by Gregory Benford



425pp/$23.00/February 1997

Foundation's Fear

Reviewed 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 thefirst section and the second second. 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 extremely 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 mathmatician 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 moreso 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 Clarke?

Roger MacBride Allen has published a three book series based on Asimov's robot novels, Caliban, Inferno and Utopia. Orson Scott Card's "The Originist", set co-existent with Foundation's Fear, appeared in Foundation's Friends (Tor, 1989).

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