Contents Introduction Part I The Psychohistorians Part II The Encyclopedists Part III The Mayors Part IV The Traders Part V The Merchant Princes ?
THE STORY BEHIND THE "FOUNDATION"
By ISAAC ASIMOV
The date was August 1, 1941. World War II had been raging for two years. France had fallen, theBattle of Britain had been fought, and the Soviet Union had just been invaded by Nazi Germany.The bombing of Pearl Harbor was four months in the future.
But on that day, with Europe in flames, and the evil shadow of Adolf Hitler apparently fallingover all the world, what was chiefly on my mind was a meeting toward which I was hastening.
I was 21 years old, a graduate student in chemistry at Columbia University, and I had beenwriting science fiction professionally for three years. In that time, I had sold five stories
Astounding, and the fifth story, "Nightfall," was about to appearto John Campbell, editor of
in the September 1941 issue of the magazine. I had an appointment to see Mr. Campbell to tellhim the plot of a new story I was planning to write, and the catch was that I had no plot inmind, not the trace of one.
I therefore tried a device I sometimes use. I opened a book at random and set up freeassociation, beginning with whatever I first saw. The book I had with me was a collection ofthe Gilbert and Sullivan plays. I happened to open it to the picture of the Fairy Queen oflolanthe throwing herself at the feet of Private Willis. I thought of soldiers, of militaryempires, of the Roman Empire – of a Galactic Empire – aha!
Why shouldn't I write of the fall of the Galactic Empire and of the return of feudalism,written from the viewpoint of someone in the secure days of the Second Galactic Empire? Afterall, I had read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire not once, but twice.
I was bubbling over by the time I got to Campbell's, and my enthusiasm must have been catchingfor Campbell blazed up as I had never seen him do. In the course of an hour we built up thenotion of a vast series of connected stories that were to deal in intricate detail with thethousand-year period between the First and Second Galactic Empires. This was to be illuminatedby the science of psychohistory, which Campbell and I thrashed out between us.
On August 11, 1941, therefore, I began the story of that interregnum and called it"Foundation." In it, I described how the psychohistorian, Hari Seldon, established a pair ofFoundations at opposite ends of the Universe under such circumstances as to make sure that theforces of history would bring about the second Empire after one thousand years instead of thethirty thousand that would be required otherwise.
The story was submitted on September 8 and, to make sure that Campbell really meant what hesaid about a series, I ended "Foundation" on a cliff-hanger. Thus, it seemed to me, he would beforced to buy a second story.
However, when I started the second story (on October 24), I found that I had outsmarted myself.I quickly wrote myself into an impasse, and the Foundation series would have died anignominious death had I not had a conversation with Fred Pohl on November 2 (on the BrooklynBridge, as it happened). I don't remember what Fred actually said, but, whatever it was, itpulled me out of the hole.
"Foundation" appeared in the May 1942 issue of Astounding and the succeeding story, "Bridle and
Saddle," in the June 1942 issue.
After that there was only the routine trouble of writing the stories. Through the remainder ofthe decade, John Campbell kept my nose to the grindstone and made sure he got additionalFoundation stories.
"The Big and the Little" was in the August 1944 Astounding, "The Wedge" in the October 1944
issue, and "Dead Hand" in the April 1945 issue. (These stories were written while I was workingat the Navy Yard in Philadelphia.)
On January 26, 1945, I began "The Mule," my personal favorite among the Foundation stories, andthe longest yet, for it was 50,000 words. It was printed as a two-part serial (the very firstserial I was ever responsible for) in the November and December 1945 issues. By the time the
second part appeared I was in the army.
After I got out of the army, I wrote "Now You See It–" which appeared in the January 1948issue. By this time, though, I had grown tired of the Foundation stories so I tried to end themby setting up, and solving, the mystery of the location of the Second Foundation. Campbellwould have none of that, however. He forced me to change the ending, and made me promise Iwould do one more Foundation story.
