All the books of Foundation, Empire and Robots, to understand Asimov’s universe.

The Foundation Series is a collection of at least 16 science fiction books written by Isaac Asimov in the years 1942-1957 and 1982-1992 (the year of his death), texts that sketch (in his own words) a kind of history of the future. It is, in fact, a techno-sociological fiction in which technological artefacts, mainly robots, condition social organisation in surprising and thought-provoking ways. In Prelude to the Foundation (1988) Asimov gives the series a total of 14 books and 1,450,000 words. At least two more appeared subsequently, Robot Visions in 1990 and Towards the Foundation in 1993. The exact number is difficult to determine because, although most of them are novels, some are compilations of short stories that have been done very differently (and with frequent overlapping) by different publishers. The series, in a broad sense, is made up of three novelistic cycles or series that were linked together by the author over time: the Robot cycle, which chronicles the development of robotic science on Earth, the early colonisation efforts in the Galaxy, the conflicts between Earth and its former colonies, and the influence of robots on the development of colonisation. Next comes the Empire cycle, which chronicles the formation of the Galactic Empire from the acceleration of colonisation and the conquests made by Trantor, the ruling world at the centre of the Galaxy. The third cycle is the Foundation series proper, in a narrow sense, which chronicles the fall of the Galactic Empire and the formation of a Second Empire from the expansion of the Foundation, aided from the shadows by the Second Foundation and the science of psychohistory, and the veiled influence of the robots.

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The books in the series

The order given below coincides for the most part with Asimov’s recommended reading order, with some corrections arising from the reading of the texts themselves and the inclusions of later texts noted above. This does not exclude other reading orderings, such as that given by publication dates, since the books were originally separate stories and subsequently connected into a coherent whole. Some critics argue that reading the prequels, before reading the first books written, would reveal important facts that in the original plot were intended as surprises.

As the titles of the books have been translated differently by each publisher, the original titles and publication dates of the English editions are given below. The Spanish editions of each of these titles are given below.

 

The Robot Series (or Earth Cycle)

1) I robot (1950). Collection of 9 short stories about robots. Many compilations have been made including these 9 stories.
2) The Caves of Steel (1954). First humanoid robot novel, set on Earth in the 47th century, when the colonisation of the Galaxy was stuck on 50 planets. For the first time, a solution to this problem is proposed, in the sense of its resumption.
3) The Naked Sun (1957). Second robot novel. With the same protagonist (Elijah Baley), it is a continuation of the previous one. The planet Solaria and a threat to the entire inhabited Galaxy appear for the first time.
4) The Robots of Dawn (1983). Third robot novel. Baley must solve an enigmatic mental blockade of a humaniform robot on Aurora, the leading planet of the Space Worlds.
5) Robots and Empire (1985). Fourth robot novel. Set a few centuries after the previous novel, Baley died many years ago, and Earth has begun a new wave of colonisation, but the Spacefarers are not about to give up on conquering the Galaxy.
Galactic Empire Series
6) The Stars, Like Dust (1951). The last of the 1099 colonised planets, Tyrann begins colonisation of the Horsehead Nebula systems. These are the first tentative steps towards the formation of the Galactic Empire.
7) The Currents of Space (1952). The expansion of the Confederacy of Trantor, only 5 centuries old, now covers half the Galaxy with a million inhabited planets.
8) Pebble in the Sky (1950). The story takes place on Earth, more than 10,000 years after the beginning of human colonisation of the Galaxy, when the planet that started it has been forgotten. A tailor, Joseph Schwartz, accidentally travels back in time from the 20th century to the time of the Galactic Empire.
8.5) There is also a short story called Dead End published in The Early Asimov (1973), a collection of short stories. The story is set in the early days of the Galactic Empire and deals with the discovery and investigation of the only alien intelligent race found in the Galaxy, which, with the help of an official of the Imperial bureaucracy, flees to the Magellanic Clouds, escaping human control.

