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Literature / Foundation Series

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The first six books in publication order

Foundation is a Science Fiction series that began in Astounding Science Fiction (May 1942 issue), and was created by Isaac Asimov. It is Inspired by… Edward Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, describing a galactic-scale version of The Roman Empire. The original Novelettes all take place during the decline/collapse of a fictional Galactic Empire. This Epic Narrative was Dr Asimov's first attempt at creating a consistent universe, and it grew to encompass the largest fraction of his fictional work.

The Foundation Trilogy was published in the 1950s, at a time when he was also writing/republishing what would become the earliest events in the timeline of The 'Verse; his Positronic Robot series and followed by his The Empire Novels trilogy. He wrote Sequel novels to the ‘’Trilogy’’, featuring Golan Trevize and companions, and set halfway through the thousand year plan constructed by Hari Seldon. note  The Prequel novels cover the time period of Hari Seldon, just before the events of the ‘’Trilogy’’, with him as The Protagonist. Both prequels and sequels were published in the 1980s and later.

Dr Asimov allowed a few authors to write in his world, due to an Anthology that Martin H. Greenberg organized. After his death in 1992, additional authors were given permission by his estate to write stories within this universe, which continues to expand this literary franchise. Authorized adaptations into other mediums can be found on Foundation. Not to be mistaken for "Foundation" by China Miéville, which can be found in the anthology, Looking for Jake and Other Stories, or "Foundation" by Ann Aguirre, part of her Razorland Trilogy.

A TV series developed by Apple TV+, was released on September 24, 2021. A number of characters have been conserably re-tooled - Gaal Dornick and Salvor Hardin are now women, and Hardin is around for the founding. The emperor is now a clone family. Two trailers have been released before the series itself: a teaser trailer and a regular trailer

Works in the Foundation series, in publication order:

The decline and fall of the First Galactic Empire provides examples of:

  • 10,000 Years:
    • The Galactic Empire of Trantor has lasted for 12,069 years before the establishment of Terminus, and survives many years afterwards.
    • A prophecy is made by Hari Seldon that after the Galactic Empire collapses into chaos, said chaos would last for thirty thousand years before another Galactic Empire took control, longer than the duration of the ancient first Empire. It is in an effort to avert this extremely long anarchy that he establishes his 1,000 year plan.
  • Absent Aliens: Humanity is the only intelligent species in the galaxy, unless you count robots, Gaians, or Solarians. It's explicit (in The Second Foundation Trilogy) that every other intelligent species in the galaxy had been killed off before they encountered humans. It's implied (in Foundation's Edge) that the current timeline was selected because the galaxy is absent of sapient alien species. These two facts are not exactly contradictions, because timeline manipulation would allow for a reality where aliens had been killed off before humans encountered them. However, it's a plot point in Foundation and Earth that absent from the galaxy is not absent from the universe.
  • Absurdly Huge Population: A basic premise in this series is that only the actions of large populations can be predicted because individual reactions are far too random to accurately model with mathematics. The setting describes twenty-five million inhabited planets in the galaxy, with a total population extending from quadrillions to the quintillions. While the series as a whole qualifies, the lower bound would mean the average inhabited planet doesn't: "100 quadrillions" gives each planet a population of 4 billion.note 
    The individual human being is unpredictable, but the reactions of human mobs, Seldon found, could be treated statistically. The larger the mob, the greater the accuracy that could be achieved. And the size of the human masses that Seldon worked with was no less than the population of the Galaxy which in his time was numbered in the quintillions. — "Prelude", Second Foundation.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Multiple levels of secrecy and subterfuge occur here, listed in order of shortest-lived to longest-running.
    • The Encyclopedia Foundation on Terminus is established for roughly fifty years before Hari Seldon appears in the Time Vault to announce that the Encyclopedia Galactica was a sham concocted to establish them as the nucleus of a second Galactic Empire. At this point, it's a very public conspiracy that Terminus will take over the galaxy. The information needed for the Encyclopedia grants them a broad base of scientific knowledge, which they continue to develop because they're at the extreme edge of the Milky Way and have almost no natural resources.
    • Once Seldon's Plan is reasserted after The Mule, a small cabal of people on Terminus have realized that they aren't in charge of their destiny because the Second Foundation is holding the strings. They design telepathic and anti-telepathic equipment to help them shift events in favour of free will rather than the inevitable destiny controlled by the Second Foundation. This conspiracy dissolves and reforms based on the intensity of First Foundation fears of being controlled by the Second Foundation.
    • The Second Foundation is the opposite of the Foundation on Terminus in many ways; established at "the opposite end of the galaxy", hyper-focused on developing the science of Psychohistory (and by extension, telepathy), and they use multiple levels of secrecy to hide even their existence. They've sacrificed members several times to convince the First Foundation that the Second Foundation conspiracy has been eliminated. Their job is to make sure that the Second Galactic Empire never falls.
    • Gaia is a planet of gestalt intelligence, who claims to be the home planet of The Mule. Their planet has been hidden from the rest of the galaxy before Hari Seldon was even born. During the events of Foundation's Edge, they subsume the public conspiracy of the First Foundation, the secret anti-Second Foundation conspiracy, and the telepathic Second Foundation conspiracy by rewriting their memories to guide their actions. Their dream is to make the entire galaxy join their mental gestalt.
    • Oldest of all is a (frequently one-person) conspiracy by R. Daneel Olivaw, from Dr Asimov's Robot Series. Since Robots and Empire, Daneel has been guiding human history, trying to preserve human ability to define their destiny while preventing human follies from destroying the race. He encouraged the creation of Gaia and hid the planet from the first galactic empire. He encouraged Hari Seldon to develop Psychohistory and establish the First and Second Foundations. He even conversed with Golan Trevize, helping him to realize that, while aliens are absent from the Milky Way, they almost certainly exist in the other galaxies. Daneel's programming makes him prioritize the defense of humanity at the expense of all other sentient life.