Well, Campbell was the kind of editor who could not be denied, so I wrote one more Foundationstory, vowing to myself that it would be the last. I called it "–And Now You Don't," and itappeared as a three-part serial in the November 1949, December 1949, and January 1950 issues ofAstounding.
By then, I was on the biochemistry faculty of Boston University School of Medicine, my firstbook had just been published, and I was determined to move on to new things. I had spent eightyears on the Foundation, written nine stories with a total of about 220,000 words. My totalearnings for the series came to $3,641 and that seemed enough. The Foundation was over and donewith, as far as I was concerned.
In 1950, however, hardcover science fiction was just coming into existence. I had no objectionto earning a little more money by having the Foundation series reprinted in book form. Ioffered the series to Doubleday (which had already published a science-fiction novel by me, andwhich had contracted for another) and to Little-Brown, but both rejected it. In that year,though, a small publishing firm, Gnome Press, was beginning to be active, and it was preparedto do the Foundation series as three books.
The publisher of Gnome felt, however, that the series began too abruptly. He persuaded me towrite a small Foundation story, one that would serve as an introductory section to the firstbook (so that the first part of the Foundation series was the last written).
In 1951, the Gnome Press edition of Foundation was published, containing the introduction and
the first four stories of the series. In 1952, Foundation and Empire appeared, with the fifth
and sixth stories; and in 1953, Second Foundation appeared, with the seventh and eighth
stories. The three books together came to be called The Foundation Trilogy.
The mere fact of the existence of the Trilogy pleased me, but Gnome Press did not have the
financial clout or the publishing knowhow to get the books distributed properly, so that fewcopies were sold and fewer still paid me royalties. (Nowadays, copies of first editions ofthose Gnome Press books sell at $50 a copy and up–but I still get no royalties from them.)
Ace Books did put out paperback editions of Foundation and of Foundation and Empire, but they
changed the titles, and used cut versions. Any money that was involved was paid to Gnome Pressand I didn't see much of that. In the first decade of the existence of The Foundation Trilogy
it may have earned something like $1500 total.
And yet there was some foreign interest. In early 1961, Timothy Seldes, who was then my editorat Doubleday, told me that Doubleday had received a request for the Portuguese rights for theFoundation series and, since they weren't Doubleday books, he was passing them on to me. Isighed and said, "The heck with it, Tim. I don't get royalties on those books."
Seldes was horrified, and instantly set about getting the books away from Gnome Press so thatDoubleday could publish them instead. He paid no attention to my loudly expressed fears thatDoubleday "would lose its shirt on them." In August 1961 an agreement was reached and theFoundation books became Doubleday property. What's more, Avon Books, which had published apaperback version of Second Foundation, set about obtaining the rights to all three from
Doubleday, and put out nice editions.
From that moment on, the Foundation books took off and began to earn increasing royalties. Theyhave sold well and steadily, both in hardcover and softcover, for two decades so far.Increasingly, the letters I received from the readers spoke of them in high praise. Theyreceived more attention than all my other books put together.
The Foundation Trilogy, for its Science FictionDoubleday also published an omnibus volume,
Book Club. That omnibus volume has been continuously featured by the Book Club for over twentyyears.
Matters reached a climax in 1966. The fans organizing the World Science Fiction Convention forthat year (to be held in Cleveland) decided to award a Hugo for the best all-time series, wherethe series, to qualify, had to consist of at least three connected novels. It was the firsttime such a category had been set up, nor has it been repeated since. The Foundation series wasnominated, and I felt that was going to have to be glory enough for me, since I was sure thatTolkien's "Lord of the Rings" would win.
It didn't. The Foundation series won, and the Hugo I received for it has been sitting on mybookcase in the livingroom ever since.
In among all this litany of success, both in money and in fame, there was one annoying side-effect. Readers couldn't help but notice that the books of the Foundation series covered onlythree hundred-plus years of the thousand-year hiatus between Empires. That meant the Foundationseries "wasn't finished." I got innumerable letters from readers who asked me to finish it,from others who demanded I finish it, and still others who threatened dire vengeance if Ididn't finish it. Worse yet, various editors at Doubleday over the years have pointed out thatit might be wise to finish it.
