The History of the Positronic Robot Stories and Foundation Stories, 1973-1988

By 1973, it had been over twenty years since Isaac Asimov had last written a story in the Foundation series, and exactly twenty years since the publication of Second Foundation, last volume in the Foundation Trilogy. Ever since, Asimov had been the recipient of a steady stream of letters asking him to continue the series. He had always resisted before, but in 1973 his friend Lester del Rey told Lawrence Ashmead, Asimov's editor at Doubleday & Co., that if Asimov wouldn't write any more Foundation stories, then he, del Rey, would. Out of sheer desperation, Asimov started writing another Foundation story called "Lightning Rod". However, other writing projects distracted him after he had written fourteen pages, and "Lightning Rod" remained unfinished.

By January 1981, matters had reached the point where a senior editor at Doubleday, Betty Prashker, more or less ordered Asimov to write a Foundation novel. To show him that she meant it, she offered him a $50,000 advance. He reluctantly accepted, and by June he was ready to begin. He started by rereading the previous Foundation stories, and by the time he finished on June 9, he had become hooked. Like all of his readers for the past three decades, he wanted to find out what happened next. The following day, Asimov dug out the unfinished "Lightning Rod", and resumed writing it. He finally finished the novel on March 25, 1982, and submitted it to Doubleday. The novel was accepted, and was published by Doubleday in September 1982 under the title Foundation's Edge.

Foundation's Edge is set in the year 498 FE, over 120 years after "--And Now You Don't/Search by the Foundation". The Foundation has just been through a Seldon Crisis involving the location of the capital. Golan Trevize, a member of the Council of Terminus, has just seen the recording Hari Seldon made concerning the crisis. It occurs to Trevize that the Seldon Message came too close to reality. Nearly two centuries after the Mule had completely upset the Seldon Plan by defeating and conquering the Foundation, the Seldon Plan has somehow been restored to perfect working order. Conventional wisdom has it that the Second Foundation restored the Plan before being destroyed in 377 FE. Having just seen proof of how perfectly the Plan is running, Trevize finds that he no longer believes that the Second Foundation was destroyed. The only way to explain the Plan's perfection is to assume that the Second Foundation still exists, and is still secretly intervening in Galactic affairs to maintain the Seldon Plan.

When Trevize publicly announces his conclusion, he is quickly exiled from Terminus by Mayor Harla Branno. Branno is well aware that the Seldon Plan's perfection implies the continued existence of the Second Foundation, and the last thing she needs is for Trevize to alert the Second Foundation by broadcasting the fact. She assigns Trevize the task of piloting a spaceship for a scholar who is searching for humanity's original homeworld. She also sets Trevize's ex-friend Munn Li Compor the task of following him, to see if Trevize has indeed attracted the attention of the Second Foundation.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Second Foundation come to the uncomfortable realization that the Seldon Plan is operating too perfectly for them as well. Statistically, there ought to be some deviations from the Plan, but there aren't. From this, Speaker Stor Gendibal has deduced the existence of a secret group of mentalics who are aiding the Seldon Plan for their own mysterious purposes. The Second Foundation sends Gendibal out to follow Trevize with the belief that Trevize is acting under the compulsion of the secret mentalics.

Trevize and his scholarly companion Janov Pelorat (and their two tails) eventually find their way to Gaia, a world where everybody and everything is part of a unified consciousness. The Gaians plan to extend their unified consciousness to the rest of the Galaxy, but they're not sure whether they should, and they want Trevize to decide for them. Meanwhile, Mayor Branno has followed Compor to Gaia in a Foundation battleship. Gendibal wants to eliminate the Gaians, who are the secret mentalics he has been sent to find, while Branno wants to eliminate the Second Foundation and use the Foundation's military power to establish the Second Galactic Empire five hundred years early. Trevize decides in favor of the Gaians, who are able to use their mentalic abilities to convince Branno that there is no Second Foundation, and Gendibal that the anomalies he noticed were the work of agents from the First Foundation. Trevize also decides that he and Pelorat should continue their search for humanity's homeworld.

Much to Asimov's surprise, Foundation's Edge made it onto the bestseller lists, spending nearly half a year on the New York Times list and reaching the number three position there in December 1982. Asimov was pleased at finally having written a bestselling novel after more than thirty years as a novelist and forty years as a writer. However, he also feared that Doubleday would insist that he write more novels for them, and he was right. He continued writing novels for the rest of his life.