Foundation Cycle (or Trantor Cycle)

9) Prelude to Foundation (1988). First prequel to the Foundation series. Hari Seldon outlines the basics of psychohistory and gets caught up in a political competition for his knowledge.
10) Forward the Foundation (1993). Second prequel to Foundation. Hari Seldon continues the development of psychohistory, both from his office at the university and from the imperial government.
11) Foundation (1951). The first Foundation novel. It recounts the beginnings of the Foundation’s long road to the creation of the Second Galactic Empire.
12) Foundation and Empire (1952). Second Foundation novel. Recounts the collision of the Empire with the Foundation and its subsequent fall and death.
13) Second Foundation (1953). Third novel. The Foundation faces enemies unforeseen by Hari Seldon’s psychohistory as well as the shadow of a mysterious Second Foundation. Together with Foundation and Foundation and Empire, it constitutes the classic Foundation Trilogy, or Trantor Cycle. This trilogy was originally serialised (short stories) in John Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction magazine and won the Hugo Award (1966) for “the best science fiction series of all time”. These three novels can be read independently of the rest of the series.
14) Foundation’s Edge (1982). Continues the story of the Foundation. What begins as a search for the planet Earth leads to an incredible discovery.
15) Foundation and Earth (1986). Last Foundation novel that ends the series. It ends where it all began: Earth, and will lead to amazing discoveries.
The three fundamental laws of robotics

According to the Oxford Dictionary, one of the most respected dictionaries of the English language, Asimov was the inventor of the word robotics, which today refers to the technology of robot design and manufacture. Asimov also formulated the three laws of robotics, which play an essential role throughout the saga. Asimov states that, in order to prevent them from becoming a threat to humanity, autonomous robots should not be built that do not incorporate them indelibly into their programming. In many of his works, he discusses precisely what the consequences would be if the three laws were not incorporated or if any of them were adulterated or partially modified. Asimov’s three laws of robotics are as follows:

First law: A robot may not harm a human being or, by inaction, allow a human being to be harmed.
Second law: A robot must obey orders given by human beings, except where these conflict with the first law.
Third law: A robot must protect its own integrity, as long as this does not prevent compliance with the first and second laws.

In the last chapter of the last book of the saga, Foundation and Earth, R. Daneel Olivaw tells how he and R. Giskard Reventlov (a telepathic robot whose story is told in The Robots of Dawn) formulated the Zero Law of robotics, which takes precedence over the other 3. In Robots and Empire it is explained how this new Law was created, with which Asimov introduces a new twist on robot behaviour in his stories.

Law Zero: A robot cannot harm humanity or, by inaction, allow humanity to be harmed.

This modifies the other three laws, which must be complied with as long as they do not conflict with Law Zero.

The Plot

The saga deals with and develops the first hard-fought human expansion in the Galaxy through the colonisation of the first space worlds, their struggle with Earth for galactic dominance, the final defeat of the space people by the Earth colonists, the decay of Earth as a civilised planet due to induced radioactivity, the great diaspora that meant the flight of the human population from Earth and its dispersion throughout the Galaxy, the colonisation of millions of worlds by mankind, the formation of the Trantorian Empire, its conversion into a Galactic Empire and its decline. Parallel to this is the development of robotic science and the influence that robots have on human societies. A key turning point is the creation of the robot R. Daneel Olivaw, a mythical character whose explicit or veiled presence spans the entire saga. The Empire, originally formed by the expansion of human beings into outer space (the origin of which has been lost to memory), groups together millions of planets in our Galaxy. Its decline takes place in the very distant future, and the central issue is the problem of avoiding the pain and destruction of life and property that will result from the demise of its absolutist system of galactic governance. To minimise the damage, since the fall of the Empire is inevitable, two powerful organisations are created: one public (the First Foundation) and one secret (the Second Foundation). Located at opposite ends of the Galaxy, they will serve as promoters of the gestation of a Second Galactic Empire. The measures to be taken are dictated by a fictitious applied science, psychohistory, which will reduce the inevitable period of chaos to a mere thousand years.