It was flattering, of course, but irritating as well. Years had passed, then decades. Back inthe 1940s, I had been in a Foundation-writing mood. Now I wasn't. Starting in the late 1950s, Ihad been in a more and more nonfiction-writing mood.
That didn't mean I was writing no fiction at all. In the 1960s and 1970s, in fact, I wrote twoscience-fiction novels and a mystery novel, to say nothing of well over a hundred short stories– but about eighty percent of what I wrote was nonfiction.
One of the most indefatigable nags in the matter of finishing the Foundation series was my goodfriend, the great science-fiction writer, Lester del Rey. He was constantly telling me I oughtto finish the series and was just as constantly suggesting plot devices. He even told LarryAshmead, then my editor at Doubleday, that if I refused to write more Foundation stories, he,Lester, would be willing to take on the task.
When Ashmead mentioned this to me in 1973, I began another Foundation novel out of sheerdesperation. I called it "Lightning Rod" and managed to write fourteen pages before other taskscalled me away. The fourteen pages were put away and additional years passed.
In January 1977, Cathleen Jordan, then my editor at Doubleday, suggested I do "an importantbook – a Foundation novel, perhaps." I said, "I'd rather do an autobiography," and I did –
640,000words of it.
In January 1981, Doubleday apparently lost its temper. At least, Hugh O'Neill, then my editorthere, said, "Betty Prashker wants to see you," and marched me into her office. She was thenone of the senior editors, and a sweet and gentle person.
She wasted no time. "Isaac," she said, "you are going to write a novel for us and you are goingto sign a contract to that effect."
"Betty," I said, "I am already working on a big science book for Doubleday and I have to revisethe Biographical Encyclopedia for Doubleday and –"
"It can all wait," she said. "You are going to sign a contract to do a novel. What's more,we're going to give you a $50,000 advance."
That was a stunner. I don't like large advances. They put me under too great an obligation. Myaverage advance is something like $3,000. Why not? It's all out of royalties.
I said, "That's way too much money, Betty."
"No, it isn't," she said.
"Doubleday will lose its shirt," I said.
"You keep telling us that all the time. It won't."
I said, desperately, "All right. Have the contract read that I don't get any money until Inotify you in writing that I have begun the novel."
"Are you crazy?" she said. "You'll never start if that clause is in the contract. You get$25,000 on signing the contract, and $25,000 on delivering a completed manuscript."
"But suppose the novel is no good."
"Now you're being silly," she said, and she ended the conversation.
That night, Pat LoBrutto, the science-fiction editor at Doubleday called to express hispleasure. "And remember," he said, "that when we say 'novel' we mean 'science-fiction novel,'not anything else. And when we say 'science-fiction novel,' we mean 'Foundation novel' and notanything else."
On February 5, 1981, I signed the contract, and within the week, the Doubleday accountingsystem cranked out the check for $25,000.
I moaned that I was not my own master anymore and Hugh O'Neill said, cheerfully, "That's right,and from now on, we're going to call every other week and say, 'Where's the manuscript?’" (Butthey didn't. They left me strictly alone, and never even asked for a progress report.)
Nearly four months passed while I took care of a vast number of things I had to do, but about
The Foundation Trilogy and began reading.the end of May, I picked up my own copy of
I had to. For one thing, I hadn't read the Trilogy in thirty years and while I remembered the
general plot, I did not remember the details. Besides, before beginning a new Foundation novelI had to immerse myself in the style and atmosphere of the series.
I read it with mounting uneasiness. I kept waiting for something to happen, and nothing everdid. All three volumes, all the nearly quarter of a million words, consisted of thoughts and ofconversations. No action. No physical suspense.
What was all the fuss about, then? Why did everyone want more of that stuff? – To be sure, Icouldn't help but notice that I was turning the pages eagerly, and that I was upset when Ifinished the book, and that I wanted more, but I was the author, for goodness' sake. You
couldn't go by me.
