And now it is time to review Second Foundation, the final book in the original Foundation Trilogy. Again Asimov has crafted his book into two main parts, the first dealing with the search for the Second Foundation by the Mule, while the second is the Foundation searching for the Second Foundation. It’s about this time when I wish he had named the Second Foundation something different, it gets repetitive!
I have to admit, I so enjoyed the character of the Mule, that when his portion of the book was over, I was sad; it was like I had changed channels from The Empire Strikes Back and found myself watching Anne of Green Gables…whiplash!
Overall I was delighted with this book…the plot twists and turns, the surprises (like the last four words!), and the clever intellectual exchanges made this book stand out in the trilogy. I still can’t tell if the twists were too much, if the surprises were too extreme to be believed, but that’s a matter for the book club to decide. I know that in my second reading, I found myself operating with too much anticipation, and that took some of the fun out of it.
Regardless, this is an epic finish to the Trilogy…you’re going to enjoy it!
Zack Notes ™ - spoilers and analysis to follow!
Search by the Mule
Thus far the Mule’s attempts to find the Second Foundation have proven fruitless, so he decides to assign to his trusted (and converted) Lt. General Han Pritcher an unconverted but rising star in the capital named Bail Channis to help find the Second Foundation.
Channis, frankly, is too successful in bringing them directly there, so Pritcher believes that he must be a Second Foundationer. He pulls out his blaster and is just about to end Channis when:
Hazily, he saw Channis standing before him, hand outstretched – and suddenly, he knew he was going to give him the blaster.
Channis tips the scales in his favor through the use of mental powers! But then the Mule arrives and ruins his short lived victory. He accuses him not of treachery like Pritcher did, but rather as a Second Foundationer spy! Oh the accusations against poor Channis!
Channis strikes with a psychic attack that breaks the Mule’s control of Pritcher, so the Mule must choose on what front to defend himself.
Then the Mule reveals that he’s already blown up Tazenda and will shortly destroy Rossem, upon forcefully learning from Channis the Second Foundation’s “true” location. Channis falls first into despair and then into catatonia as the Mule ravages his mind.
So yeah, Channis is the red shirt in this story. He offers to help and he gets reduced to a mental case. Poor guy.
But the tide turns once more, as the First Speaker (of the Second Foundation) walks through the door revealing that Channis was always a lure to draw the Mule away from his capital. And that, through the agency of Second Foundation spies, he would find his empire rife with revolution upon returning home. In short, it was over for the Mule.
And, at that very moment of crescendo when the Mule realizes his defeat:
“Now you see it”, agreed the First Speaker, “and now you don’t.”
In a split second, the Mule is converted by the Second Foundation. BOOM. He then lives out the rest of his short lifespan never wanting to look for the Second Foundation, an inert threat just like his name.
Impact of The Mule
In the timeline of the Seldon Plan, I’m left wondering what the lasting impact was of the Mule. He didn’t conquer the galaxy and yet his disruption of the plan was significant enough to warrant the appearance of the First Speaker, but was the Plan really in danger?
The Mule’s lifespan was limited, he never really got close, and Pritcher’s method and presuppositions prevented him from ever having a chance of finding it.
And the Deus Ex of the First Speaker is hard for me to believe. Asimov spends a good bit of ink giving it plausibility, that the Second Foundation had nurtured the mental ability just as the First had developed the physical laws…but to beat a natural mutant?
On the one hand I don’t really care because the story is awesome, and I enjoyed every minute of reading it; it can be believed from the internal consistency as presented. On the other, I really enjoyed the Mule and felt that his power (variably defined throughout the trilogy) was stronger than that final moment.
With the Mule defeated, there is only one other source of risk to the Second Foundation, the First!
Search by the Foundation
In writing this second portion, I believe Asimov was playing a game with his readers…that is, how often can I trick them and make them change their mind sequentially? It is a game he plays quite well as one moment you believe the reality of the Second Foundation to be one thing and at the next your mind is changed by another convincing and plausible argument.
It is quite enjoyable frankly, to be cleverly deceived, to believe you have found the answer, only to find you were deceived again; much credit is due for this clever intellectual exchange.
As I said before, losing the Mule was a disappointment, mostly because the tone of the story changed from exciting space opera to a sort of Nancy Drew young adult mystery…not exactly the genre I read.