The saga closes with a link between the robot cycle and that of the Foundation proper, through the exposition of Daneel Olivaw’s Gaia-Galaxy plan, as a response to the need to deal with a hypothetical alien invasion. Psychohistory, it seems, is not enough to secure the future of the human species, but it is necessary to go a step further, and create a galactic consciousness that would be an effective shield against chaos and alien entities. However, Asimov left out a major contradiction: the Gaia-Galaxy plan as opposed to the actual formation of the Second Galactic Empire, the latter attested to by the publication of the Encyclopaedia Galactica in the future of the plan designed by Hari Seldon, a parameter that is difficult to overlook. Asimov did not have time to explain the contradiction and it has been other authors who have ventured a solution. For example, David Brin, in “The Triumph of the Foundation”, bets that the Foundation will finally prevail over Gaia, be it through a transaction, an incorporation or an absorption. Donald Kingsbury in Psychohistorical Crisis dispenses with Daneel’s plan altogether and assumes the effective creation of the Second Empire under the direction of the psychohistorians of the Second Foundation; in certain passages of chapter 12 he even makes an irony of the famous Asimovian robot, presenting Danny-Boy, an old, still active, multi-functional robot in the possession of an antiquities expert, who suspects that its origin goes back to the beginnings of galactic colonisation.

These are not crude stories of googly-eyed green monsters or space cowboys. Asimov was a university professional who also wrote excellent popular science books. The scientific rigour with which his books are written is reflected, for example, in the frequent quotations from the fictional Encyclopaedia Galactica, a monumental work compiling the knowledge of all the inhabitants of the galaxy. The following are short excerpts from some of the information the encyclopaedia provides about Psychohistory:

Psychohistory:…Gaal Dornick, using non-mathematical concepts, has defined Psychohistory as the branch of Mathematics that studies the reactions of human conglomerates to certain social and economic stimuli…. Implicit in all these definitions is the assumption that the human conglomerate in question must be sufficiently large to allow statistical treatment. The necessary magnitude for such a cluster can be determined by Seldon’s First Theorem which states…. Another necessary condition is that the human cluster must be unaware of such psychohistorical analysis, in order for the reactions to be truly authentic….

The foundations of all Psychohistory lie in the development of Seldon’s Functions, which show the congruent properties of such social and economic forces as…

In all the books of the saga Asimov emphasises the importance of cultural factors and exemplifies ways to promote the positive ones and to eliminate, mitigate or circumvent the negative ones.

Other books related to the Foundation

Isaac Asimov refers to the Foundation in some of his numerous books. Conversely, some books in the Foundation saga mention other of his writings. Among the latter is The End of Eternity, alluded to in the book The Limits of the Foundation. It develops the conjecture, currently very much in vogue, of the existence of multiple parallel universes where any story can have an almost infinite number of variants. The Foundation saga would be the story of one of these possible universes, the one where the Earth gave rise to the population of 25 million planets in the Milky Way and which formed the Galactic Empire at its peak. In this context (provocative idea) each of Asimov’s books would relate fragments of possible variants of the history of the Universe.

There is a trilogy of novels (Caliban Trilogy) written by the American author Roger MacBride Allen in close collaboration with Asimov himself, who contributed to the overall conception. The trilogy consists of the novels Caliban (1993), Inferno (1994) and Utopia (1996). Set in the context of decadent space worlds and their struggle to survive in the face of expansive Terran colonisers, the Trilogy is a reworking of the detective theme – a theme developed by Asimov in novels such as “The Steel Vaults” – in combination with the robotic theme – in which the possible negative consequences of the application of the Three Laws are problematised to the extreme, postulating the need for a type of robot with behaviour not governed by them and capable of discovering the world for itself and accepting a dose of risk for humanity; to this are added ecological and environmental concerns.

There are also books written by other authors that use characters, circumstances and concepts from the Foundation saga. Some of them are authorised by Isaac Asimov’s heirs, such as the “Second Foundation Trilogy”: – The Fear of the Foundation (Gregory Benford) – Foundation and Chaos (Greg Bear) – The Triumph of the Foundation (David Brin)

Others are homages to Asimov, such as the short novel The Originist (Orson Scott Card) and the short story The Fall of Trantor by Harry Turtledove. The latter two can be found, along with others, in the tribute book: “Asimov and his friends. Around the Foundation”.