Doubleday had already offered Asimov a contract for another novel on May 18, 1982, even before Foundation's Edge was published. He waited until publication to see whether sales of the novel justified writing another. When Foundation's Edge became a bestseller, Asimov was convinced, and on September 22, 1982 he began the new novel. He didn't feel like writing another Foundation novel right away, but instead had the idea of finally writing a third novel about Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw. Back in 1958, Asimov had started writing a third novel, The Bounds of Infinity, but it had bogged down after eight chapters. The trouble was with the lead female character. Like all the people of her world, she was raised by robots, and was uncomfortable around other humans. In The Bounds of Infinity, Asimov intended for her to fall in love with R. Daneel. The plot would require Asimov to describe the relationship in some detail, and this would be terribly difficult to do in the social climate of the 1950s. In the end, Asimov couldn't manage it, and he finally abandoned The Bounds of Infinity.

Twenty-four years later, the problem no longer existed. Instead of returning to The Bounds of Infinity, though, Asimov started from scratch, and began a new novel called The World of the Dawn. The novel takes place two years after The Naked Sun, and three years after The Caves of Steel. Police detective Elijah Baley has started a small group that he hopes will form the core of a new colony world. Whether or not the group actually does so will depend upon Han Fastolfe, a prominent leader of the planet Aurora. Fastolfe supports the colonization effort, but he faces strong opposition on Aurora. His hold on his power is threatened when he is accused of deliberately destroying the mind of a robot named R. Jander Panell. Fastolfe arranges for Baley to travel to Aurora to investigate the matter. Once there, Baley learns that Gladia Solaria, whom he cleared of the murder of her husband on Solaria two years before, was romantically involved with the robot Panell. Eventually, Baley is able to prove that Fastolfe's political opponent Kelden Amadiro had been secretly conducting tests on Panell which would have led to the robot's mental collapse. Amadiro is discredited, and the way is made clear for Fastolfe to assist Baley's group in colonizing a new world.

Asimov finished The World of the Dawn on March 28, 1983. Doubleday accepted the novel, but insisted that a robot novel should have the word "robot" in the title. Asimov agreed, and changed the name to The Robots of Dawn. With The Robots of Dawn, Asimov took the first step in combining the Positronic Robot series with the Foundation series. The novel features speculation by Fastolfe on the possibility of working out "laws of humanics" that would allow the future of humanity to be worked out mathematically using a science of psychohistory. The novel is also the first of the Elijah Baley novels to explicitly mention Susan Calvin, thus directly connecting the far future of the Spacers with the twenty-first century stories from I, Robot (and with the later stories "That Thou Art Mindful of Him" and "The Bicentennial Man"). The merger of the two series was the result of Asimov's speculation on why there were no robots in the Foundation era. He decided it was because the Galaxy must have been settled by people who were specifically opposed to the use of robots. Just such a society existed on Earth during the Spacer era, so it followed that the Galaxy must have been settled by people from Earth rather than people from the Spacer worlds.

Having made the decision to merge the two series, Asimov had to reconcile the very different pictures of Earth that each drew. In the Spacer novels, Earth is overpopulated. In the Empire novels of the early 1950s, Earth is an underpopulated world with large radioactive areas. Furthermore, any nuclear war devastating enough to leave large sections of the Earth radioactive for tens of thousands of years would exterminate humanity, thus making impossible the conditions described in the Empire novels.

Asimov decided to deal with all these matters in his next novel, a sequel to The Robots of Dawn titled Robots and Empire. The new novel is set two hundred years after The Robots of Dawn. Elijah Baley's group has indeed settled on a new world, and by the time of Robots and Empire the people of Earth have established colonies on dozens of new worlds, with more being settled all the time. Unlike the Spacers, the Settlers (as the new colonists are called) have maintained close ties with Earth, and regard the home planet with something close to worship. The new period of expansion has relieved Earth's population troubles, and the resources and initiative of the Settlers have made Earth the center of a powerful new community of worlds. However, in one respect, events have not gone as Han Fastolfe (and his mentor, Roj Sarton) expected. The Settlers have refused to accept robots into their society. They accepted all other assistance offered by Fastolfe, but insisted that all work on their new worlds be done either by humans or by automated machinery.

Robots and Empire opens some months after the death of Han Fastolfe. With Fastolfe dead, his enemy Kelden Amadiro is in a position to reverse Aurora's support of the Settler movement. However, the Settlers are strong enough not to need Aurora's support any more, and Amadiro has come up with another way to strike at Earth. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Solaria have apparently vanished, leaving behind a world populated by millions of robots. The Settlers, sensing an economic opportunity, have sent a couple of trading ships to Solaria to investigate the possibility of acquiring the Solarian robots for resale to other Spacer worlds. Both Settler ships were destroyed on Solaria, and the Settlers want to know why. Genovus Pandaral, Senior Director of Baleyworld, oldest and strongest of the Settler worlds, gives his friend D. G. Baley the task of investigating the Solarian situation. D. G., a descendant of Elijah Baley, travels to Aurora to seek out Gladia Solaria, the last known native of Solaria. Gladia agrees to travel with Baley to Solaria, accompanied by her robots R. Daneel Olivaw and R. Giskard Reventlov. On Solaria, they encounter an android who attempts to kill Baley and Daneel while other robots attempt to destroy Baley's ship with a nuclear intensifier. Gladia is able to hold off the Solarian android long enough for Giskard to destroy it. When Baley returns to Baleyworld, he and Gladia are lionized. After returning to Aurora, Daneel and Giskard uncover Amadiro's plot to attack Earth, and they arrange for Gladia to travel to Earth with them. The robots are able to prevent Amadiro from using a nuclear intensifier to turn Earth radioactive within a decade, killing billions of people. However, Amadiro's assistant Levular Mandamus is able to set off the nuclear intensifier at a lower setting, so that Earth will turn radioactive within a century and a half.

