05 September 2012

Foundation's Edge

Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov
Audiobook narrated by Scott Brick
1983 Hugo Award Winner
Got it from: Public Library
16h 19m

Anyone who has read any part of the Foundation Trilogy is aware of the engrossing and never ending battle of intricacies between Harry Seldon’s First and Second Foundations.  Just imagine the effect of the introduction of a third group, one consisting of an even more mentally powerful population, one that is free to operate outside of The Seldon Plan.  In Foundation’s Edge, Asimov does just that and the effect is a threat on the very existence of the First and Second Foundations.

“I have this gift of coming to a conclusion on the basis of almost nothing”
The central conflict throughout the third and fourth installments of the Foundation Series takes place between the opposing physical scientists of the First Foundation and the mentalic/intuitionist Second Foundation, both of which are integral to the Seldon Plan.  Foundation’s Edge adds a new element which exists outside The Plan.  The universe of the Foundation has become an interesting one in which objective knowledge takes a back seat to the unbelievable powers of intuition and telepathy.  It is a universe in which the spoken word and physical phenomena give away less about the plot than the knotted and obscured tendrils of logic and the mental strength and stamina of characters who are rarely what they appear.  It also makes for a never ending staccato of extremely tense moments which are suddenly and unexpectedly resolved by a character’s sudden and, until that moment, opaque intuition or realization. 

The idea of a universe in which people, can utilize the powers of intuition to construe facts from seemingly too little information on occasion gives rise to characters who come too rapidly and too confidently to right understanding and situations and tensions which seem to be solved by some kind of mental deus ex machina.  This is an issue I have struggled with throughout the Foundation Series and Foundation’s Edge did not break that mold, but it was certainly toned down compared to the third installment of the trilogy. Still, the way in which events in Foundation’s Edge are advanced so suddenly, simply by introducing some new awareness or piece of information that readers never could have been privy to, started to potentially grate on me near the end.

“I was just about to tell our guest the story of eternity”
By the time this quote was delivered, I was already well on my way to solidifying my biggest concern about this book.  Yes, I struggled with the way in which characters suddenly come to knowledge without a hint to the readers, but all-in-all I didn’t really have too much heartburn about it.  My real complaint though is that it seemed Asimov was trying to do way to damn much in Foundation’s Edge.  I would have been happy to learn of the anti-mules and go through the process of both Foundations looking for them, but Foundation’s Edge touches on about a million other pretty major topics.  This is not to say that Asimov didn’t make robots, the origin of humanity, FTL travel, etc. all fun, but it made for a fairly quick treatment of each and the tying up of all those elements in the end felt a little shaky and started to lose my attention.

Actually, that’s not much of a complaint is it?  I do have a better complaint (or would that be worse?), but it’s in the form of a spoiler, so read on with caution:

<<SPOILER: Bliss was a difficult character for me.  I had predicted the possibility that she wasn’t human as soon as she avoided the question, but then the issue was left alone until the very end.  The question about who or what she really was, was then overshadowed by her extreme objectification (and the same issue would apply to Novy as well), and I had basically forgotten about the issue until the end.  Probably not the best treatment of some possibly very cool characters and I was definitely disappointed.  I also wondered if I might have taken more from Bliss had I read any of Asimov’s robot stories.  Asimov himself suggests them as companion pieces in the afterword so maybe I’ll be more excited about her after I get to some of those.  Any thoughts about Bliss for those of you who’ve read this? >>

Written almost 30 years after the Foundation Trilogy, the fourth book was still, for the most part, unintelligible from the first three.  Perhaps the effect was aided by the fact that I listened to books 3 and 4 as audiobooks and Scott Bricks read them both.  Whatever the case, I think it’s fair to say that if you’re a fan of the Foundation Trilogy, you’ll enjoy Foundation’s Edge too.  I haven’t fallen in love with this series in the same way others have, but it is certainly very good stuff!


Universe 5/5
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Dialogue 3/5
Scientific Wonders 5/5 (gravitics, robots, telepathy blocks…yes)
Characters 2/5

Overall 20/25

This week’s book is Neuromancer by William Gibson.  According to the publisher the book that brought cyberpunk to the world.  New author, new subgenre – what could go wrong?

Next week’s book is The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke.  I have read two of Clarke’s novels.  One was okay, the other was pretty great.  Where will this one fall?


  1. It sounds like you read the first three Foundation novels before Edge. From your review, it sounds like this is necessary. Do you remember having any thoughts on whether Edge is stand-alone, or if it requires reading the first 3 to understand it?

  2. Actually, of the first four novels, I'd say this is least likely to stand on its own. One could certainly read it without any major issues, but the other books are even more accessible without having read the others. He tends to recap when necessary so theoretically, starting in the middle might be fine. That being said, I would never suggest skipping around this series. While the stories are coherent separately, there's a philosophical thread that connects them all and skipping around would result in missing out on the way Asimov builds up the issues throughout the whole series.


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