Monday, May 23, 2022

Book Review: "Foundation and Empire" by Isaac Asimov

Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov (Avon, 1966)

I started reading this immediately after reading Foundation. That’s not always the case with me for series or sequels. For example, while I’ll return to Jack L. Chalker’s Well World series and Larry Niven’s Ringworld series based on the strengths of the first books—which I also read recently—I wasn’t driven to do so immediately. With the Foundation series, however, after all these years, I had to. It’s just that good. Again, what was I waiting for?

Like Foundation, Foundation and Empire is also a fix-up, collecting two short stories published over the course of several issues of Astounding Science Fiction. The novel combines “Dead Hand” (Astounding, April 1945)—here, the section titled The General—and “The Mule” (Astounding, November-December 1945). Both continue Asimov’s ongoing exploration of the activities and impact of various kinds of men after the collapse of the Empire.

While Foundation considers the role of the psychohistorians, encyclopedists, mayors, traders, and merchant princes, Foundation and Empire narrates the first steps of a returning Empire, considering the generals, as various leaders reclaim border planets while vying for power against the Foundation. And the Mule is a very special leader indeed. You see, he’s a mutant.

Both sections—stories, really—of the novel are excellent, but it is the Mule (“The Mule”) that sings. The character Ebling Mis might remind readers of Hari Seldon. Bayta Darell might remind you of Teela Brown from Niven’s Ringworld. She doesn’t have the same luck, but her realization of why she and her husband Toran seem to be present for the occurrence of so many notable events struck me as a similar epiphany.

In the end, the Mule is humanized. Readers will empathize. And the Darells are left to continue to search for the Second Foundation, on the opposite end of the galaxy. Just as I searched for the next novel, Second Foundation, in a few boxes of paperbacks we have in our library. I don’t have the next book easily at hand, so I can’t continue reading the series immediately like I want to. Instead, I’ve turned momentarily to Lloyd Biggle, Jr. Hopefully my copy of Second Foundation isn’t on the opposite end of the galaxy, too.

(Interestingly, my copy of the mass-market paperback, the thirty-second printing of Avon’s 1966 edition of the 1952 novel, was missing a page of text: Page 94. Very little text was on that page, so I transcribed it from an online copy using a Bic Flair pen.)

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