Isaac Asimov, the
Foundation Trilogy (1951‐
53; serialized 1942-49)
For many readers of science fiction, Isaac Asimov is the presiding genius of the genre, the old master who revolutionized the form and provided the basis of many of its present characteristics. The primary work through which he did this is his award-winning Foundation trilogy — Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953). 1 This trilogy is a foundation in more ways than one: it is the basis of the development of the modern science-fiction epic, 2 from James Blish's Cities in Flight to Herbert's Dune series, and from Piers Anthony's 'Cluster' series to Julian May's Saga of the Exiles. Indeed Herbert's Dune novels are in some ways the 'Foundation' trilogy rewritten. 3 What Asimov succeeded in doing in this work was the combining of the Olympian overview of the human future that we have in Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men (1930) with the adventures of individuals that had previously been the basic character of much science fiction, from Mary Shelley to Wells and from Burroughs to Van Vogt. In this he was not the first, but he was certainly the most distinguished. From the time of his work, science fiction gains a fully epic dimension.
The Foundation trilogy begins with a psycho-historian Hari Seldon, living on the planet Trantor at the centre of a galaxy and a galactic empire far in the future. Seldon foresees the imminent collapse of the Empire and sets up a Foundation to survive the collapse, so arranging things that the Foundation will be exiled by the Empire to the planet Terminus on the galactic rim, and thus escape the ruin. His apparent object is that the existence of the Foundation civilization should ensure the reduction of the barbarism that will follow the collapse of the Empire from thirty thousand to one thousand years. But he has also set up another