Foundation (Asimov novel)

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Dust-jacket of the first edition.
AuthorIsaac Asimov
Cover artistDavid Kyle
CountryUnited States
SeriesFoundation series
GenreScience fiction, political drama
PublisherGnome Press
Publication date
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.

Origin and early publication history[edit]

Four of the five stories had been earlier published in Astounding Science Fiction between 1942 and 1944 under different titles. A fifth part, the first in fictional chronology, was added for the 1951 Gnome Press edition. The original four stories also appeared in 1955 as part of Ace's double novel series as D-110 under the title The 1,000-Year Plan.

"The Psychohistorians" section is original to the 1951 book version.

"The Encyclopedists" was originally published in the May 1942 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction under the title of "Foundation".

"The Mayors" was originally published in the June 1942 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction as "Bridle and Saddle" (referring to Aesop's fable "The Horse that Lost its Liberty", a variant of which is recited by Hardin during the climax of the story).

"The Traders" was originally published in the October 1944 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction as "The Wedge".

"The Merchant Princes" was first published in the August 1944 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction as "The Big and the Little".

Two further books, each consisting of two novellas, were published shortly after and the three are considered a trilogy. Much later Asimov wrote two sequels and two prequels to the trilogy. Later writers have written new additions authorized by Asimov's estate.

The Foundation Series is often regarded as one of Isaac Asimov's best works, alongside his Robot series.[citation needed]


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 "Foundation" story on September 8, Campbell purchased it on September 15, and Astounding published it in May 1942. Asimov wrote seven more stories over eight years, and they were collected into The Foundation Trilogy. Published from 1951 to 1953, the three books became Asimov's most popular science fiction and won a Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series in 1966.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

"The Psychohistorians"[edit]

In 12,067 G.E. ("Galactic Era"), Trantor is the capital of the powerful 12,000-year-old Galactic Empire. Mathematician and psychologist Hari Seldon has developed psychohistory, a new field of science and psychology that treats all possibilities in large societies by mathematics, allowing for the probabilistic prediction of future events.

By means of psychohistory, Seldon has discovered the decline and eventual fall of the Empire, angering its aristocratic de facto rulers, the Commission of Public Safety. The Commission considers Seldon's statements treasonous, and he is arrested along with the young mathematician Gaal Dornick, who has arrived on Trantor to join his group. While being tried, Seldon defends his beliefs, explaining his predictions, including his belief that the Empire will collapse in 300 years and while a Second Empire will eventually rise it will only come after a 30,000-year dark age. He believes another future is attainable; the creation of a compendium of all human knowledge, the Encyclopedia Galactica, may not prevent the inevitable fall of the Empire but would reduce the dark age to one millennium.

The skeptical Commission, not wanting to make Seldon a martyr, offers him exile to a remote world, Terminus, with others who could help him create the Encyclopedia. He accepts their offer, prepares for the departure of the "Encyclopedists" and receives an imperial decree officially acknowledging his actions. Despite the Empire's belief it won by exiling Seldon, the outcome was exactly what he had intended and hoped for. Terminus would be the home of the first Foundation while a second would be established "at Star's End." Seldon, who is secretly dying, implores Dornick to become the new Foundation's leader.

"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 colony of professionals, devoted to the creation of the Encyclopedia, is managed by the Board of Trustees of the Encyclopedia Galactica Foundation, composed solely of scientists, called the Encyclopedists. The affairs of Terminus City itself are handled by its first Mayor, Salvor Hardin, who is a political figurehead and virtually powerless due to the influence of the Board.[i] However, Hardin refuses to accept the status quo, which he believes puts Terminus in danger of political exploitation by the four neighboring prefectures of the Empire, which have declared independence and severed contact with Trantor and are now calling themselves "The Four Kingdoms." Hardin manages to avoid an attempt by the Kingdom of Anacreon to establish military bases on Terminus and to take advantage of their nuclear power, which Terminus retains but which the Four Kingdoms do not. Hardin succeeds in diverting Anacreon from its initial goal and furthers his goal of the establishment of a stable political system on Terminus.

