This might be the best Foundation novel yet?
Foundation’s Edge departs from the formula of the previous installments in the series: instead of related novellas, this is an actual, honest-to-goodness novel. It follows two, parallel stories: Golan Trevize is a Foundation council member who suspects the Second Foundation was not actually destroyed, and he strikes off (not exactly of his own accord) to investigate; meanwhile, Stor Gendibal is a Second Foundation council member who believes there is a mysterious third force manipulating the Seldon Plan. Dun dun dun!
This is a very political book compared to the previous ones. There isn’t a lot in terms of action here, few space battles or physical confrontations. Rather, there is a lot of intellectual sparring and trials (or the appearances thereof). At times, Asimov takes this to an extreme, and it can be very boring to watch two characters discussing everything like they’re in a first-year logic class. There’s a certain roundabout formalism to Asimov’s dialogue that permeates the entire book, regardless of character. Nevertheless, the conversations are some of the most fulfilling parts of the story. In particular, Trevize and Pelorat’s discussions while on their ship were really fascinating, because they add to the air of mystery: is there something out there, manipulating the First and possibly even Second Foundations? How is it connected to the murky origins (and location) of Earth/Gaia?
In these respects, Asimov does a great job setting up a lot of questions that he mostly resolves by the end of the book. The final confrontation is indeed climactic: the strange equilibrium created by the mental superiority of the Second Foundation and the technological superiority of the First Foundation is clever. I'm less enthusiastic about the actual climax and the role that the Gaians force Trevize to play. It seems … ethically dubious at best.
Of course, no review of Asimov’s work would be complete without pointing out his ongoing and shameless objectification of women. That’s on full display here (pun intended): of the few female characters on screen, none escapes without a comment about her potential attractiveness to men, whether it’s her hairstyle, her breasts, or her buttocks (yes, that’s what he says). Truly, I’m not sure how I would survive reading a Foundation novel without the constant commentary on women’s appearances!
Foundation’s Edge is an interesting and simple story at its core: a mystery about what’s out there and potentially manipulating an already manipulative plan. Asimov surmises that after 500 years of slavishly following the Plan, the Foundation might be thinking they can do better and accelerate things towards an even earlier revival of the Galactic Empire. In this, he demonstrates again that he has excellent intuition for the ideas and fabric of science fiction stories; he can think big. However, if you’re looking for depth in your characters and their desires, you need to look elsewhere. This was a pleasant diversion on my deck in the sun, but whatever debt we owe to Asimov for furnishing us with many of the tropes of science fiction has by now been discharged. This is a classic, but as I have discovered through steadily re-reading this series, I’m not sure it holds up as anything more than that.