FOUNDATION AND CHAOS
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Greg Bear's entry in the Second Foundation series, Foundation and Chaos, opens concurrent with the opening of the original Foundation series. Hari Seldon, his political life behind him, is about to stand trial for treason based on his claims that the Empire is falling. He is also about to meet the off-world mathematician Gaal Dornick for the first time.
Bear's book focuses on the creation of the Second Foundation more than anything previously published. At the same time, it links to Gregory Benford's Foundation's Fear by teaming Benford's simulacrum of Voltaire with a positronically damaged robot named Lodovik Trema and continuing Hari Seldon's conversations with Joan of Arc.
Although the trial of Hari Seldon forms a climax to the novel, much of the action focuses attention on the role of R. Daneel Olivaw and other robots, many of whom oppose Daneel's tinkering. Bear introduces several factions of robots, most notably the Giskardians who, like Daneel, have espoused the Zeroth Law Asimov postulated at the end of Robots and Empire, and the Calvinians, robots who still are ruled by the three laws. Bear introduces a lot of back story about these factions, possibly setting the scene for another series of novels set in an earlier period of galactic history. The mechanizations of the robots play such a large role in the novel, the title Foundation and Robots may have been more accurate. Bear's heavy depiction of the robots also leads to speculation that David Brin's Third Foundation will be composed of robots working behind the scenes of both Asimov's Foundation and Second Foundation.
Because R. Daneel Olivaw has such as long history behind him in the robot and Foundation novels written by Asimov, it is difficult to view those who oppose his work as anything but subversive. Bear attempts to present them as merely a different alternative to Daneel's way of thinking in part by keeping Daneel off-stage throughout most of the novel.
Opposing Daneel is the aforementioned Lodovik Trema. Loyal to Daneel until a neutrino storm swept away the three laws of robotics, Trema has chosen to embrace those laws on his own. Unfortunately, Bear does not fully examine what a No Law robot means, nor does he attempt to build on the exploration of No Law robots which occured in the Isaac Asimov-approved robot trilogy by Roger McBride Allen.
Bear is at his most interesting when he resorts to reporting directly on Hari Seldon's trial. For one chapter even quoting Asimov's own description of the trial verbatim. However, Bear takes the trial a step furhter, incorporating imperial intrigues into Seldon's trial and expanding the scope of Seldon's crimes. Perhaps because this is directly building on the very basis of the Foundation series, it comes across as more true to the series than much of the rest of the novel.
Unfortunately, Greg Bear does not manage to capture Asimov's easy-going style of writing. Within the first chapter, Bear uses vocabulary which the average reader will have to run to a dictionary to understand, something Asimov would never have done. Rather than emulate Asimov's transparent style, Bear seems intent on demonstrating his own literary prowess.
With Foundation and Chaos, it also becomes evident how far the Foundation series has moved from its original paradigm of the fall of the Roman Empire. This may be, in part, due to the Asimov estate's decision to have the series continued by hard science fiction authors rather than authors specializing in soft sf. The best non-Asimov Foundation stories have been those written by softer authors, like Orson Scott Card or Roger MacBride Allen (perhaps the secret is hiring authors with three names). Instead of hard scientists Benford, Bear and Brin, perhaps space operatic authors, like Bujold, Zahn or Pohl, should have been hired instead.
The Second Foundation Trilogy continues to raise interesting points about Asimov's universe, although it also continues to incorporate the existence of the Voltaire and Joan of Arc spirits. While Bear's suppositions on the role of robots in the Foundation universe are interesting and have the ability to carry into the third book, Benford's introduction of Voltaire and Joan of Arc still seem extremely out of place in Asimov's world.
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