Second Foundation

Title: Second Foundation
Type of Text: Novel
Author: Isaac Asimov
Published: 1953

Main Characters: The Mule, First Citizen of the Union, a mutant who defeated the armies of the First Foundation by using his ability to control emotions and Convert the minds of his enemies to complete loyalty or utter despair; General Han Pritcher, under the Mule’s mind-control, and Bail Channis, one of the Unconverted, who head the search for the Second Foundation. The First Speaker, leader of the Second Foundation (a title occupied by a different unnamed individual in each of the two parts). Two scientists of the First Foundation, Toran Darell and Pelleas Anthor; Toran’s adventurous teenage daughter Arkady; Homir Munn, a scholar of the Mule with whom Arkady travels to Kalgan; Lord Stettin, First Citizen and ruler of Kalgan, and his mistress Lady Callia; Mamma and Pappa Palver, who help Arkady escape to Trantor.
Genre: Sci-Fi
Narrative Style: Third-person omniscient narrative, although (initially at least) with a more distinct voice than in previous books (seemingly that of an historian filling in the gaps left in the “Encyclopedia Galactica”), chaptered in two parts: the first part focuses on the Mule’s attempt to find the Second Foundation, interspersed with brief interludes recording events at the Second Foundation itself; the second part focuses on a group of scholars on Terminus a generation later, and on a young girl Arkady who involves herself in their plans, and involves longer chapters explaining events as they occur at the Second Foundation.
Themes & Imagery: Forces of history. Power, politics, political disputes; megalomania; revenge; war. Science and knowledge; secrecy; psychology as akin to mind control; superstition; superficial emotions; self-doubt; lack of freedom or free will.

Synopsis: Five years after the end of “Foundation and Empire”, the hunt is on for the secret Second Foundation and, with it, control of the Galaxy: the Second Foundation, full of brilliant mental scientists to equal the physical scientists of the First Foundation. In “Search by the Mule”, the Mule sends Pritcher, who is Converted and forced to obey his will, and Channis, who has the freedom of the Unconverted, to find the Second Foundation. Each man has orders to capture the other at the first possible sign of betrayal, a strong possibility when the people of the Second Foundation – which Channis believes to be located on Tazenda – are said to have spies everywhere, and the power to implant ideas in people’s heads. A generation later, in “Search by the Foundation”, fears of the Second Foundationers controlling events from behind the scenes leads a group of scholarly conspirators (and one plucky fourteen-year-old) to attempt to find out more in the ruins of the Mule’s palace on Kalgan. Unfortunately, their plan leads Kalgan to declare war on the First Foundation, and forces Arkady to run as a fugitive to the ruins of Trantor; and still it remains unclear just who is under the control of the Second Foundation.
Personal Response: The premise behind the Second Foundation adds a welcome new vitality to this series, and an extra dimension of the fantastic once the standard features of interplanetary empire have become a little mundane. It also provides an excuse for new secrets and mysteries and plots twists which I found more convincing than in the previous volume – aided by the fact that, if any such twists became apparent too early, the fact that characters didn’t see through them could be conveniently covered by the effects of the Second Foundationers on their minds. The characters also felt more fully developed than in the previous volume: Pritcher and Channis made a good, competing double-act for the first half – I was particularly glad of the further insights into the mind of Pritcher once he was Converted – and the unique voice of Arkady, her youthful self-confidence and romanticism,  makes for a very enjoyable second half. The volume provides a solid ending to the trilogy, ushering in a period of peace and neatly wrapping up the question of how knowledge of the Second Foundation might jeopardise the Seldon Plan, while still leaving scope for future stories about the Second Foundation itself or the rise of the Second Empire, but I suspect I’m done with the world of Hari Seldon for now. As an interesting epilogue, I’ve noticed over the course of the series the strong influence it must have had on Terry Pratchett (my favourite author), both in his early work “The Dark Side of the Sun” and in his later “Long Earth” series with Stephen Baxter.
Favourite Part:
From the Mule’s arrival on Rossem to his departure (i.e. the end of the first part of the novel).

My Top Five Lines & Passages:

Lens Image expansion shows Tazenda from the point of view of Trantor:

Pritcher had watched the phenomenon of Lens Image expansion before but he still caught his breath. It was like being at the visiplate of a spaceship storming through a horribly crowded Galaxy without entering hyperspace. The stars diverged toward them from a common center, flared outward and tumbled off the edge of the screen. Single points became double, then globular. Hazy patches dissolved into myriad points. And always the illusion of motion.
Channis spoke through it all. “You’ll notice that we are moving along the direct line from Trantor to Pellot’s Nebula, so that in effect we are still looking at a stellar orientation equivalent to that of Trantor. There is probably a slight error because of the gravitic deviation of light that I haven’t the math to calculate for, but I’m sure it can’t be significant.”
The darkness was spreading over the screen. As the rate of magnification slowed, the stars slipped off the four ends of the screen in a regretful leave-taking. At the rims of the growing Nebula, the brilliant universe of stars shone abruptly in token for that light which was merely hidden behind the swirling unradiating atom fragments of sodium and calcium that filled cubic parsecs of space.

