Foundation and Chaos
Series: Second Foundation 2
Reviewed date: 2005 Dec 29
The second book in the Second Foundation Trilogy (authorized by the estate of Isaac Asimov) is better than the first. After Gregory Benford's dismal Foundation's Fear, Greg Bear's Foundation and Chaos seems downright glorious. Considered in relation to other books, though, Foundation and Chaos is only marginal.
Bear picks up the plot a decade or so after Benford leaves off. There are several plot threads. First, Hari Seldon is caught in the middle of Imperial palace politics: Emperor Klayus is a weak leader cursed with ambitious underlings, and Seldon is squeezed between the machinations of two powerful politicians (Linge Chen and Farad Sinter) who wish to be emperor. Seldon is put on trial for trumped-up charges of treason against the Empire.
Next, R. Daneel Olivaw and his loyal band of robots are still manipulating events to bring psychohistory to full fruition, but this time there is a twist: factions within the robot community. Daneel subscribes to the Zeroeth Law of Robotics, but the Calvinians (named for Susan Calvin) follow only the original three laws. This split among the robots is complicated by R. Lodovik Trema, who (through a malfunction in his programming) finds himself unconstrained by any of the Laws of Robotics. With his newly-discovered free will, Lodovik faces real choices for the first time in his existence.
Finally, there is a subplot concerning the rise of mentalics. These mentalics have psychic powers, and their existence threatens two things: 1) the security of the Empire (and thus they are hunted down) and 2) the science of psychohistory, which is unable to calculate and account for the unknown powers of the mentalics.
Greg Bear manages to undo most of the harm that Gregory Benford did by mostly ignoring everything Benford wrote about in Foundation's Fear. My only complaint is that Voltaire and Joan of Arc do make an appearance. They were the worst part about Foundation's Fear and Greg Bear uses them to ill effect: they show up as a deus ex machina to advance the plot but add nothing to the story.