Hardin's efforts are still resisted by the Board and its chairman, Dr. Lewis Pirenne, who erroneously believe they are protected by imperial decree. To remove this obstacle, Hardin and his chief advisor, Yohan Lee, plan a "coup d'état" designed to remove the Board from its powerful position on the same day that, in the city's Time Vault, a holographic recording of Hari Seldon is programmed to play. The recording will contain psychohistoric proof of Hardin's success or failure; Hardin's coup is a great gamble due to the possible case that his beliefs are incompatible with Seldon's original goals.

The next day in the Time Vault, the recording of Hari Seldon appears. He reveals that the Encyclopedia is actually a distraction intended to make the colony's creation possible. The true purpose of the Foundation is to form one nucleus of a Second Galactic Empire and shorten the predicted period of chaos to a mere thousand years, rather than thirty thousand years.

After the recording ends, the Encyclopedists admit to Hardin that they had been wrong, and Pirenne schedules a meeting to discuss their next action. Hardin knew that this victory would give him the leverage he needed to gain power and thus "assume actual government" by removing the "figurehead" status from his Mayoral office. He also knew that Anacreon's forces would be arriving soon to forcibly take the Foundation. Hardin had guessed the solution, and as Hari Seldon said, "it was obvious."

"The Mayors"[edit]

Following Seldon's first holographic recording, Hardin visits the other three kingdoms and convinces them not to allow Anacreon to gain sole possession of the Foundation's scientific advances, thereby driving off Anacreon from Terminus. By 80 F.E., the Foundation's scientific understanding has given it significant leverage over the Four Kingdoms, though it is still isolated from the Galactic Empire. Exercising its control over the region through an artificial religion – Scientism – the Foundation shares its technology with the Kingdoms while referring to it as religious truth. Maintenance technicians comprise Scientism's priesthood, trained on Terminus. Most of these priests are unaware of the true importance of their "religion," referring to advanced technology as "holy" artifacts and tools. The religion is not suppressed by the secular elite of the Kingdoms, who use it to consolidate their power over the zealous populaces.

Hardin, as Mayor of Terminus City, is the effective ruler of the Foundation, and has been reelected as mayor continuously since his political victory over the Board. However, his influence is checked by a new political movement, "The Actionist Party". Led by city councillor Sef Sermak, they encourage direct action against the Kingdoms and a cessation of the current administration's scientific proselytizing. The Actionist Party proves wildly popular, and the Actionist leaders refuse to respond to Hardin's efforts to appease them.

The kingdom that is most concerning to the Actionists is that of Anacreon, ruled by Prince Regent Wienis and his nephew, the teenaged King Lepold I. Wienis plans to overthrow the Foundation's power by launching a direct military assault against Terminus, making use of an abandoned Imperial battlecruiser redesigned by Foundation experts to fit the needs of the elite Anacreonian navy. However, Hardin orders a few minor modifications to be incorporated into the ship's design prior to its completion.

Wienis plans to launch his offensive on the night of his nephew's coronation as king and sole ruler of Anacreon. Hardin attends the ceremony and is arrested but has already arranged with Anacreonian High Priest Poly Verisof, who knows of the true nature of Scientism and is also Terminus's Ambassador to Anacreon, to foster a popular uprising against Wienis. Convincing the Anacreonian populace that an assault against the Foundation and Terminus is blasphemous, Verisof leads an infuriated mob to the royal palace, demanding Hardin's release. Meanwhile, one of Hardin's modifications to the battlecruiser shows itself; an ultrawave relay, a remote kill-switch to the ship's systems. The priest-attendant of the ship, Theo Aporat, presents the relay's activation as a divine curse, and the crew, convinced of the Foundation's god's power, mutinies against its commander, Admiral Prince Lefkin, Wienis's son. Lefkin confronts the mutineers and, captured, is forced to broadcast a message to Anacreon. The message demands Wienis's arrest and trial before an ecclesiastical court, and threatens a bombardment of the royal palace if that and other demands are not met. 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.