  • Artifact Name: In-Universe, the Mayor of Terminus was a title for the civilian leader of the town that grew up to support the Encyclopedia Foundation. As Terminus' influence grows, they govern more and more planets, and will eventually be the civilian leader of the Second Galactic Empire. Their title, however, remains "Mayor of Terminus".
  • Artificial Gravity: Technology based on the principles of gravity first appear in "The Psychohistorians", with an elevator functioning based on gravitic repulsion. Future engineers don't seem to develop it much further until five hundred years later, in Foundation's Edge, where anti-gravity is worked into the basis for a Reactionless Drive.
  • Author Avatar: Asimov admitted that Hari Seldon gradually became one for him.
  • Badass Pacifist: One of Salvor Hardin's favorite aphorisms is "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." Under his leadership, the Foundation never attacks the Four Kingdoms, but nonetheless dominates them through trickery. Veers into Technical Pacifist territory, as he does manipulate Anacreon first with the other kingdoms' fleets, and later with their own subverted battlecruiser - but he is never the one to issue a threat.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The protagonists find Earth and civilization continues to revive, but the Second Galactic Empire will never come, humanity will probably lose its individuality and become part of a galaxy-wide organism. Also, the fan-favorite robot will die in some centuries, but not before he possesses an innocent Solarian child who has the potential to undo 30,000 years of social engineering on its own. The earlier books contain quotations from an "Encyclopedia Galactica" published during the Second Galactic Empire, it seems safe to say that something would have intervened to prevent Galaxia from arising had Asimov decided to finish the series properly before he died. (Or, as suggested at the end of the Second Foundation Trilogy, the Second Galactic Empire was able to somehow incorporate Galaxia.)
  • Blind Jump: The series has a pretty straight example in the form of a Jump drive where accurate travel requires calculating the specific circumstances of where you are before you jump. The original trilogy was written in the '40s (and revised in the '50s), when you'd expect to do that sort of calculation by hand. Later books in the series were written in the '80s, when you'd expect computers to be capable of routine navigation calculations.
    • "The General": Devers tries to escape from General Riose's fleet after escaping from their forward base by making hyperspace jumps without proper planning. He explains the danger to Ducem Barr. It isn't very risky, as the most likely destination if you vaguely target empty space is empty space... but since they don't know where they've ended up, it takes quite some time poring over starcharts until they can pinpoint their location.
    • "The Mule": Toran and the rest of the protagonists try to escape from the Mule after the fall of Haven, desperately making hyperspace jumps without proper planning. One time their ship almost ends up inside a red giant star. They barely get clear, and after that, they spend quite some time poring over starcharts until they can pinpoint their location and calculate their path to Trantor.
    • Foundation's Edge: When Golan Trevize instructs the computer to travel to Sayshell, he's surprised to learn that it is capable of plotting out a course involving twenty-eight Hyperspace jumps. He's uncomfortable with committing to it because he'd be unable to fine-tune the calculations after each jump. It's In-Universe Technology Marches On; Trevize is using a new, much more powerful computer that is no longer subject to the limitations of older technology.
  • Book Ends: That's how Seldon's plan is supposed to go; both beginning and ending with scientists in charge.
  • Canon Welding: Ultimately, Dr Asimov merged three (at least) different continuities; the Robot Series (specifically I, Robot and the The Caves of Steel sequels), The Empire Novels, and the Foundation series itself.
  • The Chessmaster:
  • City Planet: Trantor, capital of the Galactic Empire and one vast city (also one of the first depictions of this idea), is completely covered by domed urban areas during the start of the Foundation series. It persists in this image until it is sacked and looted, which begins its transformation into an agrarian world. The planet is based on Rome, as described by Edward Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. Ancient Rome was the world's largest metropolis, with a population of over a million people, something which would not be matched again until 19th Century London. The Roman Empire had so many people at the capital that it could not sustain itself with only local agriculture, so food was constantly imported from northern Africa (at first from Egypt, then from what is now Tunisia and Algeria) to supply the city. The seat of government was forced to relocate to Constantinople due to Rome being burned down. Trantor is likewise overpopulated, with a population of 40 billions. It is dependent on imports of food from other planets (specifically twenty Farm Planets), which made it vulnerable to a space warlord coming along to conquer the capital. The "emperors" evacuate and move to Neotrantor, ruling only a few dozen worlds.
    "Its urbanization, progressing steadily, had finally reached the ultimate. All the land surface of Trantor, 75,000,000 square miles in extent, was a single city. The population, at its height, was well in excess of forty billions."Encyclopedia Galactica, "The Psychohistorians"
  • Common Tongue: Everyone speaks Galactic Standard, although dialects have arisen in different areas. Because a unified language doesn't do away with either accents or Language Drift, communication issues occasionally arise (the protagonists in Foundation and Earth encounter problems because Solaria's version of Galactic is twenty millennia out of date). Especially notable is the In-Universe transition of Trantor to Hame (based on the Real Life example of Istanbul (Not Constantinople)).
  • Continuity Nod: The Encyclopedia Galactica, an excuse Seldon used to establish the Foundation on Terminus, is used as an Encyclopedia Exposita for many of the stories. This gives us an In-Universe perspective on the events/people while we read what 'really happened'.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: The Fifth Seldon Crisis gets disrupted by the Mule during the events of "The Mule", while the Sixth and Seventh Seldon Crisis are never mentioned in Dr Asimov's works. Foundation's Edge opens during the successful resolution of the Eight Crisis (with Hari Seldon appearing during Founding Day to announce exactly why they made the right decision), making it clear that all three happened, but only the Eight have any detail about its nature or resolution given (it was a political dispute over whether the capital should be moved off Terminus and closer to the galactic core, and ended with "no").
  • Dashed Plot Line: Each portion of the series shares the overall setting of the Foundation on Terminus as it made its way toward becoming the second Galactic Empire. With the sole exception of Hari Seldon’s recordings, characters are rarely followed from story to story, as decades to centuries usually pass between each one. As the series expanded into Prequel and Sequel tales, those stories tended to be more directly related, but still leaving a sizable gap between events.
  • Dead Man Writing: Hari Seldon recorded a series of holographic messages that automatically play during Founding Day on Terminus. Which anniversaries are associated with a recording are chosen based on their proximity to a mathematically predicted "Seldon Crisis". Seldon died the same year as the creation of the Foundation, and the first message played during the fiftieth year anniversary. Each message features stunningly accurate predictions, leading up to one of the classic Oh, Crap! Moments in sci-fi literature; Seldon listing off events that aren't occurring.
  • Didn't See That Coming: When the Mule appears, the Foundation discovers that the Seldon Plan didn't account for individuals with such Psychic Powers, and he easily conquers them. Subverted, however, in that the Foundationists themselves never imagined that Seldon secretly created another Foundation as a contingency for unexpected variables in the plan, and this Second Foundation indeed proceeds to defeat the Mule.
  • Distant Sequel: Each of the eight original stories were published in Pulp Magazines. The overarching Myth Arc achieves a Dashed Plot Line effect due to skipping between characters, often with Time Skips of a generation or more between stories/books.
  • Domed Hometown: During its peak, the (first) Galactic Empire made Trantor its capital planet. It city grew to encompass the world, and developed multiple layers as well. However, the topmost layer is domed over, and ironically creating habitable areas; plant life has even managed to gain a foothold on the surfaces of the artificial structures. Everybody just chooses to live in enclosed sectors. This is inherited behaviour from their ancient ancestors on Earth, as depicted in The Caves of Steel.
  • Doorstopper: Le declin de Trantor is a French translation, combining Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation, and Foundation (1951), ending up with a volume with a thousand pages.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe: While the series initially averts this by having forgotten the location of humanity's homeworld, the Sequel books decide that Earth holds a secret that has been manipulating the galaxy for centuries.
  • Earth That Was: The setting takes place thousands of years into The Future, compared to The Empire Novels, leaving Earth far in the past. By the time of "The Encyclopedists", archaeological-inclined scholars in the First Galactic Empire debate over which planet is the homeworld of humanity, and if there even was one. Centuries later, in Foundation and Earth, the name "Earth" now represents the "origin question". If they find the original homeworld of humanity, they've found Earth.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Terminus is founded based on the premise that they will be collecting all of history and science into a single reference volume, an Encyclopedia Galactica. Said volume is used to illustrate certain setting details relevant to the story/chapter it prefaces as an Epigraph. More specifically, the 116th edition, published in 1020 F.E. In "The Encyclopedists", the colonists learn that Hari Seldon had tricked them, and that he never expected any volumes to be published. Despite this, they continue to collate information and publish revisions as In-Universe Science Marches On and Technology Marches On. In Foundation's Edge, Golan Trevize mentions the Encyclopedia Galactica is now a continually updated computer archive (an idea predating the establishment of Wikipedia, Microsoft Encarta or Encyclopedia Britannica Online).
  • The Epic: A galactic-scale Space Opera, taking place over hundreds of years, and Canon Welding causing the history of The 'Verse to stretch over tens of thousands of years. Dr Asimov's Robot Novels depict humanity's mastery of Earth, creating Faster-Than-Light Travel, and spreading out into the galaxy. The Empire Novels depict the transformation of the galaxy into a single Hegemonic Empire. Then it ends with Foundation describing the grand collapse of that galaxy-wide civilization, and transitioning to a second galactic empire. Foundation is essentially a science fiction remake of Edward Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire.
  • Everybody Smokes: When he started writing the series, Dr Asimov had most of the characters smoke, since that was typical of The '40s, and it was even medically accepted to be a good thing. When "The Mule" appeared, Mayor Indbur the Third, dictator of the most powerful nation in the galaxy, forbids smoking in his presence. However, this is one of many clues to show how ineffectual he is as a tyrant, since Ebling Mis does it anyway. Smoking suddenly stops being a part of the series at this point, and the Foundation characters no longer use it in their causal interactions.
  • The Exact Center of Everything: In the original trilogy Trantor is simply at "the center of the Galaxy". In the later stories of the series this was Retconned a bit to say that Trantor is somewhat off to the side from the actual center—as close to the center as a human-habitable planet can be—as it was realized just how violent and inhospitable a place the center of a galaxy actually is.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Religion: The "Religion of Science" is a Scam Religion invented by Salvor Hardin between the events of "The Encyclopedists" and "The Mayors". People from the Four Kingdoms are taught, as priests, "meaningless ritual" and "moral mummery" to operate the technology from the Foundation. Despite quickly expiring as a political device, it remains in the background for much of the series. Characters who speak of the Galactic Spirit or his Prophet Hari Seldon are referencing this religion.
  • Feudal Future: The feudal structure of governments in this series comes from Dr Asimov's desire to write a Recycled In Space version of Edward Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. The provinces in the Periphery (the outer edges of The Milky Way Galaxy) declare themselves independent kingdoms. The ones nearest Terminus are known as the Four Kingdoms, because they are the first nations to be absorbed by the Foundation and they spend decades as independent nations (while the scientists of Terminus teach them a Scam Religion that included the Divine Right of Kings). The same changes that occurred after the collapse of The Roman Empire are explored here, although it doesn't play out in the exact same way (Foundation begins as the Byzantine capital of Byzantine Empire, while Foundation and Empire has the Galactic Empire retake the role of Byzantium while the Foundation represents the Medieval Catholic Church).
  • Fictional Field of Science: Psychohistory is the science of predicting the behaviours of groups, from countries to worlds to galaxies, developed by Hari Seldon. Few specifics are given about this science, but its ability to create prophecy drives the plot of every story. Psychohistory isn't designed to predict the actions of an individual, although the more advanced scientists of the field do so on a regular basis. The mathematics contain unique symbols that describes reactions and are often rephrased for the audience as statements in English. The term Psychohistory was invented by Dr Asimov, but psychologists adopted it for use in their field, although its Real Life counterpart has a different meaning.
  • Future Imperfect: The Empire's inhabitants don't even know what planet humans evolved on. Not only that, but there are those who scoff at the idea of humanity having come from a single planet at all, convergent evolution being the preferred model of Imperial philosophers. Amusingly, one of the few scholars who does believe in Earth That Was, and has pieced together clues about the planet from fragments of myth and legend, includes brontosauruses and orcs on a reconstructed list of its dangerous wildlife.
  • Future Society, Present Values: The scope of this series is epic, but The Foundation Trilogy uses gender roles practically identical to 1950s United States. When Dr Asimov revisited the series decades later, he included women more prominently, especially in the form of Mayor Harla Branno, his first female mayor. She is an Iron Lady ruler for Terminus and the Foundation, introduced in Foundation's Edge (1982) and wants to conquer the galaxy centuries earlier than the Seldon Plan expects. However, Dr Asimov is clearly more comfortable writing male characters, despite continuing to add badass females like Dors Venabili and Bliss.
  • Gambit Roulette: Psychohistory turns sociological events into math and can be used to calculate the future. Hari Seldon used this system of mathematics to construct the starting conditions, his Foundation, which would build a Second Galactic Empire within the next 1,000 years. However, even assuming he was 99.9% accurate in predicting events across the entire Milky Way galaxy each year, the Plan would only have a one-in-three chance of succeeding. He knew that it relied too much on chance, so he also created a telepathic Second Foundation, which would adjust the plan to account for everything he had missed. It seems unrealistic that any plans could actually function at this level, but Telepathy and Seers makes it much easier to swallow. The appearances of Seldon in the Time Vault also Lampshade the improbability, by giving a Canon statement to how likely it was for the Seldon Plan to have been disrupted, such as the 87.2% chance that they would shift the capital of the Foundation in the year 498 F.E.
  • Generican Empire:
    • The nation referred to (originally) as the "Encyclopedia Foundation", and sometimes as the "Foundation Federation", is more often called simply the "Foundation". It is meaningful because of the prediction by Hari Seldon that the original government would grow to encompass the entire galaxy within one thousand years. However, it doesn't identify much of the culture or political structure because both are expected to drastically change every few decades.
    • A secret organization/conspiracy, established before 1 F.E., is only known as the "Second Foundation". They are the hidden half, compared to the public "First Foundation". Discovering their hidden location drives the Story Arc of the final half of The Foundation Trilogy.
    • During The Empire Novels, they were known as the Trantorian Empire, but by the time of the Prequel stories, the Empire (because it is the only nation in the entire Milky Way Galaxy) is, at most, called the Imperial Empire.
    • Despite the more significant nations in this series having generic names that don't reflect their location/culture, many of the smaller states do actually retain location-specific names, such as the Four Kingdoms being known as Smyrno, Konom, Daribow, and Anacreon.
  • Global Currency: For the most part, credits can be used across the galaxy, with no concern for who printed the currency. In the Prequel novels and in "The Psychohistorians", this makes sense because the only government is the Empire, so it would want its currency accepted in every part of the empire. However, as it decays and collapses, empire credits are accepted in fewer and fewer places. Intersystem trade moved to a barter system and each government had to mint their own money or function without a system of currency. By the time of "The General (Foundation)", the Privy Secretary is allowed to publish his own currency, separate from the Emperor's. By the time of "Search by the Foundation", Kalgan uses "Kalganids". When money is discussed in Foundation's Edge, only Foundation credits are mentioned (Sayshell presumably uses a different currency, but the narration doesn’t mention what sort of currency they use). At this point, the Foundation is so powerful, refusing their money would effectively place your own government in a state of economic sanctions.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Because the series is based on a work of Non-Fiction (The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon, Recycled In Space), characters on both the protagonist and antagonist sides are written to be realistic, with greed and ambition driving them more often than a sense of ethics or honour. One of the earliest heroes of Terminus is often quoted for saying “Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what's right." Instead, conflict is driven by socio-political and economic causes. People relying on fate and civilization against people trying to carve out their own independent corner of the galaxy. If the Foundation ever loses, psychohistory predicts thirty thousand years of barbarism instead of only one thousand years of the Seldon Plan.
  • Hegemonic Empire:
    • The Galactic Empire, based on The Roman Empire, contains the entire galaxy. At least, that's how it starts, as the Foundation series is about its collapse, recycling ideas from Edward Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. The edges collapse first, as the distant local governments declare themselves independent from the empire.
    • This series tracks as the Encyclopedia Foundation becomes larger and absorbs nearby interstellar nations while the Galactic Empire decays and collapses. Dr Asimov's Empire is explicitly modeled on The Roman Empire, so the Foundation resembles the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-centered "Eastern Roman Empire" that lasted a thousand years longer — but not exactly, as the Foundation is set up specifically to reestablish the Empire within a single millennium. By preserving knowledge of advanced technology, they gain religious dominance over their nearest neighbors. Then by using trade and economics, they further spread their influence. Leaving aside a temporary and extremely unlikely setback, it keeps evolving through multiple policies as the Foundation grows across the galaxy.
  • Humans Are Psychic in the Future: This Science Fiction series, set in the far future, has several different sources of people with Psychic Powers.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Traveling in hyperspace while being close to a big gravity source (like a planet) is harmful and possibly lethal.
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art: Harper Collins published purple and gold book covers for the first six books of the series. They also published seven of the Robot Series novels with the same scheme.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each of the ten Novels were published with "Foundation" in their title. Two sets of three novels are considered a Trilogy; Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation forms The Foundation Trilogy, while Foundation's Fear, Foundation And Chaos, and Foundations Triumph forms The Second Foundation Trilogy. In the first trilogy, "Second Foundation" refers to an organization mentioned in the first book that becomes relevant towards the end of the second book, and features prominently in the third. However, the second trilogy is named such because it is the second trilogy set in the Foundation universe, and it takes place during Hari Seldon's lifetime.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Except for one person, R. Daneel Olivaw, nobody even remembers where the Earth is until Trevize, Pelorat, and Bliss find it in Foundation and Earth (the original name of the planet was even lost, so they try several missteps, including Gaia, Aurora, and Alpha). The question of the "Origin Planet" is studied by historians as early as "The Encyclopedists", where an amateur recites claims that "Earth" is from the Sirius sector of the galaxy, but is personally more invested in the claim that Arcturus is the origin of humanity. Earth has actually been made too radioactive to support life.
  • Interquel: Due to retroactive connections and serializing vs finalized novels, a significant portion of Isaac Asimov's output are in an ambiguous relation to this classification, but the two Foundation Series prequels, (Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation) were written with the intent to be read chronologically after The Empire Novels and before The Foundation Trilogy. They focus on Hari Seldon's career, and the rise of psychohistory.
  • Invented Linguistic Distinction: The planets of the Galaxy have different dialects, sometimes barely intelligible to one another. Magnifico, for example, speaks with the accent of the galactic core, conveniently rendered as Flowery Elizabethan English.
  • It Is Beyond Saving: By the time Hari Seldon created the science of psychohistory, it was realistically too late to save the Galactic Empire - at that point it was so decadent that its fall was inevitable. All he could do was to try to arrange conditions so a new galaxy-wide Empire would reign in 1,000 years instead of taking 30,000 years. When asked directly, he said the empire could enact policies that would save it, but that it would never actually do so because the empire seemed fine, so there was no driving force to push them to do so.
  • Just the First Citizen:
  • Legendary in the Sequel: Because each story tends to be placed decades to centuries apart, the Main Characters in one story may or may not end up being important Posthumous Characters in the following stories.
  • Logical Weakness: Psychohistory has three of these. Which is part of why the Second Foundation exists in the first place, to cover for the fact that Seldon couldn't plan for everything—but even its contribution has limits.
    • As the mathematical study of human populations over time, psychohistory cannot predict individual behavior with any accuracy. Normally, this isn't a problem because individual humans are still subject to historical forces which can be predicted, as General Bel Riose learned to his sorrow. But the Mule is a genuine Great Man, and is powerful enough that his actions make him an unplanned variable. This means that the Seldon Crisis that was supposed to happen around his time didn't happen, and the Second Foundation had to get involved directly.
    • Because telling people a prediction will inherently spoil the data, psychohistory can't predict the actions of a population that has psychohistorians of its own. When the Foundation began the study of psychology, it was a near catastrophe for The Plan. One of the First Speaker's students even said that all was lost once he learned of this.
    • Psychohistorians compare their theory to principles like the kinetic molecular theory of gases. This reveals the third and final weakness: its equations are built assuming human actors. It would fail against truly alien species. Or, as demonstrated in Foundation and Earth, sufficiently altered humans: the Solarians, who have radically altered their bodies, minds, and social behaviors.
  • Long Game:
  • Long-Running Book Series: Dr Asimov began this series with "The Encyclopedists" in 1942, and after collecting the original short fiction stories into a Trilogy in The '50s, he ignored it for three decades while his publishers kept printing more and more copies. Once they convinced him to come back to this series, he wrote four more books, which included references to several other stories, making them all part of the same setting. This Robots/Empire/Foundation setting spans over a dozen books. During the late 90s, his estate approved of The Second Foundation Trilogy, which added three more volumes to the Foundation part of the setting, finally making ten books within this series.
  • A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...: This series is set so far into The Future that the Milky Way Galaxy has been fully colonized, but Earth has been lost to human knowledge, leading to a setting where at least two subspecies of humanity have developed. Later in the series, the protagonists embark on a search to find the origin planet of humanity, and eventually succeed.
  • Magic from Technology: When Foundation begins, the Galactic Empire's civilization and technology has already begun to crumble; local systems are losing the scientific expertise necessary for an interstellar society to function and control of the Periphery is quickly lost. Starting from the end of "The Encyclopedists", the people of Terminus begin educating people from the Four Kingdoms in technology, such as nuclear power, radioactive synthetics, and hyperwave relays. However, in order to explain the technology in a way they could understand, Terminus has to couch everything in religious terms, effectively saying The Galactic Spirit Did It to convince the local barbarians that it was safe for human use. When a better educated man is trying to piece through the veil of mysticism created by the gulf of distance, he protests that a personal shield is impossible. To which the person he's interrogating drolly points out that their status as "magicians" is not wholly unearned.
  • Metal-Poor Planet: Terminus, in addition to being the farthest planet from the galactic core, has so few mineral resources that it was considered nearly worthless. It therefore became a useful place to exile Hari Seldon and those sympathetic to his cause. Fifty years after the Foundation was established, they are so starved for resources that their coins are made from steel. Salvor Hardin uses their lack of materials as an excuse to ask the envoy from Anacreon if they had any plutonium available for trade, since the reactors on Terminus could use more. It's a ruse to see how far their technology has regressed as Terminus doesn't use metals like plutonium in their nuclear reactors. Without the abundant resources of Trantor, they've had to push miniaturization to levels that scientists of the first Galactic Empire had believed impossible.
    "The planet, Terminus, by itself cannot support a mechanized civilization. It lacks metals. You know that. It hasn't a trace of iron, copper, or aluminum in the surface rocks, and precious little of anything else." — Salvor Hardin.
  • World of Phlebotinum: It's got FTL Travel, Deflector Shields, "atomic" versions of just about everything, Psychic Powers, and an invented statistical science called "psychohistory" which can reliably predict the course of civilization.
  • Myth Arc: The Foundation Trilogy was initially conceived as The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, but taking place on a galactic scale, and from the perspective of its replacement empire. Psychohistory, a system of mathematics which can predict human behaviour, forms the basis of the series; the Prequel novels revolve around its creation, while the Sequel novels deal with the fundamental flaw in their design.
  • No Ending: Asimov couldn't come up with an ending to the series, so he wrote prequels instead. The story takes us only about halfway through the promised thousand years before the galactic empire is re-formed. At which point, Seldon's thousand year plan has been rendered irrelevant by Gaia beginning to assimilate the galaxy, forming Galaxia.
  • Omnibus: Le declin de Trantor is a French translation, combining Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation, and Foundation (1951), ending up with a volume with a thousand pages.
  • One-Product Planet:
  • One-Word Title: The name of the series is just Foundation.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The overarching conflict in the series is driven by the forces of decline and gluttony against the forces of civilization and progress. Psychohistory predicts thirty thousand years of barbarism unless the Foundation follows the one thousand years outlined by the Seldon Plan. However, rather than the side of "order" winning due to inherent superiority, usually the side of "chaos" loses due to self-sabotage.
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: The Foundation books take care to point out that the quotations from the Encyclopedia Galactica are reproduced with the permission of the Encyclopedia's (fictional) publishing company.
  • The Plan: Hari Seldon invented psychohistory, a set of mathematical formulas that can predict human behaviour. Using psychohistory, he observes that the Galactic Empire is in decline and social forces will tear it apart, resulting in thirty thousand years of anarchy before a Second Galactic Empire is established throughout the galaxy. Unhappy with this, he creates a plan (the Seldon Plan) where a small colony at the extreme edge of the galaxy will build a new empire within only 1,000 years.
    "When the Galactic Empire began to die at the edges, and when the ends of the Galaxy reverted to barbarism and dropped away, Hari Seldon and his band of psychologists planted a colony, the Foundation, out here in the middle of the mess, so that we could incubate art, science, and technology, and form the nucleus of the Second Empire. [...] The future course of the Foundation was plotted according to the science of psychohistory, then highly developed, and conditions arranged so as to bring about a series of crises that will force us most rapidly along the route to future Empire. Each crisis, each Seldon crisis, marks an epoch in our history."Hober Mallow, "The Merchant Princes"
  • Posthumous Character: After year 1 of the Foundation Era, Hari Seldon only appears from a holographic recording, but the Psychohistory he developed drives the entire Myth Arc. The Prequel stories go back to when he was alive, and describe his adventures in creating Psychohistory.
  • Prescience by Analysis: Psychohistory, a set of mathematical models developed by Hari Seldon, is used to predict the future. There are certain restrictions on its ability to work as a form of prophecy; (1) Predictions can only be made for societies of a minimum size, although experts in the field have successfully wielded it on a scale as small as individual people. (2) The people whose actions are being predicted can't know what the prediction is. (3) That there would be no fundamental changes in human society over the next thousand years. Technology could advance, but not fundamentally alter the way human civilization functioned. (4) That human reaction to stimuli would remain constant. (This assumption was challenged in "The Mule", where the antagonist had a mutation giving him Emotion Control powers.) In addition, one more premise is deduced in Foundation and Earth; psychohistory only predicts human reactions, alien, including transhuman creatures are not predictable.
  • Print Long-Runners: While the series itself achieved Long-Running Book Series status with the release of Foundations Triumph in 1999, the original collections have been republished almost yearly since the early 1950s, and the novels that succeeded them have been faithfully republished as well.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Before his death, Dr Hari Seldon records several messages prophesying about what will happen to the Foundation—and arranges for these messages to be played during the nearest anniversary of colonization. The main effect is to reassure the Foundation that everything is on track.
  • Psychic Block Defense:
    • In order to defeat the Psychic Probe in "The General (Foundation)", Lanthan Devers wears an electrostatic field generator, invisibly blocking the machine from detecting his thoughts.
    • Developed during "Search by the Foundation", the "Mental Static" device is used to block psychic abilities, like those of the Second Foundationers. At full power, the device would actually create a "feedback" effect, hurting telepaths (for more-or-less the same reasons sound can be distracting and even painful to hearing people while deaf people are completely unaffected).
  • Psychic Radar: One of the secondary powers of psychics like the Mule and the Second Foundation (and by extension, anyone taught by R. Daneel Olivaw, including Gaia), is the ability to detect the presence and "shape" of other minds. It develops from merely physical proximity to detection across, at minimum, interplanetary distances. In Foundation and Earth, Bliss can tell the difference between humans, other life such as animals, and even robots.
  • Ray Gun: In the Foundation series, they use Atom Blasters (shortened to just "blasters" in the later books, after the age of Raygun Gothic had passed).
  • Rising Empire: Hari Seldon plans to have Terminus become the locus of a Second Galactic Empire. The Foundation series chronicles the obstacles they face, all of which have been accounted for by Seldon.
  • Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training: The Second Foundation abandoned attempts at developing any new advances in mechanical technology or the physical sciences, or even preserving most of the existing ones, instead focusing exclusively on developing psychohistory. As a result, they have Psychic Powers and can predict the future with mathematics, but they can't defend themselves against physical attack—which is why they have to stay hidden. And which is why, every hundred years or so, they must scramble to mind-wipe yet another person who threatens to develop an anti-psychic field, which, in-universe, is slightly less complicated than a button-and-a-dial remote control.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Asimov gives Trantor, the imperial capital, a population of 40 billion. Even employing modern city densities, an ecumenopolis like Trantor would have a population of 5 trillion. Given that much of Trantor is underground, the true number could easily be double that.
  • Scienceville: The titular organization started as a group of scholars who were to prepare the Encyclopedia Galactica. While eventually, they became the core of a massive state spanning a third of the galaxy (and meant to eventually control the whole of it), their planet always relied on its technological superiority and had a considerable percentage of top-level scientists.
  • Second-Hand Storytelling: Most of the excitement tends to happen off-screen, especially during the trilogy, due to Dr Asimov’s style of clear and simple descriptions.
  • Sensory Overload: Developed during "Search by the Foundation", the "Mental Static" device is used to block the psychic abilities, like those of the Second Foundationers. At full power, the device would actually create a "feedback" effect, hurting telepaths (for more-or-less the same reasons sound can be distracting and even painful to hearing people while deaf people are completely unaffected).
  • Single-Biome Planet: Virtually all the inhabited planets in the galaxy were colonized by humans and seeded with life that originated on Earth. Hence the worlds are described as having "simple" ecosystems and comparatively little biodiversity relative to what Earth once had. Comporellon, a very old colony, is also noted for its cold environment, while other planets are likewise sometimes favored by or suffer from better or worse climates.
  • Space Opera: A galactic-scale Epic Narrative taking place over hundreds of years, and influencing many of the successive works, such as Star Wars. Foundation is a science fiction future history of Edward Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, depicting the collapse from the perspective of its replacement empire.
  • Space Sector: A sector is a spatial region that is one level of the elaborate administrative hierarchy of the Galactic Empire, including "prefects" (oddly enough not prefectures), provinces, sectors, and quadrants, with sectors ("the Arcturus Sector", "the Normannic Sector", "the Sirius Sector") being probably the most often mentioned of these. (Later in the series the term "sector" is also used for local sub-planetary subdivisions of Trantor.)
  • Standard Sci-Fi History: The Prequel books take place while the Galactic Empire is at its peak. The first story (in publication order) is "The Encyclopedists", where the decay has allowed the territories at the edge of the empire to declare themselves independent nations. While the first Galactic Empire collapses, the focus is on the accelerated growth of the second galactic empire. This accelerated growth will minimize the Interregnum, reducing the "Long Night" to only about a thousand years. However, The Plan is disrupted, and Foundation and Earth decides that humanity's final fate is to become a galaxy-wide shared intelligence to protect against potential intergalactic alien threats.
  • Standard Time Units: Throughout the series, time is still measured in seconds, minutes, hours, and days, and the Standard Galactic calendar is a slightly modified version of the Gregorian calendar. This becomes a major plot point Foundation and Earth; the length of the standard day and year don't correspond to the day/year cycle of any known world, but might correspond to the original.
  • Stupid Future People: This series attributes the fall of the Galactic Empire to complacency; everyone believes that the system is perfect and needs no further innovation or adjustment so nobody does much in the way of scientific research anymore, particularly in the "soft" sciences like economics or sociology... or Hari Seldon's newly invented discipline of "psychohistory". note  Nobody bothers listening to the few people who can see that this isn't sustainable in the long-term until it's too late.
  • Subspace or Hyperspace: The invention of the "hyper-atomic" jump drives, which allows ships to travel in hyperspace, predates the recorded history of the galactic empire. While one could theoretically travel across the entire galactic disk in one jump, you'd need to first determine your exact position in space and then carefully calculate the relative trajectory of your destination from astronomical observations and manuals. All speed and distance is nil in hyperspace, and the whole galaxy is nothing but a dimensionless point (hence the idea that one could cross it easily). Transit takes less than a second, and is described as a momentary, blink-and-you'll-miss-it feeling of weightlessness. A Blind Jump causes problems because gravity distorts the geometry of hyperspace, so safely travelling from one end of the galaxy to another would take many dozens of jumps and months of calculations. Accidents are repeatedly denounced as "unheard of", so long as you properly calculate the jump.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: (Zig-Zagged Trope) The Time Vault contains sealed messages from Hari Seldon, who died decades to centuries ago. At a conversational level, he points out his inability to predict their reactions, but he's left these messages to brag about predicting events centuries after his death. Until the Mule comes along. The fact that another century or so down the road the messages are correct again is a plot point because a secret group of people have been making sure the recordings came true, and not the ones you think.
  • Terra Deforming:
  • They Called Me Mad!: Hari Seldon actually ends up more or less deliberately leaning into this. When he first announces the possibility of psychohistory it's not taken very seriously by almost anyone. When work on it progresses to the point where he can start making barebones predictions, one of the first he ends up coming up with is that the empire is doomed to collapse. Announcing this discovery is met with outright hostility as it sounds treasonous until he admits that the empire won't fall for a thousand years. At this point, the investigators just smile and nod and send him off to the edge of the galaxy where he can set up this crazy "Foundation" he cares so much about. He's relieved about this: Being dismissed as crazy and effectively exiled means he won't be executed for rebellion.
  • Thousand-Year Reign: Hari Seldon, creator of psychohistory, a set of mathematical formulas that can predict human behaviour, anticipates that the Galactic Empire will collapse and leave the Milky Way in anarchy for thirty thousand years, an inversion of this trope's usual meaning. The Seldon Plan, developed through psychohistory, will shorten this interval to about one thousand years instead. It becomes popular knowledge in the galaxy that the Foundation of Terminus is undefeatable. The first book, Foundation, has also been published under the title The 1,000 Year Plan.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The European back cover blurbs for each book describes, in a fair amount of detail, events that only happen near or at the very end of that book, which leaves the reader very confused for a while ("This isn't about what the back cover said it would be about!") and then very annoyed as soon as it becomes obvious that the climax of the story has been spoiled.
  • Trilogy Creep: In the early 1950s, all of the stories from the setting were re-edited for publication as The Foundation Trilogy. Dr Asimov's publishers would repeatedly ask him for more stories in the Foundation setting, until he finally caved in and published Foundation's Edge in 1982. At this point, he began consistently publishing Novels in the setting every few yearsnote . Many of the newer stories also tie the original trilogy to other settings, such as The Empire Novels and his Robot Series. Both he and his estate also authorized other authors to write additional works within the Foundation setting. The entire setting now covers over a dozen books, and The Foundation Trilogy now refers to only the original nine short works.
  • Underground City: During its peak, the (first) Galactic Empire made Trantor its capital planet. The city grew to encompass the world, and developed multiple layers as well. However, the topmost layer is domed over, and ironically creating habitable areas; plant life has even managed to gain a foothold on the surfaces of the artificial structures. Everybody just chooses to live in enclosed sectors. This is inherented behaviour from their ancient ancestors on Earth, as depicted in The Caves of Steel.
