What a brilliant book this is, split into three parts, each telling the story from a different viewpoint.
First, we hear about the invention of the Electron Pump – a source of limitless energy that transforms life for those on Earth. However, the discovery was not by chance – the invention was only possible with the collaboration of aliens in a parallel universe, with consequences for both universes due to conservation of energy, matter and momentum. The discovery would not even have been made without the personal animosity between two scientists, Hallam (who becomes known as the Father of the Electron Pump) and Denison (the more talented of the two, whose career never recovers). Years later, some scientists discover that the impact on our own universe could be significantly worse and more immediate than originally thought, but it’s heresy to question the wisdom of the pump and their opposition is dismissed.
Second, the story is told from the viewpoint of the aliens. The imagination and storytelling are superb. Asimov describes a totally different familial and societal structure to our own, focussing on the lives of a “Soft” triad and their side of the Electron Pump invention. The triad are Odeen (the Rational), Dua (the Emotional) and Tritt (the Parental). Each has a well-defined role in society – Odeen learns, Tritt bears the children and Dua should socialise with the other Emotionals, absorbing energy from the Sun. Dua is unusual, fighting against the norms of society and yearning to learn instead of sunning herself. Odeen is the top intellect of his generation – and Tritt, too, has far more invention about him than most Parentals. Together, they have huge potential and carry the hopes of the “Hard ones” who tutor the younger generation.
Third, we experience the story from a base on the moon, where Denison migrates in hope of reviving his career. He makes friends with a tourist guide, Selene, who was born on the moon and introduces him to the culture there. As Denison’s research matures, Selene becomes his assistant – they investigate the possibility of a new technique that could counteract the effects of the Electron Pump. Yet, again, Denison finds himself caught in a battle of wits with another scientist, Selene’s boyfriend, who has other plans for the research.
Having read several other books set against the background of the Foundation saga, I decided to go back and read the original books. I was impressed by the pace with which Asimov tells the stories – where David Brin’s sequel is 430 pages, each volume in Asimov’s trilogy is about 230 pages. Yet none of the passages in Asimov’s books feels rushed – it’s just that he tells a part of the story in beautiful prose, then moves swiftly on to another period/place. The gaps that he leaves give other authors the space to fill in their own stories, which is how the sequel trilogy fits in. In fact, I enjoyed Asimov’s trilogy much more this time having recently read the others.
This is the third of the second foundation trilogy written by authors Benford, Bear and Brin. It tells the story of Hari Seldon’s ‘Last Hurrah’ as he undertakes a voyage away from Trantor in his old age. I really appreciated how this author brought the many threads of the stories together, including the motivation behind many of R. Daneel Olivaw’s plans. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve fully grasped the inter-robot battles and the reasons why many did not support Olivaw’s Zero’th law revolution.
Foundation and Chaos is the second in a trilogy of books written after Isaac Asimov’s death by distinguished Science Fiction writers. The first was Foundation and Fear, which was okay but included lengthy passages concerning Voltaire and Joan of Arc which I didn’t really follow. This book is much better and centres on the growing populations of mentalics, humans with an assortment of mental powers (like persuasion). It also includes Hari Seldon’s trial as a traitor against the Empire (his prediction of the fall of the Empire being seen as treachery). The debate between rival bands of robots (the Giskardians led by R Daneel and the Calvinians), differentiated by their adoption of the zero’th law or otherwise, is fascinating.
I picked up this book, the first of “The Second Foundation Trilogy, authorised by the Estate of Isaac Asimov” after enjoying Foundation and Earth. The author admits that he hasn’t tried to imitate the Asimov style – instead, his aim was to explore the character Hari Seldon and his early work on Psychohistory. I really enjoyed the passages concerning Seldon and his wife Dors – especially on the tourist planet when they were immersed into creatures called Pans. However, I couldn’t fathom the passages based on Joan of Arc and Voltaire and ended up skipping whole chapters, without noticeably losing the main thread. I wouldn’t rush to read another by Benford, but I’ll brave the next in this series at some point (it’s written by someone else!).
I must have read the Foundation novels years ago and was intrigued to spot this sequel in the book shop. It’s a brilliant read, packed full of technology, philosophy, planetary adventures and even politics. Highly recommended.