Asimov and his friends. Around the Foundation

It begins with a dedicated preface by Ray Bradbury and also contains comments by Asimov and his wife.

It complements some existing stories, brings back old characters and even a fourth law of robotics.

In 1989 it was half a century since the story “Marooned off Vesta” appeared in Amazing Stories; fifty years ago the career of the most prominent science fiction author of all time, Isaac Asimov, began. And one more anniversary: the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Second Foundation, the culmination of the mythical trilogy by the same author, the galactic saga that opened the doors of the universe to the human imagination. Following the first date, seventeen authors -among them, without doubt, the most solid names among the cultivators of the genre- recreated the worlds of the master as a tribute and from their specific languages. The second date linked to a work so influential and significant as to give this volume its title, is ideal for recovering stories as creative, beautiful and full of ingenuity as the one that gave rise to them. The foreword by Ray Bradbury and the epilogue by Asimov himself are tributes of respect and gratitude respectively to an effort with few precedents in science fiction.

Authors: Barry N. Malzberg, Connie Willis, Edward D. Hoch, Edward Wellen, Frederik Pohl, George Alec Effinger, George Zebrowski, Hal Clement, Harry Harrison, Harry Turtledove, Mike Resnick, Orson Scott Card, Pamela Sargent, Poul Anderson, Robert Sheckley, Robert Silverberg, Sheila Finch.

Compiled by Martin H. Greenberg

Foreword/Eduscript by Ray Bradbury

The Non-Metallic Isaac or How Beautiful It Is to Live! (Ben Bova)

The Tape Runner (Pamela Sargent)

The Asenion Solution (Robert Silverberg)

Murder at Urth Grade (Edward Wellen)

The Fall of Trantor (Harry Turtledove)

Dilemma (Connie Willis)

Maureen Birnbaum after dark (George Alec Effinger)

Equilibrium (Mike Resnick)

The Eternal Present (Barry N. Malzberg)

PAPPI (Sheila Finch)

The Meeting at Mile-High (Frederik Pohl)

Plato’s Cave (Poul Anderson)

Foundation Conscience (George Zebrowski)

The Car Chasers of the Concrete Plain (Robert Sheckley)

The Overheard Conversation (Edward D. Hoch)

The Stain (Hal Clement)

The Fourth Law of Robotics (Harry Harrison)

The Originator (Orson Scott Card)

A Word from Janet

Fifty Years (Isaac Asimov)

Donald Kingsbury wrote Psychohistorical Crisis (2001), which is set in the context of a Second Galactic Empire controlled by the psychohistorians of Trantor; the novel was not endorsed by Asimov’s heirs, so the author had to use a different nomenclature than the traditional one.

These books do not belong to the original saga written by Asimov, although in a way they have deepened the universe created by Asimov, tying up loose ends and explaining in a rather coherent way classic questions left by the author, which he could not or did not have time to explain. For example, Benford’s answer to the question of why the Galaxy was devoid of alien civilisations at the time it was colonised and dominated by man is remarkable. And the answer is simple and logical: fleets of positronic robots (the “amadirs”) sent from the planet Aurora wiped them out at the beginning of galactic colonisation. Or Brin’s explanation to the question of how a galactic civilisation could remain socially and technologically static for thousands of years without, for example, reinventing robots over and over again on the millions of worlds that made up the Galactic Empire; the answer – in Asimov’s line – is a consequence of Daneel Olivaw’s mental manipulation by means of so-called “Giskardian emitters” (sophisticated devices that camouflage themselves in orbit of each inhabited world) inducing a state of conformism and stagnation, in response to the problem of chaos and for the “good” – as Daneel understands it – of humanity. On the other hand, Kingsbury bravely tackles the task of narrating the consequences of a Second Empire controlled by mental powers and psychohistory, concluding that psychohistorical paternalism should not and cannot limit human freedom; after a long cycle, Kingsbury returns to Asimov’s original premise: only the exercise of freedom can ensure the proper development of humanity.

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