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Foundation and Earth (1986)

Isaac Asimov

Doubleday, New York; ISBN: 0-385-23312-4; Pages: 356

Review © 2003 Branislav L. Slantchev

The last (chronologically) of the Foundation novels. In this one, Asimov tries to undo the damage he'd done in Foundation's Edge, in which Trevize, a perfectly sane human being from Terminus, was confronted with the difficult choice of the future of the entire Galaxy. He was given three options: a Second Empire under the technological prowess of the First Foundation, a more subtle Empire under the mental control of the Second Foundation, or Galaxia, a galaxy-wide organism in which human beings would lose their individuality and become parts of a common grand consciousness. Trevize chose Galaxia, and this novel is his quest to find out why he did that.

Trevize is once again accompanied by Professor Pelorat and his lover Bliss, who is Gaia. The professor is made almost unbearable this time around. He is a sniveling coward, pathetically clinging to the young Bliss, who seems attracted to him for some unnatural reasons (as Trevize suspects). Not only that, but Pelorat is made most annoying with his constant digressions, inability to assert himself, and almost profound lack of relevance. In fact, in all this he plays the role of a walking dictionary, nothing more. Why Asimov suddenly developed such a distaste for academics will remain a mystery to me.

Anyway, the three first visit Comporellon, a planet that claims to have been settled directly from Earth. Their ship is almost seized by the sexy Minister of Transportation, but after Trevize fucks her, she lets them go, apparently afraid that their search for Earth would bring bad luck on her superstitious planet. Ridiculous, especially considering the advantages of having a gravitic ship in one's possession. And screw the legality of the Psychic Probe! I would have used it. As Hober Mallow once said, "Don't let morals get in the way of doing what's right."

So, the three escape and land on Aurora, an abandoned world where they are almost devoured by wild dogs. Whatever. Then they proceed to another Spacer world (that is, a planet colonized by the first wave of settlers from Earth, who used robots, did not like Earth, went back to make it radioactive, and then were outpaced by the second wave of settlers who did not use robots), Solaria. This one is odd for it is inhabited by twelve hundred individuals each living separately, in what appears total freedom, powering vast armies of robots to work on his land. These Solarians are peculiar in that they never have personal contact, are hermaphrodites, and have developed the ability to channel energy. It is a clear stab at extreme individualism (the libertarian utopia), that is made weaker but its sheer stupid implausibility.

These totally free individuals, however, are subject to being "shamed" by the others, and so the Solarian tries to kill our heroic trio. Instead, Bliss kills him, and during their narrow escape, the three stumble across a helpless child, which they take along once they find out it is to be killed by the Solarians.

The tiresome journey continues and they visit Melpomenia, another dead world with a stupid name. Here, they locate a library (!), find a functioning terminal (!), and manage to power it up to read a film-book (!). Fortunately, they find nothing of significance in that way, and after an entirely unnecessary false alarm with some green moss, they go back to the ship. Pelorat finally has a not entirely dull idea about how to find Earth, and they follow it, locating instead Alpha Centauri.

On Alpha's only island, they are greeted well. So well, in fact, that Trevize immediately nails the most ravishing beauty there. The child they have saved/abducted from Solaria captivates everyone with its ability to play the flute, and our adventurers find out they are to be killed. Yet again! They, of course, do not get killed, but instead escape and locate Earth... which is radioactive!

Fortunately, the Moon is not, and they land there, were the robot Daneel, who is twenty thousand years old. Somehow it all begins to sound suspiciously melodramatic and ancient. It now turns out that this Robot has been guiding everyone to bring him the little hermaphrodite so he can transfer his brain into its, prolong his life, and see to it that Galaxia is established. Trevize also figures out the answer to his question why he chose Galaxia. In an entirely self-serving and unwarranted hook, a vague threat from other galaxies is postulated, and the solution assumed that only by uniting into Galaxia can the humans meet this threat successfully.. unless the hermaphrodite Solarians are not the threat already! And so it ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper, to quote the poet.

In many ways, this is the least imaginative of the Foundation books. The story is straight as an arrow: Trevize, Pelorat, and Bliss hop from world to world in their search for Earth. They are always received in hostility, yet they somehow always manage to escape.

This is the first Foundation novel in which Asimov makes a rather pitiful attempt at spicing up the story with sex. Well, he simply cannot do it well. It is forced, unnatural, and, well, plain boring. Asimov can never even come close to the sexual innuendo in Heinlein's works, and he lacks the grace and good humor of the Grand Master to make it seem light and natural. In fact, every time Trevize gets laid (which we never for a second believe is entirely of his own doing), Bliss is made to make some bitter comment, although Asimov is careful to state that she's not doing this out of jealousy or prudishness. Still, they are bitter comments, and they look misplaced. It is as if Asimov feels the need to excuse Trevize's escapades. Heck, he almost has him killed by one of them!

The burning question, of course, is why in the world Trevize chose Galaxia? I thought the correct choice was obvious: the First Foundation. Why? Because even though the thought of a Galactic Empire is quite alien to me and very unattractive (despite the clamor for order and peace, there's something stifling about an Empire), it is but a normal human physical rule that can be challenged, and will be challenged successfully in the end. That is, nothing will be eternal. Therefore, there is room for improvement, and there is hope.

The Second Foundation is horrifying with its mind control, for once the chains are invisible, they become permanent. No creature thinking itself free would care to revolt, and so it will always remain oppressed. Who cares whether it is a benevolent yoke or not? Therefore, this foundation must be destroyed.

And Galaxia is the ugliest of all alternatives. There human beings will become non-human, mere parts of a galactic consciousness, lose all individuality, and live happily ever after, thoroughly content, well-fed, and boring, like cattle in a cosmic pasture of paradise. (I surely hope that if Heaven exists I don't end up there.) Notice how Asimov seems to have realized what impossible and stupid corner he has backed himself into: can anyone believe that the mystical "threat from the yonder galaxy" is anything but a justification of the dumb choice Trevize made, a justification on grounds, ironically enough, entirely human?

Doubtless the worst of the five basic Foundation novels, this one, together with the previous, is an abomination and an insult to humanism. All the more odd given Asimov's often repeated claim that he did not believe in anything but humanity itself. Well, I guess that faith did not extend far enough to combat mutants from other galaxies. Pity.

The writing has not improved either. How many times can one possibly repeat the Three (Four) Laws of Robotics? Or tell the motivation for some action in a dialogue (who ever does that?) This novel is a difficult, unrewarding, and rather annoying read. The connection with the Robot universe also seems forced an unnatural. Why can't Asimov get over the idea that humanity somehow needs some benevolent director pulling its strings? Who cares if it's Gaia, the Second Foundation, a renegade mutant, or a Robot?

August 4, 2003