Hardin is proven correct again upon his return to Terminus City by another Seldon recording, set to play at that date. Though Actionists continue to hold a lot of power, enough now to control the City Council, an attempt to impeach the Mayor has already failed, and his popularity is renewed among the city's residents. According to Seldon, the Kingdoms will now be virtually powerless and incapable of resisting Scientism's advance. However, the growing nationalism of the fractured Periphery makes it hard for religion to make further conquests.

"The Traders"[edit]

Circa 135 F.E., the Foundation has expanded and has sent out officially sanctioned Traders to exchange technology with neighboring planets for what amounts to greater political and economic power. Master Trader Eskel Gorov, also an agent of the Foundation government, has travelled to the worlds 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; the Elders refuse Foundation requests for clemency.

Trader Limmar Ponyets is ordered by the Foundation to try to negotiate with the Elders, and travels to the central Askonian planet. Ponyets meets with the Elders' Grand Master and deduces that, though he is determined to have Gorov executed, he may be willing to exchange the captive for a suitable bribe, which Ponyets realizes would be a sum of gold. Ponyets clumsily fashions a transmuter that will convert iron into gold. The Grand Master informs Ponyets that others who have attempted this have failed and have been punished with execution for both their attempt and for their failure; Ponyets succeeds and convinces the Grand Master that the gold is appropriate for Askonian religious decoration, which pleases the Elders.

Councilor Pherl, the Grand Master's protégé, appears to be wary of Ponyets. Meeting with the Councilor, Ponyets discovers that Pherl is instead quite willing to work with him, if only due to the chance of eventually attaining the Grand Mastership himself. Pherl, from a different ethnic background than traditional Grand Masters and a young man, believes that a stable supply of gold will manage to dramatically increase his power, and Ponyets sells him the transmuter. He also plants a video recorder inside and blackmails him with a recording of the transmuter's use.

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. Ponyets discusses his success with Gorov, explaining that now Pherl will become the new Grand Master - and one very much interested in selling Foundation goods, since Ponyets left all his cargo with him, and making people buy it is the only way for Pherl to salvage some of his pride. Gorov criticizes his technique due to what he perceives as Ponyets's lack of morality. Ponyets replies with a statement attributed to Hardin: "Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right!"

"The Merchant Princes"[edit]

Circa 155 F.E., the Foundation has subjugated the Kingdoms and tries expanding its religious empire. However, due to rumors of the subjugation of the Kingdoms and, later, Askone, further expansion faces heavy resistance. Recently, three Foundation vessels have vanished near the Republic of Korell, which is thus suspected of either independent technological development or buying smuggled Foundation goods. Master Trader Hober Mallow is assigned to deal with Korell and also to investigate their technological development and find the missing ships. Those who have assigned this mission to Mallow, Foreign Secretary Publis Manlio and Mayoral Secretary Jorane Sutt, believe that a Seldon Crisis is underway; they fear a nuclear conflict involving the Foundation.

Sutt and Manlio, wanting to weaken the strong Trader faction and suspecting Mallow of being connected to the smugglers, plant an agent, Jaim Twer, aboard Mallow's ship, the Far Star, which lands in a remote location on Korell. The crew allows a Foundation missionary aboard, in violation of orders Mallow has given that no one board or leave without his permission.

Korellian law forbids Foundation missionaries to be on the planet under penalty of death. The crew determines that the Reverend Jord Parma of Anacreon (as he calls himself) had been captured by the Korellians but escaped before being killed. Rev. Parma is injured and apparently confused. Shortly after he has been let aboard the ship, an angry mob appears, demanding that the missionary be turned over to them as an escaped criminal. This rapid response by the Korellians in such a remote location arouses Mallow's suspicion: Where did Parma escape from? Why was there a mob seemingly already gathered in the middle of nowhere? Suspecting a set-up, rather than fight the mob, Mallow decides to turn the missionary over to them (and to certain death). Very soon after, Mallow is invited to meet Korell's authoritarian ruler, Commdor ("First Citizen Of The State") Asper Argo, which indicates that Mallow had passed a test. Argo appears friendly and welcomes Foundation technological gifts; however, he refuses to allow Foundation missionaries on Korell, which coincides with Mallow's own intentions.