I was on the edge of deciding it was all a terrible mistake and of insisting on giving back themoney, when (quite by accident, I swear) I came across some sentences by science-fiction writerand critic, James Gunn, who, in connection with the Foundation series, said, "Action andromance have little to do with the success of the Trilogy – virtually all the action takes
place offstage, and the romance is almost invisible – but the stories provide a detective-story fascination with the permutations and reversals of ideas."
Oh, well, if what was needed were "permutations and reversals of ideas," then that I couldsupply. Panic receded, and on June 10, 1981, I dug out the fourteen pages I had written morethan eight years before and reread them. They sounded good to me. I didn't remember where I hadbeen headed back then, but I had worked out what seemed to me to be a good ending now, and,starting page 15 on that day, I proceeded to work toward the new ending.
I found, to my infinite relief, that I had no trouble getting back into a "Foundation-mood,"and, fresh from my rereading, I had Foundation history at my finger-tips.
There were differences, to be sure:
1) The original stories were written for a science-fiction magazine and were from 7,000 to50,000 words long, and no more. Consequently, each book in the trilogy had at least two storiesand lacked unity. I intended to make the new book a single story.
2) I had a particularly good chance for development since Hugh said, "Let the book find its ownlength, Isaac. We don't mind a long book." So I planned on 140,000 words, which was nearlythree times the length of "The Mule," and this gave me plenty of elbow-room, and I could addall sorts of little touches.
3) The Foundation series had been written at a time when our knowledge of astronomy was
mentionprimitive compared with what it is today. I could take advantage of that and at least black holes, for instance. I could also take advantage of electronic computers, which had notbeen invented until I was half through with the series.
The novel progressed steadily, and on January 17, 1982, I began final copy. I brought themanuscript to Hugh O'Neill in batches, and the poor fellow went half-crazy since he insisted onreading it in this broken fashion. On March 25, 1982, I brought in the last bit, and the verynext day got the second half of the advance.
I had kept "Lightning Rod" as my working title all the way through, but Hugh finally said, "Isthere any way of putting 'Foundation' into the title, Isaac?" I suggested Foundations at Bay,
therefore, and that may be the title that will actually be used. *
You will have noticed that I have said nothing about the plot of the new Foundation novel.Well, naturally. I would rather you buy and read the book.
And yet there is one thing I have to confess to you. I generally manage to tie up all the looseends into one neat little bow-knot at the end of my stories, no matter how complicated the plotmight be. In this case, however, I noticed that when I was all done, one glaring little itemremained unresolved.
I am hoping no one else notices it because it clearly points the way to the continuation of theseries.
It is even possible that I inadvertently gave this away for at the end of the novel, I wrote:"The End (for now)."
I very much fear that if the novel proves successful, Doubleday will be at my throat again, asCampbell used to be in the old days. And yet what can I do but hope that the novel is verysuccessful indeed. What a quandary!
*Editor's note: The novel was published in October 1982 as Foundation's Edge.
HARI SELDON–... born in the 11,988th year of the Galactic Era; died 12,069. The dates are morecommonly given in terms of the current Foundational Era as – 79 to the year 1 F.E. Born tomiddle-class parents on Helicon, Arcturus sector (where his father, in a legend of doubtfulauthenticity, was a tobacco grower in the hydroponic plants of the planet), he early showedamazing ability in mathematics. Anecdotes concerning his ability are innumerable, and some are
contradictory. At the age of two, he is said to have ...
... Undoubtedly his greatest contributions were in the field of psychohistory. Seldon found thefield little more than a set of vague axioms; he left it a profound statistical science....
... The best existing authority we have for the details of his life is the biography written byGaal Dornick who. as a young man, met Seldon two years before the great mathematician's death.The story of the meeting ...
* All quotations from the Encyclopedia Galactica here reproduced are taken from the 116thEdition published in 1020 F.E. by the Encyclopedia Galactica Publishing Co., Terminus, withpermission of the publishers.
