Dust-jacket from the first edition
|Cover artist||Ric Binkley|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Preceded by||Foundation and Empire|
|Followed by||Foundation's Edge|
Second Foundation consists of two previously published novellas originally published in Astounding Magazine (with different titles) between 1948 and 1950, making this the third volume in Asimov's Foundation series. 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.
Part I: Search By the Mule
Part I 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". The Mule sends two of his men on a search for the Second Foundation: Han Pritcher, who had once been a captain and a member of the underground opposition prior to being Converted to the Mule's service, and Bail Channis, an "Unconverted" man (one that hasn't been mind-manipulated by the Mule to join him) who has quickly risen through the ranks and impressed The Mule.
Channis reveals his suspicions about the Second Foundation being located on the planet Tazenda, and takes the ship there. They first land on Rossem, a barren planet controlled by Tazenda, and meet with its governor, who appears ordinary. Once they return to the ship, Pritcher confronts Channis and believes him to have been too successful with the search. The Mule, who had placed a hyper-relay on their ship in order to trace them through hyper-space, appears, and reveals that Channis is a Second Foundationer. Pritcher's emotional bonds to the Mule are broken in the ensuing exchange between Channis and the Mule, and is made to fall into deep sleep. With only the two of them left, the Mule reveals that he has brought his ships to Tazenda and has already destroyed the planet, and yet senses that Channis's dismay is only pretense. He forces Channis to reveal that Rossem is actually the Second Foundation, and that Tazenda is only a figurehead.
The First Speaker for the Second Foundation appears and reveals to the Mule that his rule is over; neither Tazenda nor Rossem is the Second Foundation, and Channis's knowledge had been falsely implanted to mislead the Mule. Second Foundation agents are headed to Kalgan and the Foundation worlds to undo the Conversions of the Mule, and his fleet is too far away to prevent it. When the Mule experiences a moment of despair, the First Speaker is able to seize control of and change his mind; he will return to Kalgan and live out the rest of his short life as 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
Part II takes place 60 years after the first part, 55 years after the Mule's death by natural causes. Those of the (First) Foundation, which left the Mule's empire based on Kalgan after his death, are now aware of the Second Foundation's existence; although they, like the Mule, only know that it is located "at the other end of the galaxy", they know that it contributed to his defeat. Foundationists and many others believe that the Second Foundation's protection guarantees the success of the Seldon Plan despite crises, such as the Foundation's ongoing conflict with 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. Some Foundationists, however, distrust the Second Foundation and its members' Mule-like mental powers, and hope to find and destroy it.
After inventing a device that can jam telepathic abilities and cause telepaths great pain, the Foundation finds and detains indefinitely about 50 telepaths on Terminus. The planet, the capital of the Foundation, is on the edge of the Milky Way. 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. The Foundationists believe that, with the Second Foundation destroyed, the Seldon Plan will proceed without interference from telepaths.
The telepaths however were nothing but martyrs taking part in a plot set by the Second Foundation to mislead the people of Terminus into thinking that the threat of the Second Foundation no longer exists, thus having the original Seldon Plan restored while its location remains secret. The Second Foundation is actually located on Trantor—the former capital of the Galactic Empire—in 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." P. Schuyler Miller reported it to be "good, sound, middle-of-the-road science fiction with a carefully hidden surprise."
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.
- 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.