  • Ungovernable Galaxy: Characters who speculate about Seldon's Plan predict that part of Seldon's motivation wasn't just to create a second empire after the first Hegemonic Empire fell, but also to design a better empire, one that would never collapse again under the weight of its own bureaucracy. Different characters have different opinions on how to prevent it from becoming "ungovernable" again. People from Terminus (capital of the Foundation) believe that the future empire should be The Republic. People from the Second Foundation believe Democracy Is Flawed, so the second empire should be an Oligarchy, publicly ruled by powerful mentalists, and also with considerable decentralization. In Foundation's Edge, an alternative is presented; Galaxia, a Hive Mind of the entire Milky Way, allowing for instant democratic voting by the entire population, which all have access to psychic abilities.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: One of the rules of Psychohistory (maths that allow you to predict the future) is that knowing the prediction would make you able to defy the prediction. Thus, it is vitally important not to reveal future events to the population affected by the prediction. When Hari Seldon and his team of psychohistorians set in motion a plan for the next 1000 years, they make sure that nobody on Terminus knows enough to be able to recreate the science of Psychohistory.
  • Used Future:
    • The Prequel novels demonstrate that it takes a critical eye analysing the infrastructure of Trantor to notice the signs of decay, but even without psychohistory, Seldon can observe the Empire’s corruption and deterioration. During "The Psychohistorians", Gaal Dornick, a mathematician from a small planet in the galaxy, sees Trantor as a powerful and majestic capital for the Galactic Empire, but Seldon shows him how psychohistory predicts its imminent collapse. The illusion that the Empire is still strong comes from ignorance of the decay. As we leap ahead to each conflict, various factions use the remnants of the Empire's technology to live as best they can. Foundation (1951) shows wealthy technicians maintaining machines by rote and ritual, while the Empire's territory shrinks in size over the centuries. Foundation and Empire shows the Empire reduced to only a few hundred worlds, and then, to a few dozen, while their enormous ships are re-commissioned because their newer ships aren’t as good. Second Foundation shows the Empire has collapsed entirely, leaving the capital of Trantor an Agri World that sells the ready-made steel from the vast abandoned cities to clear more land for crops.
    • Inverted by the Foundation, who Seldon predicts will form the core of a Second Galactic Empire. They are initially established on Terminus, where most of the metal they have was from their initial colonization and they rely on Imperial degree to protect them. While the Empire collapses, the Foundation is forced to improve their technology and defend themselves. Their ships are smaller, and faster. They've miniaturized Deflector Shields and self-destructing message capsules. Late in the series, they've begun to build Mind Static device and other machines to escape the psychic control of the Second Foundation.
  • Useless Superpowers: Appearing in Foundation and Earth and Prelude to Foundation, the galactic Chessmaster and ageless robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, has Telepathy and Mind Control, which should virtually make him a Physical God. However, despite following the Zeroth Law, he still runs into the problem of the First Law making it virtually impossible to justify his Mind Control powers, since he cannot be entirely certain that the resulting harm would be balanced by the hypothetical benefit to humanity (per the Zeroth Law). Hence, even from his position as Eto Demerzel, first minister to Emperor Cleon, he cannot impose the necessary changes to people's minds in order to avert the collapse of the Galactic Empire. He is thus forced to pursue other options such as the Seldon Plan and Gaia.
  • Vestigial Empire: When the planet Terminus is colonized, Trantor is the undisputed master of the galaxy. However, Hari Seldon has developed Psychohistory, a system of probabilistic mathematical models that can predict group behaviour. Using this math, he's able to determine that corruption and planetary nationalism have passed the point where this empire can be saved. During "The Psychohistorians", Trantor is at its peak power... and has begun to lose control over the Periphery by the very next chapter. It grows weaker and weaker, even losing their capital planet by the time of "The Mule".
  • The Warlord: After the Empire's fall, the galaxy splits into fiefdoms controlled by various warlords. Within a century most of the warlord states have settled down and their "kings" have established proper dynasties, which the Foundation manipulates into forming the nucleus of a new Empire using a Scam Religion.
  • We Will All Fly in the Future: In the opening chapters of Foundation when Gaal Dornick catches a taxi it immediately lifts "straight up". (Gaal marvels a bit at "the sensation of airflight within an enclosed structure"—this is all happening within the enormous world-city that is Trantor.) Centuries later, in Second Foundation, Arcadia Darell rides an "air-taxi" on Kalgan.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: The Imperial credit, found early in the Foundation timeline, was usable throughout the Galactic Empire, as well as Foundation credits later in the series. Characters use these credits as a standard currency (technically it's lenticular, not global — it's used across the entire galaxy, although during "Search by the Foundation" there's several competing currencies, including "dollars"). At one point, the Imperial Credit (used by the first Galactic Empire) is contrasted against the Foundation Credit (used by the second Galactic Empire), because the first Empire is falling apart and the second Empire is expanding in their wake.
  • We Will Use Lasers in the Future: In the Foundation series, nuclear laser blasters are the end-all personal weapon, and ubiquitous among Foundation traders and soldiers. There are personal Deflector Shields, but Foundation-built nuclear blasters can penetrate them, whereas blasters built by the former Empire or post-Empire successor states cannot penetrate Foundation shields.
  • Zeerust: The stories were initially written in The '40s, and popular understanding of computers and space travel make for some embarrassing predictions, mixed with some surprising guesses at miniaturization and synthetic music. The embarrassingly dated ideas include space travel with fossil fuels, microfilm and hard-copy newspapers as the peak of information storage/distribution, and human-performed calculation for all interstellar navigation. Revisiting the series thirty-plus years later allowed him to include more modern predictions, such as an autopilot that performs course corrections independently, personalized data-mining algorithms, and factors to make a City Planet function, like yeast farms, geothermal power/heat, and graviton-based propulsion.