Foundation's End

I'm not alone in holding Asimov's Foundation series in high regard. In 1965 it won the Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" and I can't think of another science fiction series that would be a serious contender. Dune comes closest, but is still outmatched. That's not to say that they are the epitome of SF, but they are deeply special.

Originally written in the 1940s as a serial and later published as a trilogy (Foundation; Foundation and Empire; Second Foundation), Asimov returned to the series in the 1980s with two sequels (Foundation's Edge; Foundation and Earth) and two prequels (Prelude to Foundation; Forward the Foundation). He also linked in his Robot series (The Caves of Steel; The Naked Sun; The Robots of Dawn) and more loosely the Galactic Empire series (The Currents of Space; The Stars Like Dust; Pebble in the Sky) as well as numerous short stories. Robots and Empire was explicitly written as a bridge novel.

Additional novels were written by other authors, notably the Caliban trilogy (set after the Robot novels, and exploring the same themes) and the Second Foundation Trilogy by Benford, Bear and Brin that span the same time as Forward the Foundation. Of these, the best is Foundation's Triumph (by Brin)...

Asimov's writing is in the classic SF style - the characters are noble (even the villains) and spout monologues, but are mostly flat. They exist to move the plot along, and espouse the thoughts and theories of the writer. (Unlike somewhat later SF, at least they do not exist solely to act as sales-persons for the Latest New Fantastic Technology dreamed up by the writer.) In many cases, the only conflict in the story comes from a Socratic dialogue, with the characters merely filling the role of moving the invisible hand of history along. (Which is the whole point of the series, actually...)

By the chronological end of the series in Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth, things have changed. Asimov seems enamored of the Gaia Hypothesis, and explicitly drags this in. The primary characters (Trevize and the immortal robot Olivaw) debate the future of humanity in a secret base, and the series ends with a twist... to ensure truly long term survival of Humanity, a galaxy-wide super-organism must be created. While I ate this up in the early 1990's, now I regard it the same way as many fans of the series - a somewhat unfortunate dead end. (It is reported that Asimov himself felt the same way.) Later, I had my own thoughts on how the series should end, inspired by Brin's Foundation's Triumph, where Seldon and Olivaw debate the future of humanity; Olivaw already has his plans for Gaia, and Seldon believes it will not succeed.

After the events of Foundation and Earth, Trevize returns to Terminus. He is still an elected representative (having been "banished" only off the record), and thus can't simply be shot... not if he comes in broadcasting. (The implicit assumption in the other novels is that the government dominates communication much as it did in Earth's 1940s and can effectively keep secrets. But the liberties of the Foundation are considered to be expanding at that time.) What he broadcasts is simply the truth which he has discovered...

At which we flash back to what happened early, in his debate with Olivaw. Olivaw was convinced that humanity itself must be changed into Galaxia to save it from external threats. Much as Olivaw rendered humanity stagnant throughout the reign of the Galactic Empire with technology, here he would use biology to defend the species. But what he conspired to do with the unwitting Trevize was to do it without choice. Humanity was not asked to make the choice, only Trevize.

Trevize realizes that although he's been gallivanting about the galaxy in his private telepathic uber-ship, seemingly choosing the future course of humanity on his own, it's not what he was elected to do. Oh yes... not only is he a noble character, he was actually an elected representative on Terminus. In further debate with Olivaw, and discussion with Bliss and the little Solarian they picked up (the series' first pseudo-alien) he convinces Olivaw that Olivaw has actually done a terrible wrong by eliminating choice and free will. Olivaw is destined to continue as the slaver of humanity, rather than the savior he believes himself to be.

That's not to say that Trevize thinks that Galaxia is wrong; in fact (and especially to preserve continuity - he did choose it as a future for humanity, after all) he believes it may be a powerful way for individuals to have even more influence on the future. But he believes that imposing it galaxy wide without choice would be a crime. He also learns of the horrors that Olivaw has done - sterilizing the galaxy of non-human life, introducing thought-suppression satellites to hold back humanity, and so forth.

Olivaw is trapped; he has carefully set up the situation so that Trevize's selection of Galaxia for the future of humanity would give him permission to proceed - remember, Olivaw must obey humans, as he never quite internalized the Zeroth Law. Now Trevize is telling him he can't just go ahead. He is effectively powerless against Trevize, who has the radical notion of just telling the truth - a theme which harkens back to the start of Foundation's Edge, when doing so gets him started on this adventure.

So Trevize returns to Terminus broadcasting the truth about what he has learned. And Olivaw dutifully follows... disabling his thought-suppression satellites in a wave rippling out from Terminus, effectively lifting a cloud from the eyes of humanity. In one fell swoop, the Foundation government's misdeeds are revealed, but so is the Second Foundation, and the humaniform robots who have been hiding among humanity the whole time. Bliss represents the Gaians, and for good measure, some aliens come out of the woodwork to say "Howdy!"

The Foundation is shocked to its core. This is no enemy that can be fought. Seldon's invisible hand is powerless; this is a crisis of humanity itself, and for the first time in ten thousand years, it is individuality that matters - something that psychohistory cannot predict. What will they do?
Trevize suggests: why don't we all just talk?

The story ends with an article from the Encyclopedia Galactica published nearly five hundred years later. Rather than destroying the Foundation, this even energized it. All things considered, the Foundation was still the best, um, foundation for a growing human civilization now more democratic than ever. The mentalists of the Second Foundation are not demonized - they are expert social scientists who provide a service to humanity and don't go around controlling minds any more than martial artists go around beating people up. (Boot to the head - shhhthoop!) Galaxia is slowly taking hold as a means of communication and collaboration for humans, faster than even Olivaw predicted, since it is useful... but as an opt-in experience. Some worlds have gone all Vingean Singularity, but the theme of choice dominates - humans aren't swept away without their consent.

