Second Foundation

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Second Foundation
Second foundation.jpg
Dust-jacket from the first edition
Author Isaac Asimov
Cover artist Ric Binkley
Country United States
Language English
Series Foundation Series
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Gnome Press
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 210 pp
Preceded by Foundation and Empire
Followed by Foundation's Edge

Second Foundation is the third novel published of the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, and the fifth in the in-universe chronology. It was first published in 1953 by Gnome Press.

Second Foundation saw multiple publications. The stories comprising this volume were originally published in Astounding Magazine (with different titles) between 1948 and 1950. Two other books of short stories were published shortly before, and decades later, Asimov wrote two further sequel novels and two prequels. Later writers have added authorized tales to the series. The Foundation series is often regarded as one of Isaac Asimov's best works, along with his Robot series.

The term also describes the organization by that name which is the focus of the book. The organization's existence (and nothing more) had been revealed in Foundation, searched for in Foundation and Empire, and makes brief appearances in this novel. It would not be described in detail until Foundation's Edge.

Plot summary[edit]

Part I: Search By the Mule is about The Mule's search for the elusive Second Foundation, with the intent of destroying it. The executive council of the Second Foundation is aware of the Mule's intent and, in the words of the First Speaker, allows him to find it—"in a sense". In the end the agents of the Second Foundation are able to catch the Mule off guard and telepathically alter his psyche (this is an ability both second foundationers and the Mule had), causing him to return to Kalgan to live out the remainder of his short life as essentially a benevolent despot.

Search by the Mule was originally published in the January 1948 issue of Astounding Science Fiction under the title "Now You See It—".

Part II: Search By the Foundation takes place sixty years after the first part, fifty-five years after the Mule's death (by natural causes). The members of the (First) Foundation are now fully aware that the Second Foundation is out there (they had known of its existence all along, but had not known its purpose or nature until the Mule's arrival). Also concurrent with this plot thread is the Foundation's ongoing conflict with the Mule's former imperial capital at Kalgan. The ensuing war is won by the Foundation, and is listed in the Encyclopedia Galactica as the last major conflict before the rise of the Second Empire.

After inventing a device that can jam telepathic abilities and can even be used to cause telepaths great pain, the Foundation finds and locates telepaths on Terminus, "at the other end of the galaxy" (from the First Foundation, also at Terminus). Since, as Arkady Darell puts it, "a circle has no end", then by tracing the disc of the galaxy around its edge, one would come back to Terminus. Thus, they declare the Second Foundation destroyed after finding the roughly 50 mentalist agents on Terminus, and are content to forget the matter. Finally, in response to the question "Where is the Second Foundation?", the First Foundation had found an answer that fit. However, although this was "the answer that satisfied", this was not "the answer that was true".

The Second Foundation was actually located on Trantor, at the center of the galaxy. It was called "Star's End" due to the ancient saying that "All roads lead to Trantor, and that is where all stars end". The location was also said to fit the "other end of the galaxy" location since the galaxy is not in fact a disc, but a spiral—and from the edge, the other end of a spiral lies at the center. The book also noted that Hari Seldon was a social scientist, not a physical one. When the two Foundations were founded, they could be described as being at opposite social ends of the Galaxy—with Trantor at the very center of galactic power and prestige, and Terminus at the other extreme, something the First Foundation failed to realize because its members were inclined to analyze Seldon's statement in physical terms.

Search by the Foundation was originally published in the November and December 1949 and January 1950 issues of Astounding Science Fiction under the title "—And Now You Don't".

The Second Foundation would again be revisited in Foundation's Edge.


On its initial publication, Galaxy reviewer Groff Conklin described Second Foundation as "a thoroughly satisfying and adult play of the scientific imagination."[1] P. Schuyler Miller reported it to be "good, sound, middle-of-the-road science fiction with a carefully hidden surprise."[2]

The organization[edit]

paperback edition of Second Foundation (art by Don Ivan Punchatz

The Second Foundation was founded by Hari Seldon as a budding colony of mentalics, people with telepathic abilities, located at "Star's End", an intentionally obscure term used by Seldon, which is later revealed to refer to the planet Trantor. In Forward the Foundation, the original Second Foundation is revealed to also include Hari's own granddaughter, Wanda Seldon, and his bodyguard Stettin Palver.

The establishment, location and development of this Foundation was a secret, "drowned in silence" to increase its effectiveness and security.

Whilst the First Foundation was strong in the physical sciences, the Second Foundation was strong in the mental sciences, including the continued development of psychohistory. Their function is to ensure that the Seldon plan comes to pass, both by refining the plan's contingencies to allow for even the most unlikely events, and to guard against unexpected developments, such as the Mule. Their eventual goal is to become the ruling class of the Second Empire in an effort to introduce mental sciences to humanity (whose benefits are, according to one Second Foundationer, less apparent, but longer lasting than physical sciences), while the First Foundation they manipulate forms the necessary political union.

The Second Foundation are governed by a council of the strongest mentalics, called the Speakers. However, the name "Speaker" is a misnomer, because, being telepaths, the use of actual speech is quite unnecessary. The leader of the group is the First Speaker. The only formal power of the First Speaker was to speak first at meetings of the Speaker's Table, but in practice it conferred significantly more power.

The structure of the Foundation is akin to both an intelligence network and a university. A complex of buildings on Trantor, the remnants of those saved from The Great Sack and those not demolished to provide metal for export, house a staff of technicians and analysts. Into these buildings flow reports from agents located in many parts of the Galaxy; these reports form the basis of any action that may be taken in furthering the aim of the Seldon Plan.

The Second Foundation spreads a net over the galaxy to detect and recruit staff and agents. These are then specially trained over many years. Some become statistical technicians, but the best of the trainees are invited to commence an apprenticeship for Speakerhood.


  1. ^ "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1953, p.79
  2. ^ "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction, June 1954, p.141
  • Chalker, Jack L.; Mark Owings (1998). The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Bibliographic History, 1923-1998. Westminster, MD and Baltimore: Mirage Press, Ltd. pp. 302–303.