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Foundation (Asimov novel)

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Dust-jacket of the first edition.
AuthorIsaac Asimov
Cover artistDavid Kyle
SeriesFoundation series
GenreScience fiction, political drama
PublisherGnome Press
Publication date
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Followed byFoundation and Empire 

Foundation is a science fiction novel by American writer Isaac Asimov. It is the first published in his Foundation Trilogy (later expanded into the Foundation series). Foundation is a cycle of five interrelated short stories, first published as a single book by Gnome Press in 1951. Collectively they tell the early story of the Foundation, an institute founded by psychohistorian Hari Seldon to preserve the best of galactic civilization after the collapse of the Galactic Empire.

Publication history[edit]

On August 1, 1941, Isaac Asimov proposed to John W. Campbell of Astounding Science Fiction that he write a short story set in a slowly declining Galactic Empire, based on the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Campbell liked the idea, and by the end of a two-hour meeting Asimov planned to write a series of stories depicting the fall of the first Galactic Empire and the rise of the second. Asimov submitted the first story "Foundation" on September 8, 1941, and Campbell purchased it on September 15.[citation needed] Asimov wrote seven more stories for Campbell's magazine over eight years, and they were later collected into three book volumes known as The Foundation Trilogy (1951–1953).[1]: 23–29 

Of these, "Foundation" (retitled as "The Encyclopedists" for the book collection) was published in Astounding in May 1942; "Bridle and Saddle" (retitled "The Mayors" for the collection) in June 1942; "The Big and the Little" (retitled "The Traders" for the collection) in August 1944; and "The Wedge" (retitled "The Merchant Princes" for the collection) in October 1944. Collected as Foundation in 1951, these four stories were accompanied by "The Psychohistorians", a book-exclusive prologue story.[1]: 23–26  The remaining four novellas were collected as Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953).[1]: 26–29 

The Foundation Trilogy won a Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series in 1966.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

"The Psychohistorians"[edit]

In 12,067 G.E. ("Galactic Era"), mathematician and psychologist Hari Seldon has developed psychohistory, a new field of science and psychology that allows for the probabilistic prediction of future events. By means of psychohistory, Seldon has discovered the decline and eventual fall of the Galactic Empire, angering its rulers, the Commission of Public Safety. Seldon defends his beliefs, and the Commission, not wanting to make Seldon a martyr, offers him exile to a remote world, Terminus.

"The Encyclopedists"[edit]

In 50 F.E. ("Foundation Era"), there is one region on Terminus that is suitable for the development of a large city, named Terminus City. The affairs of Terminus City are handled by its first Mayor, Salvor Hardin. Hardin believes Terminus is in danger of political exploitation by the four neighboring prefectures of the Empire. When Hardin's efforts are resisted by the Board, Hardin and his chief advisor, Yohan Lee, plan an overthrow of ruling board. Because the board was made up of Encyclopedists whose training was authoritarian, they could not recognize the possibility of revolt. Salvor Hardin then visited the three kingdoms each weaker than Anacreon, and convinced them that they must resist nuclear power from falling into Anacreon alone. The three issued a joint ultimatum that all be allowed to receive nuclear technology from Terminus City, ensuring that the Encyclopedists were indispensable to all.

"The Mayors"[edit]

In the kingdom of Anacreon, Prince Regent Wienis and his teenage nephew, King Lepold I, launch a direct military assault against Terminus, making use of an abandoned Imperial battlecruiser. Hardin secretly installs a kill switch into the cruiser, causing the crew to mutiny. The ship's commander, Admiral Prince Lefkin, Wienis's son, is captured and forced to broadcast a message to Anacreon. The message demands Wienis's arrest and trial before an ecclesiastical court. Wienis, maddened by his failure, orders Hardin's execution, but his royal guardsmen refuse to obey him. Attempting and failing, due to a protective energy field, to kill Hardin personally, Wienis dies by suicide.

"The Traders"[edit]

Master Trader Eskel Gorov, an agent of the Foundation government, travels to the world of Askone, hoping to trade atomics. Gorov, however, is met with resistance by Askone's governing Elders due to traditional taboos that effectively ban advanced technology. Gorov is imprisoned and sentenced to death.

Trader Limmar Ponyets is ordered by the Foundation to try to negotiate with the Elders. He meets with the Elders' Grand Master and deduces that he may be willing to exchange Gorov for a suitable bribe. Ponyets clumsily fashions a transmuter that will convert iron into gold. Councilor Pherl, the Grand Master's protégé, believes that a stable supply of gold will increase his power, and Ponyets sells him the transmuter.

Gorov is released quickly. According to a new agreement, he and Ponyets can take as much tin from Pherl's mines as they can carry.

"The Merchant Princes"[edit]

Three Foundation vessels have vanished near the Republic of Korell, which is suspected of either independent technological development or buying smuggled Foundation goods. Master Trader Hober Mallow is assigned to deal with Korell. He talks to Jaim Twer and offers him to come along. While the Master Trader and his crew are waiting in a spaceport hanger a man identifying himself as "Reverend Jord Parma" appears, saying he is a missionary. Korellian law forbids Foundation missionaries to be on the planet under penalty of death. Suspecting a set-up, Mallow decides to turn the missionary over to them.

Mallow's discoveries lead him to believe that the Empire has been providing weapons to client states. He journeys alone to the planet Siwenna, which he believes may be the capital of an Imperial province. He meets the impoverished patrician Onum Barr, who helps Mallow to understand the political situation.

