Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Table of contents
Isaac Asimov Concludes the Fate of his Universe
The Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov is something you’ve undoubtedly heard of if you’ve searched for classic pioneering stories in the science-fiction genre. Unlike many of its counterparts from the day, this trilogy has stood the test of time and very much holds up to today’s more stringent standards, which is especially true for the third novel, Second Foundation.
While I suppose you could make your way through this book as a standalone without being aware of the story prior to it, I would highly recommend you start with the previous entries if you aren’t familiar with them. If you’d like to, take a look at our Foundation review, as well as our Foundation and Empire review to check out the earlier chapters.
Moving onward, the third novel in the series begins not too long after the second one. The Mule has achieved virtually all of his goals, boiling down to the destruction of the Foundation and the conquest of the galaxy. None were able to stand up to his mutant powers, capable of manipulating the minds and emotions of men.
However, a single obstacle remains between the Mule and total success: finding and destroying the ever-elusive Second Foundation, which as far as he knows, might not even exist in the first place. Theoretically, they are the only ones who might be capable of standing up to him and his power, though they seem to prefer the safety of obscurity more than anything else.
It’s always easy to explain the unknown by postulating a superhuman and arbitrary will.― Isaac Asimov, Second Foundation
Thus, a race begins between him and the few survivors of the First Foundation to find the last bastion of hope and knowledge which can still shorten the impending age of darkness. Unexpectedly, the key to the enigma might be found with the fourteen year-old Arcadia Darrell, granddaughter of Toran and Bayta, and a direct descendant of Hober Mallow.
A Treasure Hunt Through the Galaxy in Second Foundation
Throughout the story we’ve gone through in the previous novels, the Second Foundation was largely mentioned in passing here and there, giving us small reminders of its supposed existence. Nevertheless, we’ve never really known anything about it other than its propensity to stay in the shadows and its focus on psychological science.
The time has finally come to actually find this mysterious entity, and the anticipation Isaac Asimov managed to build up over the course of our search for it is simply second-to-none. We follow the characters on both sides of the hill as they make their plays and try to piece together the right clues, and it’s difficult not to become as engrossed in the task as they are.
In large part, the action is moved along with the help of dialogue, sticking to the same methods of plot development as the previous books. While most authors would meaninglessly meander with this kind of set-up, Asimov makes virtually every conversation important to moving the plot along, often placing their focus on the search for the Second Foundation.
Nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound true.― Isaac Asimov Second Foundation
When the focus of these conversations shifts into different directions, it’s inevitably for the purpose of tackling some of the larger and overarching aspects of the world created by Asimov. In other words, we are treated to the inner workings of the societies our characters belong to, especially the political side of things, vast conspiracies included.
Though it is difficult to suspect anything but a positive ending, I still found myself sitting on pins and needles the closer I was getting to the ending. The urgency aspect of the story is extremely well-realized, and is in large part what makes the book-long hunt for the Second Foundation a memorable journey.
The Subtlety of Mind Control
Just like in the first two books of the series, there is a strong presence of scientific elements throughout the story, with Asimov doing his best to explain in believable and realistic terms the technology he invents for the purpose of the story. Thankfully, the does so through simple enough terms and depictions for anyone to understand, even those who loathe hard science-fiction.
Only a lie that wasn’t ashamed of itself could possibly succeed.― Isaac Asimov, Second Foundation
What’s more, he even does his best to apply this concept to the fictional elements which seem a little more ridiculous and out there, being more akin to wizardry than anything else. I am, of course, talking about the mind control powers of the Mule as well as those of the Second Foundation. While in realistic terms they are outlandish, within the context of the story they have their place and make sense.
Speaking of the mind control element, I believe this was one of the best approaches to the subject I can think of. Rather than people being turned into puppets or proxies, they see their ambitions, goals, desires, allegiances and capabilities slowly change over time, to the point where these modifications are barely perceptible at all.
This helps to create a sense of tension which lasts from start to finish, as you can never truly know who works for the Second Foundation and who is in the Mule’s grasp. As a matter of fact, the more evidence we see of the Second Foundation’s meddling with the minds of the First, the more we begin to wonder just how kind they are in the first place.
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The ending is one the trilogy is certainly worthy of, answering all of our questions about the Foundation’s true plans and intents, its location, its membership, the Mule’s fate, and of course, the results of the Seldon Plan. Ultimately, did the invisible guiding hand accomplish its task, or did it turn people too complacent?
The Final Verdict
Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov is a magnificent conclusion to the Foundation trilogy, bringing the show to a fantastic conclusion reached through an adventure rife with deceit, mystery, discovery, and a healthy dose of mind control.
If you’ve enjoyed the previous Foundation books, then I think picking up the final chapter (of the original series, at least) is a bit of a no-brainer; its only flaw is marking the end of a captivating, timeless piece of classic hard science-fiction.
(January 2, 1920 – April 6, 1992)
Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University who was best-known for his pioneering works of science-fiction.
Most notably, the Foundation trilogy as well as the Robot series earned him the 1966 Hugo Award for the all-time best series of science fiction and fantasy novels.