(I'm not sure what to do with R. Daneel Olvaw, however. He's potentially too dangerous to leave running around the galaxy. But you can't stick him in jail, and you can't kill him. And you don't want to go all anime and make him the central brain of Terminus or anything either...)

By the close of the novel, it should be clear that the Foundation that Seldon started came to an end - hence the title. His predictions are no longer relevant, but is is believed that what he started will be the kernel of the future of humanity (and others) for countless thousands of years to come.

In hindsight, my ending is already alluded to by the Second Foundation Trilogy. Rather than having aliens physically come out of hiding, Foundation's Fear has them hiding as information in the network. (Not a very 1950's theme though, it must be said.) And the ultimate book, Brin's Foundation's Triumph, features Seldon and Olivaw having a debate about personal choice. (Brin sneaks in an Easter egg where Seldon is cloned, BTW!) I was almost certainly influenced by this when I conceived my sequel. So it truly doesn't need to be written - it's already been imagined by anyone who reads these works in detail. *sigh* Ah well - I was an acknowledged Brin-o-phile at the time!

I only wrote part of the teaser, and it's on the long list of projects I'll probably never finish....

Foundation’s End

Olivaw, R. Daneel – … Of all the beings that have been in a position to affect the course of galactic events, he was undoubtedly the most influential. Nearly everything that we take for granted about the galaxy in which we live has, in some way, been crafted by his hand. Perhaps no being has ever been both so venerated and reviled. And yet it can also be said that we have the less information about him, relative to his scope of his accomplishments, than any other being in recorded history…*

Trevize brought the ship into a careful orbit around Terminus. He knew the authorities had been watching him since his ship jumped in at the outer edge of the system and slowly pulled itself inwards using its gravitational drive. And he had a fairly good idea of why they had remained silent: they were waiting for him to make the first move. He had considered the alternatives before making the jump – a warning transmission on the hyperwave, or the abrupt appearance of an interdiction vessel to “guide” his unwelcome person away from the sensitive heart of the Foundation. Maybe even a naval vessel with open gun-ports. But he had been a bureaucrat himself and he could imagine the discussions taking place in the president’s office, perhaps even now.

When he had last been in that office himself it was an amicable discussion over a finer point of some upstart bill he had marshaled through the congressional committee despite heavy opposition from the conservative blocs. It was that bill, more than any that followed, that had cemented his reputation as a brash, young, and certainly ambitious politician, and garnered a fair amount of support, both popular and within the houses of government. Trevize had impressed her, and she had wanted him as an ally – she told him as much there in the presidential chambers. On reflection, over the years, he had come to realize it was because she feared him as a competitor, and wanted to ensure he was on her side, not challenging her directly where he might triumph. It was the same president, several years later, who had effectively banished him from Terminus.

Ostensibly he had been granted his wish – free reign to seek out the source of a threat to the Foundation. No doubt his constituents had received an effective propaganda campaign, not too far removed from the truth; public monitoring of the congress floor would have ensured that, at least. But he doubted that they were privy to the full story: that their duly elected representative had been detained in secret on the order of the president, arrested without charge, and told in no uncertain terms to leave, and never return.

He was unsure whether or not Madam President would even recall the meeting, in deep space, between the naval forces of the Foundation, the telepathic control of the Second Foundation, and the mediation of the Gaians, with him at the center. Certainly, if she recalled anything at all, it was of a stunning victory for the Foundation, but a victory against forces that were best kept secret from the many worlds under her care – he was sure that the Gaians would see to that, at least. But he was certain that she never expected him to return, with the penalty of death looming over his head. What could be worth returning for?

There was one thing he was counting on, and he asked the ship’s computer to verify it for him, as quietly as it could. Since he was, as far as the public was concerned, still an elected official acting in official government capacity, he had certain privileges associated with the position. Or at least, so said the letter of the law. And, he sincerely hoped, so said the administrative computers that managed the Foundation’s bureaucratic machine. On some outlying worlds, abandoned by the crumbling remnants of the Empire but not yet worked into the Foundation’s socioeconomic fold, actual scraps of physical paper, adorned with cryptic acronyms and decorated with flourished signatures, were used to make requests to the government, transfer resources, or provide a chain of accountability. On such worlds, the governments ran slowly. The Foundation prided itself on its technology, and all such “paperwork” was performed by computers. Biometrics certified all requests originating with a person. From there, everything happened through an electronic series of transfers, acknowledgements, verifications and assurances. Permissions for actions were granted based on vast databases of accountability, networks of legal relationships built into an extremely efficient, yet entirely invisible world that allowed the mere humans involved to work without concerning themselves with the trivial details.

And Trevize was fairly certain that nowhere in that massive machine was there a way to preserve his public status as “elected representative on administrative assignment” and yet take away the privileges that came with such a position. On the one hand, why would the network know of such a contradictory state for one of its records to be in? And on the other, even if it did, how would such machinery be kept secret from the people of the Foundation?

Truthfully, he could easily imagine all sorts of conspiracies built up upon deeper conspiracies – shadow governments with secret agendas controlling the media, filtering the reality of its populace for nefarious purposes. And, being the victim of somewhat underhanded dealings himself, he would admit that there might be something to such paranoid delusions. But he more deeply trusted that the checks and balances of the Foundation government, combined with a well educated populace and an automated bureaucracy, would keep any elected officials from actually breaking the letter of the law, despite how badly the spirit might be twisted.

And so he was not surprised, although distinctly relieved, when the ship assured him that his broadcast rights remained intact, and further comforted that the permission request had not required any access to sensitive information stores. Hopefully, that meant that the government was still in the proverbial dark.

* All references are from the Encyclopedia Galactica, 117th Edition, 1054 F.E.