Channis praises the virtues of Tazenda and Rossem to Pritcher:

Channis proceeded with an artificial animation: “At least we know one thing. Tazenda is the Second Foundation or a million shreds of evidence are unanimously pointing the wrong way. How do you interpret the obvious terror in which these natives hold Tazenda? I see no signs of political domination. Their groups of Elders apparently meet freely and without interference of any sort. The taxation they speak of doesn’t seem at all extensive to me or efficiently carried through. The natives speak much of poverty but seem sturdy and well-fed. The houses are uncouth and their villages rude, but are obviously adequate for the purpose.
“In fact, the world fascinates me. I have never seen a more forbidding one, yet I am convinced there is no suffering among the population and that their uncomplicated lives manage to contain a well-balanced happiness lacking in the sophisticated populations of the advanced centers.”
“Are you an admirer of peasant virtues then?”
“The stars forbid.” Channis seemed amused at the idea. “I merely point out the significance of all this. Apparently, Tazenda is an efficient administrator – efficient in a sense far different from the efficiency of the old Empire or of the First Foundation, or even of our own Union. All these have brought mechanical efficiency to their subjects at the cost of more intangible values. Tazenda brings happiness and sufficiency. Don’t you see that the whole orientation of their dominion is different? It is not physical, but psychological.”

Pritcher worries that the Tazendian governor of Rossem will be able to control his mind:

What is the governor tampered with his mind?
What if the insubstantial mental tendrils of a Second Foundationer insinuated itself down the emotional crevices of his makeup and pulled them apart and rejoined them –
There had been no sensation the first time. There had been no pain, no mental jar – not even a feeling of discontinuity. He had always loved the Mule. If there had ever been a time long before – as long before as five short years – when he had thought he hadn’t loved him, that he had hated him – that was just a horrid illusion. The thought of that illusion embarrassed him.
But there had been no pain.
Would meeting the governor duplicate that? Would all that had gone before – all his service for the Mule – all his life’s orientation – join the hazy, other-life dream that held the word, democracy? The mule also a dream, and only to Tazenda, his loyalty –
Sharply, he turned away.
There was that strong desire to retch.

Tnadequacies of language, in comparison to the strengths of non-verbal communication among the Second Foundationers:

Down – down – the results can be followed; and all the suffering that humanity ever knew can be traced to the one fact that no man in the history of the Galaxy, until Hari Seldon, and very few men thereafter, could really understand one another. Every human being lived behind an impenetrable wall of choking mist within which no other but he existed. Occasionally there were the dim signals from deep within the cavern in which another man was located – so that each might grope toward the other. Yet because they did not know one another, and could not understand one another, and dared not trust one another, and felt from infancy the terrors and insecurity of that ultimate isolation – there was the hunted fear of man for man, the savage rapacity of man toward man.
Feet, for tens of thousands of years, had clogged and shuffled in the mud – and held down the minds which, for an equal time, had been fit for the companionship of the stars.
Grimly, Man had instinctively sought to circumvent the prison bars of ordinary speech. Semantics, symbolic logic, psychoanalysis – they had all been devices whereby speech could either be refined or bypassed.

Arkady is alone in the crowds at the space-port:

It is a crowd with a purpose. That purpose hovers over the field and thickens the atmosphere. Lines queue up; parents herd their children; baggage is maneuvered in precise masses – people are going somewheres.
Consider then the complete psychic isolation of a single unit of this terribly intent mob that does not know where to go; yet at the same time feels more intensely than any of the others possibly can, the necessity of going somewheres; anywhere! Or almost anywhere!
Even lacking telepathy or any of the crudely definite methods of mind touching mind, there is a sufficient clash in atmosphere, in intangible mood, to suffice for despair?
To suffice? To overflow, and drench, and drown.
Arcadia Darell, dressed in borrowed clothes, standing on a borrowed planet in a borrowed situation of what seemed even to be a borrowed life, wanted earnestly the safety of the womb. She didn’t know that was what she wanted. She only knew that the very openness of the open world was a great danger. She wanted a closed spot somewhere – somewhere far – somewhere in an unexplored nook of the universe – where no one would ever look.
And there she was, age fourteen plus, weary enough for eighty plus, frightened enough for five minus.


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