Agis XIV, for credits for the Library. Though Agis shows little interest in psychohistory, he would be willing to support the Encyclopedia Project... but not with funding, for the Empire, in these times of decline, has less credits than it once did.
And then we skip forward again to Hari at age 70, though earlier in the year than at the start of the section. He was out walking one night, when he was attacked by a few thugs, but Raych came to his rescue, upon the advice of Wanda. Back at Streeling, Raych informed him that he'd gotten a new job, teaching at a University on Santanni. He planned to take Manella, Wanda, Bellis, and Hari with him, but Hari refused to go. He didn't want to leave his psychohistorical research behind, even though he no longer had funding for it; not only could he not acquire offices for his associates in the Library, he also could no longer afford to pay his workers at Streeling. But Wanda, now 18 years old, decided to stay with her grandfather on Trantor, and help him in his research, much to the dismay of her parents.
One night, Hari and Wanda are out walking, and again Hari gets attacked, but this time he manages to defend himself... for which he gets arrested. The magistrate lets him off, and later Hari and Wanda visit Emperor Agis once again, who once again tells Hari he has no credits (as well as explaining how the Empire's new "democracy" makes him effectively powerless), but he does suggest they appeal to wealthy entrepreneurs. These efforts fail, in spite of Wanda using her mentalic powers to try to push them to agree. However, the story finally catches up to where it started, and Hari meets with the young man he'd met at the Library just before Zenow told him about Terminus.
His name was Stettin Palver (and readers of "Second Foundation" will remember Preem Palver, who will be a descendant of Stettin's, some 400 years later; coincidentally, there was an unrelated character in that book named Stettin). Anyway, Stettin Palver is a fan of Hari's work, and also turns out to be a Twister. Although Hari can't pay him much, he agrees to join the Psychohistory Project, as well as becoming Hari's bodyguard. And then one day, for the third time, Hari is attacked. Stettin defends him, and the two of them end up on trial (or rather, a very public preliminary hearing). A boy who witnessed the incident is lying about it, but both Wanda and Stettin mentally push him to tell the truth, and the charges end up being dismissed.
Shortly after this, Las Zenow retired, and Tryma Acarnio became the new Chief Librarian. He was sympathetic to Hari's Encyclopedia Project, and yet felt the Library could not afford to be associated with someone like Hari, who was at this point quite unpopular in the public eye. (After all, there was a reason people called him "Raven Seldon"; the fact that the decline he'd been predicting for decades was now becoming quite visible was thought by many to be his fault.) The near-trial was the final straw. And so, not only would his associates not be granted the access he'd been seeking for years now, but his own access would be suspended.
To make matters worse, Hari and Wanda learn of unrest on Santanni, putting their family in danger. Raych remained behind, while Manella and Bellis left on a ship bound for Anacreon. Hari turns to Agis in the hopes of getting news about them, and when it comes... it isn't good. It sends both Hari and Wanda into a state of despair, with little interest in psychohistory. That is, until Wanda learns that Stettin has the same ability she has, and together, they're more powerful than either is alone. This knowledge rejuvenates Hari, and the two of them manage to push Acarnio into giving Hari all the space he needs for his Encyclopedia Project. They would also try again to find benefactors to fund their work.
More importantly, the two of them would go out searching for others like themselves, and eventually they found a psychologist named Bor Alurin (who had been mentioned in the original Foundation book). Finally, Hari told Wanda and Stettin about his plan for the Second Foundation, which must be secret and secluded. From there, they could search for others like them, and in the centuries to come, their successors would be the protectors of the First Foundation. One thing that confuses me a bit is that the Second Foundation, where Wanda and Stettin would seclude themselves, away from everyone, would be located at Star's End, and readers of the earlier books know where that is... And, without telling you in this review where it is, I can at least say it's far from secluded, at this point. So I don't really get it. But in any event, there are a few other books in the series, written by authors other than Asimov himself. Maybe they'll explain it, or maybe I'll be forever confused. We'll see.
Part V - Epilogue
This is just a few pages, set in 12,069 G.E., when Hari Seldon was 81. I can't really tell if Hari was recording a final message, or just talking to himself. I don't get the impression that what he was saying was ever heard or read by anyone else, so... whatever. It's 11 years since he sent Wanda and Stettin away. There are mentions of things we know from the original Foundation book; Crisis holograms, Gaal Dornick, the actual establishment of the Encyclopedia Project on Terminus (along with Alurin), and another trial, detailed in the first book. He ruminated on various things, in his final moments, mostly his life's work... but also of his family, all of whom were now lost to him.
I must say, there's much I loved about this book. Getting to know Hari, the mythic figure from the original trilogy, getting to see the slow development of psychohistory over the decades, and getting to know all the people who were important to Hari; even if history would barely remember some of them, they meant everything to him. And it really felt rather tragic, every time he lost someone, relative or friend, dead or merely departed. Daneel, Cleon, Dors, Yugo, Raych, Manella, Bellis, Wanda... even Agis eventually disappeared mysteriously. There were a few characters I shed tears for, along with Hari. The passage of time, in each successive part, I felt that, too. I... always love such a blend of the epic and the personal. And... the book is ultimately both a fitting end and beginning to the Foundation story....