Foundation's Fear

by Gregory Benford
Series: Second Foundation 1
Reviewed date: 2004 May 15
Rating: 2
616 pages
cover art

Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy is arguably the best science fiction series ever. The Foundation trilogy won a 1966 Hugo award for Best All-Time Series, beating out The Lord of the Rings. After Asimov's death, his estate authorized three new books: the Second Foundation Trilogy.

Foundation's Fear, by Gregory Benford, is the first book in the new trilogy. (The other two are Foundation and Chaos and Foundation's Triumph, by Greg Bear and David Brin respectively.) There are two main problems with Foundation's Fear:

  1. It is not a good Foundation novel
  2. It is not a good novel

Gregory Benford did not attempt to imitate Asimov's style, which is good. Foundation's Fear takes us back to the declining years of the Galactic Empire, showing us--in good Benford style--the election of psychohistorian Hari Seldon to the position of First Minister under Emperor Cleon. In decidedly un-Asimovian style, Foundation's Fear is full of action and adventure.

The problem is that in between episodes of Hari Seldon escaping from assassination attempts, Mr. Benford subjects us to dull philosophical ramblings about the nature of consciousness, and of the relationship between faith and reason. To this end he resurrects artificial intelligence constructs of Voltaire and Joan of Arc. Voltaire and Joan of Arc amateurishly debate reason and faith in a plotlessly worthless waste of paper, painfully reminding the reader why Gregory Benford is a fiction author and not a world-renowned philosopher.

The most interesting part of the book is an episode where Hari Seldon and his wife travel to a primitive world and inhabit the bodies of apes. It's lots of fun, there is action, adventure, and intrigue. Too bad it's a throwaway adventure with no real bearing on the plot. It is shoehorned into the story and justified by the laughable concept that this monkeying around gives Hari insight into basic human nature, thereby enabling him to adjust his psychohistory equations just enough so he can predict the future of the Empire. Yeah right, playing ape gives Hari insight into his differential equations.

There are a few exciting parts, but Foundation's Fear is a forgettable book. At least I hope it's forgettable--I wasted a week reading that worthless pile of paper, a week that I do not want to remember.

There is good news though: the other two books in the Second Foundation Trilogy can stand alone, and are reportedly better books than Foundation's Fear. I know David Brin is a good author, and I've read some good things by Greg Bear, so I will be on the lookout for their books.

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