Robots and Empire was published by Doubleday in September 1985. The novel made the Publisher's Weekly best-seller list, but not the New York Times list. Meanwhile, the time had come for Asimov to write the next novel in the Foundation series, Foundation and Earth. At the end of Foundation's Edge, Golan Trevize had learned of the deletion of all information on Earth from the Galactic Library on Trantor. He realized that Earth was being deliberately hidden from the Galaxy for some reason, and he intended to find out why. In Foundation and Earth, Trevize, Janov Pelorat, and a Gaian woman named Blissenobiarella (Bliss for short) leave Gaia and travel to Munn Li Compor's homeworld of Comporellon (which was once known as Baleyworld). There they learn the story of the Spacer worlds and their robots. They also gain the spatial coordinates of three of the Spacer worlds. On Aurora, they find no people, only packs of feral dogs. On Solaria, they find one of the descendants of the Solarians, living in underground isolation and reproducing asexually. It tries to kill them, and Bliss accidentally kills it instead. They escape from Solaria with the dead Solarian's immature offspring. On Melpomenia (the nineteenth Spacer world) the planet's terraforming has collapsed, and most of the atmosphere is gone. However, on Melpomenia they find a list of coordinates for all fifty Spacer worlds, and from that they are able to deduce the location of Earth. They actually reach Alpha Centauri first, where a colony of the last refugees from radioactive Earth is located. They flee after the Alphans attempt to infect them with a virus, and enter Earth's solar system. It turns out that Earth is too radioactive to approach, so Trevize decides to approach the moon instead. There, they find none other than Daneel Olivaw. It was he who established Gaia, and he who has guided its development. But Daneel is dying, before Galaxia can be properly established. His only remaining option is to merge minds with the rescued Solarian child. Doubleday published Foundation and Earth in October 1987.

Asimov admitted that the ending of Foundation and Earth left him in a quandry. It was implied that complications existed that could only be handled in another book. However, he didn't know how to handle those complications, and in the end he never got around to writing a third Trevize novel. Instead, Asimov seized upon a remark made to him by a fan who told him he had always wanted to know what had happened to Hari Seldon when he was young, and how he had come to invent psychohistory. When the time came for Asimov to sign a contract for a new novel, he suggested that he go back in time and deal with events that took place fifty years before "The Psychohistorians". Doubleday agreed, and on January 19, 1987 Asimov began work on Prelude to Foundation.

As the novel opens, Seldon at age 32 has just presented a paper to the Decennial Convention on Trantor showing that it is theoretically possible to use advanced mathematics to predict future events. This attracts the notice of the Emperor Cleon, who summons Seldon to appear before him. Despite everything Seldon can do to persuade him otherwise, Cleon wants him to stay on Trantor and develop psychohistory into a working science. A journalist named Chetter Hummin learns of Seldon's plight, and aids him in escaping from the Emperor's control. Hummin leads Seldon to Streeling University, where Seldon meets a history professor named Dors Venabili. After Seldon almost dies in a suspicious accident, Hummin helps him and Venabili flee Streeling University and go into hiding. In Mycogen Sector, Seldon learns about the existence of robots. In Dahl Sector, Seldon meets a promising mathematician named Yugo Amaryl, and a street urchin named Raych, and learns of the legends of Elijah Baley and Daneel Olivaw. Seldon, Venabili and Raych are finally captured by men from Wye Sector, whose mayor intends to seize control of Trantor and allow the Galactic Empire to collapse. After being rescued from Wye by Imperial troops, Seldon hits on a way to develop psychohistory. He also realizes that Venabili and Hummin are robots, and that Hummin specifically is Daneel Olivaw. Seldon returns to Streeling University, and begins work on the Psychohistory Project. Asimov finished Prelude to Foundation on November 16, 1987, and it was published by Doubleday in November 1988.

Continue to Part 6: 1989-1993

To the Isaac Asimov home page


Johnny Pez