His name was Gaal Dornick and he was just a country boy who had never seen Trantor before. Thatis, not in real life. He had seen it many times on the hyper-video, and occasionally in
tremendous three-dimensional newscasts covering an Imperial Coronation or the opening of aGalactic Council. Even though he had lived all his life on the world of Synnax, which circled astar at the edges of the Blue Drift, he was not cut off from civilization, you see. At thattime, no place in the Galaxy was.
There were nearly twenty-five million inhabited planets in the Galaxy then, and not one butowed allegiance to the Empire whose seat was on Trantor. It was the last halfcentury in whichthat could be said.
To Gaal, this trip was the undoubted climax of his young, scholarly life. He had been in spacebefore so that the trip, as a voyage and nothing more, meant little to him. To be sure, he hadtraveled previously only as far as Synnax's only satellite in order to get the data on themechanics of meteor driftage which he needed for his dissertation, but space-travel was all onewhether one travelled half a million miles, or as many light years.
He had steeled himself just a little for the Jump through hyper-space, a phenomenon one did notexperience in simple interplanetary trips. The Jump remained, and would probably remainforever, the only practical method of travelling between the stars. Travel through ordinaryspace could proceed at no rate more rapid than that of ordinary light (a bit of scientificknowledge that belonged among the items known since the forgotten dawn of human history), andthat would have meant years of travel between even the nearest of inhabited systems. Throughhyper-space, that unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy,something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between twoneighboring instants of time.
Gaal had waited for the first of those Jumps with a little dread curled gently in his stomach,and it ended in nothing more than a trifling jar, a little internal kick which ceased aninstant before he could be sure he had felt it. That was all.
And after that, there was only the ship, large and glistening; the cool production of 12,000years of Imperial progress; and himself, with his doctorate in mathematics freshly obtained andan invitation from the great Hari Seldon to come to Trantor and join the vast and somewhatmysterious Seldon Project.
What Gaal was waiting for after the disappointment of the Jump was that first sight of Trantor.He haunted the View-room. The steel shutter-lids were rolled back at announced times and he was
always there, watching the hard brilliance of the stars, enjoying the incredible hazy swarm ofa star cluster, like a giant conglomeration of fire-flies caught in mid-motion and stilledforever, At one time there was the cold, blue-white smoke of a gaseous nebula within five lightyears of the ship, spreading over the window like distant milk, filling the room with an icytinge, and disappearing out of sight two hours later, after another Jump.
The first sight of Trantor's sun was that of a hard, white speck all but lost in a myriad such,and recognizable only because it was pointed out by the ship's guide. The stars were thick herenear the Galactic center. But with each Jump, it shone more brightly, drowning out the rest,paling them and thinning them out.
An officer came through and said, "View-room will be closed for the remainder of the trip.Prepare for landing."
Gaal had followed after, clutching at the sleeve of the white uniform with the Spaceship-and-Sun of the Empire on it.
He said, "Would it be possible to let me stay? I would like to see Trantor."
The officer smiled and Gaal flushed a bit. It occurred to him that he spoke with a provincialaccent.
The officer said, "We'll be landing on Trantor by morning."
"I mean I want to see it from Space."
"Oh. Sorry, my boy. If this were a space-yacht we might manage it. But we're spinning down,sunside. You wouldn't want to be blinded, burnt, and radiation-scarred all at the same time,would you?"
Gaal started to walk away.
The officer called after him, "Trantor would only be gray blur anyway, Kid. Why don't you takea space-tour once you hit Trantor. They're cheap."
Gaal looked back, "Thank you very much."
It was childish to feel disappointed, but childishness comes almost as naturally to a man as toa child, and there was a lump in Gaal's throat. He had never seen Trantor spread out in all itsincredibility, as large as life, and he hadn't expected to have to wait longer.
