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Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov

The Foundation books weirdly feel both outdated and fresh.

An open book, eyeglasses, and a cup of coffee.
Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

New York: Ballantine Books, 1983. Originally published by Del Rey in 1953.

Second Foundation is (ironically) the third book in Asimov’s Foundation series, and it read a lot like the first two Foundation books. The first three books in the Foundation series — Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation — comprise a trilogy. The success of the original trilogy pushed Asimov to later write several more novels set in the universe.

The Foundation books weirdly feel both outdated and fresh. Outdated because the far-far-far future Asimov envisions looks like a mash up between feudalism and 1950’s America. I was reminded of 1950’s America by the way the characters spoke and interacted with each other, and also by how rapidly digital technologies have outdated Asimov’s vision of the future. The gender system of 1950’s America also remains largely intact; I’m not sure I’d call these books sexist, but they are thoroughly patriarchal. Sometimes I find the outdated-ness of these books fun; sometimes it gets annoying.

However, for being old, Asimov’s Foundation trilogy also feels original and fresh. There are large backdrops of war and violence throughout the books, but the violence almost always stays at the periphery. The core of each story revolves around an interesting problem and characters searching for an answer. There’s a lot of dialogue in which characters hash out their theories. I also developed my own theories for how each crisis would be overcome, and usually I managed to get part of it right and part of it wrong. Reading the Foundation novels is a lot like playing a fun mind-game. Other books feel like this too at times, but I don’t think I’ve read anything that felt quite as much like a fun mind-game as Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.

Moreover, the first three Foundation novels are actually collections of novellas. Between these novellas, major characters change and time advances by hundreds of years, but there remains a sense of coherence, a sense of progress in the overall plot. That’s pretty cool. I’m not sure I’ve read any other series that functions quite like that. So the structure of the Foundation trilogy also feels fresh.

If you like mind-games, read Foundation. If you liked Foundation, read Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation.