In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Empire, Foundation—now a trading empire—faces two of Hari Seldon’s crises. The first involves the Empire, which has finally taken notice of the periphery planets thanks to a glory-seeking general. War erupts between two halves of the galaxy and Foundation needs to find a way to defeat the general other than might since they still can’t match the Empire’s strength outright. The second crisis involves the Foundation (a complacent bureaucracy now), a group of rebel traders, and a mysterious man named the Mule. After having come through several of Hari Seldon’s crises now, Foundation has every expectation that they will come through this one too. Unfortunately, they never took into account that Seldon created a Second Foundation—one that might be able to succeed if the first failed.
If it’s possible, I loved the second Foundation novel more than the first. The first half of the novel (involving the Empire crisis) didn’t actually interest me as much as I expected it to. I was looking forward to the war between Foundation and the Empire, but the cold, dead hand of Seldon intervened and the plot sort of ended disappointingly. It was interesting to see an alternative way of a crisis ending, but it felt anticlimactic all the same.
Thankfully, Part Two made up for the “meh” beginning. There are times when these Foundation novels remind me so much of Star Wars and part two of F & E definitely struck me in that way. It was probably because the war between the Mule and Foundation was heavily influenced by the World Wars—bringing up similarities between it and Anakin and the Emperor taking over the galaxy in the prequels and Darth Vader in the original films. Instead of Jedi, we have mutants and “magicians” here, and it’s fascinating to see the similarities and differences between the two series. As a fan of Star Wars, this book series pleases me so much.
In addition to the amazing second half, what made F & E better than the original was that there was finally a major female character. Batya could be called the main protagonist even of Part Two. It’s her (and not the men around her) who halts the Mule’s plan to take over the galaxy, and she does it in such a kick-butt way that she instantly ingratiated herself to me. She’s still not a perfect character. She’s so tough and intelligent that I got frustrated when she was relegated to cooking meals for the men and working in manufacturing during the war (a la Rosie the Riveter) rather than joining in with the Trading Federation. It was repeatedly said that she walked equal to the men (a surprise for the remnants of the old Empire), but she wasn’t quite Princess Leia—leader of the rebels. It would have made sense for her to be a fighter too or, at least, use her history and social science skills to help with behind the scenes work of the war effort, but alas, she didn’t get to be quite that equal.
I can’t wait to see how everything shakes out in the third novel since we’re finally at the end of the Empire and the supposed years of barbarianism are just beginning. Here’s hoping that the Second Foundation will prove as interesting as the first!
What are your favorite Classic Science Fiction novels?
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