The ship landed in a medley of noises. There was the far-off hiss of the atmosphere cutting andsliding past the metal of the ship. There was the steady drone of the conditioners fighting theheat of friction, and the slower rumble of the engines enforcing deceleration. There was thehuman sound of men and women gathering in the debarkation rooms and the grind of the hoistslifting baggage, mail, and freight to the long axis of the ship, from which they would be latermoved along to the unloading platform.
Gaal felt the slight jar that indicated the ship no longer had an independent motion of itsown. Ship's gravity had been giving way to planetary gravity for hours. Thousands of passengershad been sitting patiently in the debarkation rooms which swung easily on yielding force-fieldsto accommodate its orientation to the changing direction of the gravitational forces. Now theywere crawling down curving ramps to the large, yawning locks.
Gaal's baggage was minor. He stood at a desk, as it was quickly and expertly taken apart andput together again. His visa was inspected and stamped. He himself paid no attention.
This was Trantor! The air seemed a little thicker here, the gravity a bit greater, than on hishome planet of Synnax, but he would get used to that. He wondered if he would get used toimmensity.
Debarkation Building was tremendous. The roof was almost lost in the heights. Gaal could almostimagine that clouds could form beneath its immensity. He could see no opposite wall; just menand desks and converging floor till it faded out in haze.
The man at the desk was speaking again. He sounded annoyed. He said, "Move on, Dornick." He hadto open the visa, look again, before he remembered the name.
Gaal said, "Where– where–"
The man at the desk jerked a thumb, "Taxis to the right and third left."
Gaal moved, seeing the glowing twists of air suspended high in nothingness and reading, "TAXISTO ALL POINTS."
A figure detached itself from anonymity and stopped at the desk, as Gaal left. The man at thedesk looked up and nodded briefly. The figure nodded in return and followed the youngimmigrant.
He was in time to hear Gaal's destination.
Gaal found himself hard against a railing.
The small sign said, "Supervisor." The man to whom the sign referred did not look up. He said,"Where to?"
Gaal wasn't sure, but even a few seconds hesitation meant men queuing in line behind him.
The Supervisor looked up, "Where to?"
Gaal's funds were low, but there was only this one night and then he would have a job. He triedto sound nonchalant, "A good hotel, please."
The Supervisor was unimpressed, "They're all good. Name one."
Gaal said, desperately, "The nearest one, please."
The Supervisor touched a button. A thin line of light formed along the floor, twisting amongothers which brightened and dimmed in different colors and shades. A ticket was shoved intoGaal's hands. It glowed faintly.
The Supervisor said, "One point twelve."
Gaal fumbled for the coins. He said, "Where do I go?"
"Follow the light. The ticket will keep glowing as long as you're pointed in the tightdirection."
Gaal looked up and began walking. There were hundreds creeping across the vast floor, followingtheir individual trails, sifting and straining themselves through intersection points to arriveat their respective destinations.
His own trail ended. A man in glaring blue and yellow uniform, shining and new in unstainableplasto-textile, reached for his two bags.
"Direct line to the Luxor," he said.
The man who followed Gaal heard that. He also heard Gaal say, "Fine," and watched him enter theblunt-nosed vehicle.
The taxi lifted straight up. Gaal stared out the curved, transparent window, marvelling at thesensation of airflight within an enclosed structure and clutching instinctively at the back ofthe driver's seat. The vastness contracted and the people became ants in random distribution.The scene contracted further and began to slide backward.
There was a wall ahead. It began high in the air and extended upward out of sight. It wasriddled with holes that were the mouths of tunnels. Gaal's taxi moved toward one then plungedinto it. For a moment, Gaal wondered idly how his driver could pick out one among so many.
There was now only blackness, with nothing but the past-flashing of a colored signal light torelieve the gloom. The air was full of a rushing sound.
Gaal leaned forward against deceleration then and the taxi popped out of the tunnel anddescended to ground-level once more.
"The Luxor Hotel," said the driver, unnecessarily. He helped Gaal with his baggage, accepted atenth-credit tip with a businesslike air, picked up a waiting passenger, and was rising again.