by the Wanderer
Author: Isaac Asimov
Genre: Hard Science Fiction
Series: Foundation Book Two
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(Spoilers for Foundation are below).
Foundation and Empire begins a few decades after the concluding events in Foundation. The Foundation has brought its sector of the far galaxy under control. Now its trader based economy is starting to run into the Old Empire that the Foundation was once part of.
Despite the past few hundred years of successes and survivability, the Old Empire despite being weaker than it once was, is a lot more powerful than the Foundation. It has a larger military, larger population, and larger economy.
The Empire, currently under the reign of the emperor Cleon II, and his top general Bel Riose, begin an invasion of the Foundation. The Foundation having survived a number of catastrophic situations remains confident that it will once again be victorious … like it always has. External threats aren’t the Foundation’s only problem. A new powerful being living within the Foundation, who is only referred to as the Mule, is also preparing to rebel against the Foundation’s power.
Foundation and Empire is episodic like the original except there are two large parts instead of five smaller parts. The parts of Foundation and Empire were originally published as two separate novellas: The General and The Mule. This can create a sort of disconnect as the two parts of the story are very different from one another. Another disconnect is caused by the fact that one of the story’s is a lot better than the other.
The General is probably the weakest section of the Foundation series at this point in time. It’s still a solid section, but I found it harder to empathize with the new cast of characters. It also has the same type of formula as the previous three Foundation invasions in the first book, making it seem repetitive.
The Mule on the other hand remains one of Foundation’s strongest stories. Again another threat is presented to the Foundation, but this threat is more character driven. Who is the mysterious Mule? and what kind of power does he have? are questions that dominate the story. Other characters like Toran and Bayta look to find the Second Foundation in order to help with the Mule’s invasion. The best psychologist in the Foundation, Ebling Mis joins Toran and Bayta and continues to elaborate on the psychology of the Mule and his motivations. As a more elaborate and well thought out, the Mule has one of the most satisfying endings in the series.
Although the typical Asimov flaws – stiff language, the validity of psychohistory, and the missing worldbuilding – remain present, Foundation and Empire remains a strong novel. Although not being as strong as its predecessor, it should encourage you to finish out the trilogy.