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Foundation's Fear
Gregory Benford
HarperPrism Books, 425 pages

Foundation's Fear
Gregory Benford
Gregory Benford is a physicist and astronomer at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of a series of hard SF novels, beginning with In the Ocean of Night (1978) and following quickly with works such as Timescape (1980) and the popular Galactic Center series, including Across the Sea of Suns, Great Sky River (1987), Tides of Light (1989) and Furious Gulf (1994). A recent work is Cosm.

Gregory Benford Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Cosm

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Interestingly enough, Foundation's Fear is Gregory Benford's first foray into Isaac Asimov's universes. Neither Benford, David Brin or Greg Bear appeared in Martin H. Greenberg's celebratory anthology, Foundation's Friends. These three authors are now teaming up to write a trilogy set in Asimov's most famous universe, each author writing one book.

Benford's novel opens during the action of Forward the Foundation, Asimov's last novel, between the first and the second section. Eto Demerzal (R. Daneel Olivaw) has stepped out of the limelight and Hari Seldon is awaiting official news of his appointment as first minister to Cleon. The portions of Benford's book which deal with Hari Seldon read very much like one of Asimov's Foundation novels.

However, Foundation's Fear is not an Asimov novel and Benford uses this opportunity to expand on themes and characters he used in his short story, "The Rose and the Scalpel," which appeared in the Robert Silverberg anthology, Time Gate (Baen Books, 1989). Actually, Benford rewrote that story slightly to move it to the far future Trantor rather than near future Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, by doing so, Benford gives the Trantorians too much knowledge of Earth, even if they don't realize they are speaking to pre-space flight sims of their ancestors. I don't want to imply that Benford's treatment is not enjoyable and interesting, merely that it seems out of place in a Foundation novel.

Benford's Hari Seldon is similar, but not the same, as Asimov's Hari Seldon. While Asimov's Seldon was a martial arts expert ready to fight to protect himself as necessary, Benford's Seldon is more likely to flee. During the several attacks which occur against Seldon, not once does he defend himself as Asimov showed in Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation.

I'll admit that part of my feeling for the novel comes from the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the above-mentioned Foundation novels. When Seldon was first introduced in Foundation, he appears as an almost unknown mathematician at Trantor University. Asimov's earlier representation of Seldon does not mesh with the Galactic First Minister he is revealed to be.

Another jolt is Benford's representation of Seldon's and Dors Venabili's attitude towards history and historians. Despite trying to create a predictive science based on sociology, psychology and history, Seldon's knowledge of history is non-existent and both he and his historian wife disdain the study of history.

However, one area which Benford attempts to tackle which Asimov never did was the specifics of psychohistory. All of Asimov's descriptions of the study which was central to Seldon's life are vague, even in Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation when Seldon is working out the specific laws of psychohistory. Although Benford can only go so far, he makes honest and strong attempts to depict details of Seldon's work.

Benford does attempt to touch on a variety of points which Asimov added late in the cycle. Although Asimov's first mention of the Gaia theory occurs in Foundation's Edge and more so in Foundation and Earth, Benford loosely introduces the Gaia concept on a galactic/imperial level in Foundation's Fear. He only does this in the final pages which may indicate that more will be made of the concept in the forthcoming Foundation and Chaos.

Although Benford does a reasonably good job remaining within Asimov's framework, he strays more often than Roger MacBride Allen or Orson Scott Card do from the Asimovian point of view. Foundation's Fear is not a book Isaac Asimov would have or could have written. Benford brings his own knowledge and point of view to Asimov's universe, and although it jars where he does not quite match with the world Asimov created, it simultaneously sheds new light on Asimov's world.

Future novels in the Second Foundation series will examine Hari Seldon at mid-life in Foundation and Chaos (Greg Bear) and Hari Seldon shortly before his death in Third Foundation (David Brin). With books by Asimov, Allen, Bedford, Bear and Brin, one almost wonders which authors whose names begin with C will write Foundation books next. Pat Cadigan, Orson Scott Card, Arthur C. Clarke?

Copyright © 1998 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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