Mallow offers the Commdor tools for heavy industry, believing that will allow him to visit a factory, where the advanced technology would be found if Korell has it. He sees no sign of it, but catches a glimpse of the ruler's guards' weapons - atomic handguns bearing the markings of the Galactic Empire. Mallow's discoveries lead him to believe that the Empire may be attempting to expand into the Periphery again and has been providing weapons to client states such as Korell. Leaving the Republic and his ship, he journeys alone to the planet Siwenna, which he believes may be the capital of an Imperial province. He finds Siwenna a desolate and sad place. He meets the impoverished patrician Onum Barr in the latter's crumbling mansion. Barr helps Mallow to understand the political situation. He had served in the Imperial government on Siwenna decades earlier, before a series of ambitious viceroys who each dreamt of becoming Emperor. After the previous viceroy rebelled against the Emperor, Barr participated in a revolution that overthrew the viceroy. However, the Imperial fleet sent to remove the viceroy wanted to conquer a rebellious province even if it was no longer in rebellion, and began a massacre that claimed the lives of all but one of Barr's children. The new viceroy also plans a rebellion, but keeps a backup plan: fleeing into the Periphery and carving out a sizable realm there. He had secured a political alliance with Korell by marrying his daughter to Asper.

Mallow manages to tour a Siwennian power plant. He observes that the technicians can only maintain the plants, but cannot repair them, and that the nuclear generators are much bigger than those of Terminus. Both mean that the Empire cannot replace the goods Mallow sells to the Commdor. He also realizes that religion cannot make further conquests for the Foundation, but a commercial empire can.

A year after his return to Terminus, Mallow is tried for murder because he gave the Foundation missionary to the mob. However, 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 (along with the wealth obtained by trading with Korell) all but ensures him the Mayor's seat in the elections scheduled to take place in the following year. Mallow has Sutt and Manlio arrested, suspecting them (rightly) of planning a coup with the aid of the Four Kingdoms' religious elements. As Mayor, Mallow soon faces tension with Korell, which declares war on the Foundation, using its Imperial flotilla to attack Foundation ships. But instead of counterattacking Mallow takes no action but for imposing an embargo on Korell, which collapses its economy due to its dependency on Foundation technology, thus forcing its surrender.

Mallow's ally Ankor Jael points out that Mallow's actions have placed the Foundation on the path to plutocracy and wonders about the future. Mallow responds that the future is none of his concern, as Seldon has undoubtedly prepared for it already, leaving the resolution of future crises to his successors.


"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]


Reviewer Groff Conklin declared Foundation "a book of real intellectual entertainment and adventure."[2] Boucher and McComas, however, found it "competent enough writing and thinking, if on the dull side."[3] 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.[4]

In 1966 the Foundation trilogy won the prestigious Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series.[5] In 2018 the chapter "The Encyclopedists" won a retrospective 1943 Hugo Award for the Best Novelette of the preceding year.[6]

In 2012, io9 included the book on its list of "10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read".[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hardin, wanting to be a psychological engineer, had studied psychology under Bor Alurin, the only first-class psychologist included in the Foundation's original population, but as Alurin was careful never to teach more than the barest theory, of which Hardin had tired, and as Terminus had no facilities for psychological engineering, Hardin had instead gone into politics.
  1. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1972). The early Asimov; or, Eleven years of trying. Garden City NY: Doubleday. pp. 383–387.
  2. ^ "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf," Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1952, p. 86.
  3. ^ "Recommended Reading," F&SF, April 1952, p. 95
  4. ^ "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction, February 1952, p. 156
  5. ^ "1966 Hugo Awards". Hugo Award. 26 July 2007. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  6. ^ 1943 Retro-Hugo winners at the official website
  7. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (July 10, 2012). "10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Actually Read Them)". io9. Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  • Chalker, Jack L.; Mark Owings (1998). The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Bibliographic History, 1923-1998. Westminster, MD and Baltimore: Mirage Press, Ltd. p. 300.

External links[edit]