Author: Isaac Asimov
Genre: Hard Science Fiction
Series: Foundation Book Three
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(Spoilers for Foundation and Foundation and Empire are below).
The final book in the original Foundation trilogy focuses on the mysterious Second Foundation that Seldon mentioned he created in Foundation. The Second Foundation is also sought out by certain characters during the Mule’s story in Foundation and Empire so that the original Foundation could be saved. This doesn’t happen and the original Foundation falls.
The first half of Second Foundation focuses on the Mule’s attempts to find the Second Foundation so he can conquer the rest of the galaxy with ease. It’s believed, with the first Foundation representing the physical science aspect of Seldon’s belief in psychohistory, that the Second Foundation is focused on psychology. This focus on psychology leads many people to believe in two things: that the Seldon plan is still intact and that members of the Second Foundation likely have mutant abilities similar to the Mule’s.
Like Foundation and Empire this book was also originally published as two separate novellas, the first being called Now You See It, and the second being called And Now You Don’t. Like Second Foundation one of the stories out performs the other, but the gap in quality between the two is less so. On the other hand neither of the stories is able to surpass the original story about the Mule.
The Mule’s relentless search for the Second Foundation becomes obsessive. Here we first meet some of the members of the Second Foundation and yes they do have abilities similar to the Mule’s. A chess like battle of mental abilities ensues as the Second Foundation fights for its survival , and the survival of the Seldon plan. The Mule is not supported by a lot of the good cast of characters that he had in Second Foundation, and as a result the story remains less intriguing. But out of the two in this book, it’s the stronger one.
The second story focuses on the Second Foundation’s quest to bring their existence back into relative obscurity. They wish to do this so that they can take over the Seldon plan when Seldon actually predicted the Second Foundation should take over. Opposing them are people who believe the Second Foundation exists and they actively seek to find members of the Second Foundation along with the planet they currently reside on. At the heart of the story is Arkady Darrell, a fourteen year old girl and the granddaughter of Toran and Bayta. With his first major female narrator, Asimov isn’t really able to do much with her, which is quite a disappointment. The opportunity for a progressive female character is squandered as Arkady’s hopes and dreams of being a “mistress” make for incredibly low set of goals … even by 1950s standards.
The final installment of the Foundation Trilogy feels almost inconclusive. It’s just another ending to another episode of Foundation. Granted there are other books that came out later in the series, I find that I was looking for a stronger ending from Asimov. This is the weakest of three books, it’s by all means still an important work in science fiction and it was mostly enjoyable, but after the first two books I did find myself expecting more.