A year after his return to Terminus, Mallow is tried for murder because he gave the Foundation missionary to the mob. He reveals his knowledge that Jaim Twer was working as an agent for Sutt, one of the men who send Mallow to Korell. Further, he produces a recording revealing that the "missionary" was in fact a Korellian secret policeman. Acquitted, Mallow is received with delight by the population of Terminus, which ensures him the Mayor's seat. Mallow has Sutt and Manlio arrested.

As Mayor, Mallow soon faces tension with Korell, which declares war on the Foundation. Mallow imposes an embargo on Korell. The Korellan economy collapses due to its dependency on Foundation technology, thus forcing its surrender.


"The Psychohistorians"[edit]

  • Hari Seldon, mathematician who develops psychohistory
  • Gaal Dornick, mathematician and Seldon's biographer
  • Jerril, an agent of the Commission of Public Safety who watches Gaal Dornick
  • Linge Chen, chief commissioner of public safety, and judge of Seldon's trial
  • Lors Avakim, the lawyer appointed to defend Gaal Dornick

"The Encyclopedists"[edit]

  • Salvor Hardin, First Mayor of Terminus
  • Anselm haut Rodric, soldier and Envoy from Anacreon to Terminus
  • Bor Alurin, Trantorian psychologist who trained Salvor Hardin
  • Jord Fara, Member of the Board of Trustees of the Encyclopedia Committee
  • Lewis Pirenne, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Encyclopedia Committee
  • Lundin Crast, Member of the Board of Trustees of the Encyclopedia Committee
  • Lord Dorwin, Chancellor of the Empire
  • Tomaz Sutt, Member of the Board of Trustees of the Encyclopedia Committee
  • Yate Fulham, Member of the Board of Trustees of the Encyclopedia Committee
  • Yohan Lee, one of Salvor Hardin's advisors and friends

"The Mayors"[edit]

  • Dokor Walto, Foundation Action Party activist
  • Jaim Orsy, Foundation Action Party activist
  • King Lepold I, King of Anacreon
  • Lem Tarki, Foundation Action Party activist
  • Levi Norast, Foundation Action Party activist
  • Lewis Bort, Foundation Action Party activist
  • Prince Lefkin, Wienis's eldest son
  • Prince Regent Wienis, Prince Regent of Anacreon, uncle of King Lepold I
  • Poly Verisof, Foundation ambassador and High Priest on Anacreon
  • Salvor Hardin, First Mayor of Terminus
  • Sef Sermak, Terminus City Councilor
  • Theo Aporat, head priest on Anacreon's flagship Wienis
  • Yohan Lee, organizer of Salvor Hardin's coup and close confidante of Hardin

"The Traders"[edit]

  • Eskel Gorov, Master Trader and Foundation agent sentenced to death on Askone
  • Limmar Ponyets, Master Trader, liberates Gorov in exchange for a transmuter
  • Les Gorm, Master Trader and knows Linmar Ponyets from trading

"The Merchant Princes"[edit]

  • Hober Mallow, Master Trader and first of the Merchant Princes
  • Publis Manlio, Foreign Secretary of the Foundation
  • Jorane Sutt, Secretary to the Mayor of the Foundation
  • Jaim Twer, Foundation agent planted on Mallow's ship


Writing after the 1951 publication of the five stories as a single book, reviewer Groff Conklin declared Foundation "a book of real intellectual entertainment and adventure",[3] while Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas found it "competent enough writing and thinking, if on the dull side."[4] At the same time, P. Schuyler Miller received the volume favorably, but noted that the "revision and inter-writing" of the component stories was "not quite so successful a job" as Asimov had managed with I, Robot.[5] In 1966, the Foundation trilogy won the prestigious Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series.[6]

Writing in 2011, Gizmodo singled out "The Psychohistorians" as "the perfect introduction to the Foundation series, a mini-masterpiece of world-building that helps you understand exactly what the Foundation is trying to do and, more importantly, why it all matters in slightly more than abstract terms."[7] io9 included the book on its 2012 list of "10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read".[8] In 2018, the chapter "The Encyclopedists" won a retrospective 1943 Hugo Award for the Best Novelette (of 1942).[9]


  1. ^ a b c Gunn, James (1982). Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (2005 Revised ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-8108-5420-1.
  2. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1972). The early Asimov; or, Eleven years of trying. Garden City NY: Doubleday. pp. 383–387.
  3. ^ "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf," Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1952, p. 86.
  4. ^ "Recommended Reading," F&SF, April 1952, p. 95
  5. ^ "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction, February 1952, p. 156
  6. ^ Hugo Awards Staff (September 1–5, 1966). 1966 Hugo Awards. Tricon [1966]. Cleveland, OH: World Science Fiction Society/The Hugo Awards. Archived from the original on 16 May 2019. Retrieved 1 April 2024.
  7. ^ Wimmer, Josh; Wilkins, Alasdair (May 9, 2011). "Isaac Asimov's Foundation: The Little Idea That Became Science Fiction's Biggest Series". Gizmodo. Archived from the original on February 26, 2024. Retrieved February 26, 2024.
  8. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (July 10, 2012). "10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Actually Read Them)". io9. Archived from the original on October 14, 2014. Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  9. ^ McCarty, Dave; et al. (August 16, 2018). 1943 Retro-Hugo Awards. Worldcon 76. San Jose, CA: World Science Fiction Society/The Hugo Awards. Archived from the original on 10 April 2024. Retrieved 1 April 2024.

Further reading[edit]

  • Chalker, Jack L.; Mark Owings (1998). The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Bibliographic History, 1923-1998. Westminster, MD and Baltimore: Mirage Press, Ltd.

External links[edit]