Young precocious Arcadia, grand daughter of Batya has an adventure. With the existence of the Second Foundation known to the First, She exemplifies the popular interest in finding them. Mysteriously a man named Pelleas Anthor shows up at her house to meet with Dr. Darell, her dad.
It turns out he is a part of a secret group trying to find the Second Foundation. Dr. Darell, Jole Turbor, Dr. Elvett Semic, Homir Munn, Pelleas Anthor have their identities verified by a weird brain wave analysis, that Asimov enjoys describing and re-imagining throughout the book.
The group decides to send Munn to the Mule’s former palace, with Arkady (as she likes to be known) as an secret stowaway.
During an interlude, we are made aware of more details of the Second Foundation as the First Speaker has an interchange with a Student where we learn that this Plan is constantly changed mathematically by the Second Foundationers, and that:
“The Seldon Plan has failed!” “Not yet. It merely may have failed. The probabilities of success are still twenty-one point four percent, as of the last assessment.”
The scene shifts to Kalgan where Lord Stettin and his most annoying mistress Lady Callia receive Munn and the now known Arkady. Arkady applies her precociousness to the task of “tricking” Lady Callia into stirring Kalgan into a war gambit (by manipulating Stettin’s pride):
But Arcadia was delighted. She knew what had happened. Or, at any rate, she thought she did.
Uh oh. Another glitch in the matrix! What do you mean, “she thought she did” Asimov?
But then, Stettin gets all lecherous and considers marrying Arkady, so Callia secrets her away. It’s in that final moment of Lady Callia leaving her, that another clue drops:
But for one eternal second, Arcadia still did not move, for in that last moment before Lady Callia left, Arcadia had seen something. Those frightened, frantic eyes had momentarily – flashingly – lit up with a cold amusement
Second Foundationer! Arkady is sure of it, and thus cannot return to the Foundation or her dad as his chohorts will be found out. So instead, she chooses Trantor and runs into a weird dude (Preem Palver) and his wife, who call themselves “Poppa” and “Momma” and manage to get her through a military dragnet.
War with the Foundation!
Stettin goes to war with Foundation but then loses badly as his troops had no will to fight and the confidence of the Foundation was soaring.
Well that was quick. Stettin was definitely a puppet with someone controlling his strings.
The Second Foundation is located…
And then we turn to the murder mystery ending. In succeeding turns, various of the cohort reveal where the Second Foundation really is located. First up is Munn directly back from Kalgan:
There is no Second Foundation! - Munn
His evidence is this flimsy notion that if it existed, then the Mule with his mutant mind should have been able to find it. He didn’t, so it doesn’t exist.
Anthor knows him to be lying and knocks him out after confirming that he was tampered with, via that nifty brain scanner thing that came up earlier. He then drops his bomb:
I happen to know where the Second Foundation really is. - Anthor
Kalgan, it’s the center and where everyone operates from. Mule was a tool, that is what explains why the Mule never found it.
Most people are buying this explanation, when Dr. Darell goes on and on about some device he built, a Mental Static device (patent pending). He quickly changes from describing his new toy to another reveal:
“It’s easy”, grunted Darell. “You see, I happen to know where the Second Foundation really is.”
He believes it is on Foundation because Arkady sent him a note with the words “a circle has no end.” He then cranks up the Static device and Anthor is revealed to be a Second Foundationer…proving that he’s right and that the embedded Seconders need to be expunged, freeing the First Foundation from their nefarious influence. For a moment, there’s thought that perhaps Arkady was controlled but the analysis shows her not be. The Foundation celebrates its victory.
There’s Another Chapter!
At this point, you probably have whiplash like I did. I just wanted certainty over where the Second Foundation really was, and honestly, did the good guys just win? Who are the good guys anyway? Seldon?
And then you discover the truth…and I don’t want to ruin that experience for you…you’ll just have to read it to find out! (or the last 20 pages where absolutely everything is revealed).
The Last Four Words
I did mention this, so I have to say, the last four words of the book are a crazy reveal that I’m still rolling over in my mind. Could it be, does it make sense, or was it a last minute flourish? I really don’t know, but it’s pretty cool.
Anyway, for my list of pre-80s Science Fiction, Dune still reigns supreme, but the Foundation Trilogy is an exceptional read that is eloquently composed and deserves it’s place in the hallowed halls of the best classic sci-fi.