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The Foundation Project: The Encyclopedists

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The Encyclopedists is part 2 of the first Foundation novel. It is here that we get our first glimpse of life on Terminus, the planet on the edge of the galaxy chosen to be the home of the Foundation.

Some New Players in The Foundation

My original tattered copy of Foundation

The second story in this novel spans just under 50 pages, and is divided into 7 small chapters. It is now nearly 50 years since the great psychologist Hari Seldon has set up the Foundation on the planet Terminus. Consequently, this story deals with different characters and events than the first part of the book dealt with. This part of the book is focused on two general entities: the recently elected mayor of Terminus: Salvor Hardin, and the stodgy Foundation Board of Trustees led by the condescending Lewis Pirenne.

In the past 5 decades Terminus has been working faithfully on collecting knowledge and preserving it in the Encyclopedia Galactica, but there are getting to be a lot of support people who aren’t directly involved in the Encyclopedia. Hence Mayor Hardin is elected to represent their interests. The problem in that the Board of Trustees still holds most of the political power, and they seem to be making some very unwise (at least politically) decisions. It is true that Terminus is still under the protection of the Emperor on Trantor, but out here on “the periphery” there have been several break-away kingdoms – the largest of which is Anacreon. Anacreon is getting nervous about the Foundation and seeks to build military bases on Terminus to “protect it.” Yeah, right. Anyway, after they make sure that the Emperor really can’t do anything, they decide to force the matter. And it is here that we see the brilliance of Salvor Hardin – and of Hari Seldon.

The Novel’s Downfall

It is in this section of the Foundation that its true colors really show. On one hand I was immediately bombarded by two of the loudest criticisms of Foundation. The first was outdated technology. On the very first page of this section we see Pirenne using a stylus to write on paper. Really? Sometimes I think that Asimov must not have been trying very hard to be creative. And not only do we see crappy old technology, but we are also plunged deep into several pages of pure conversation. Honestly, a good deal of The Encyclopedists is made up entirely of conversations between people.

The Novel’s Redemption

Ok, enough of the Asimov stereotypes, let us turn our attentions to the positive aspects of this story, of which there are many. First off, while you would think that 50 pages of mostly conversation would be horrifically boring it really wasn’t. Quite the opposite in fact – I found these chapters to be very interesting. I’m not sure what it was, perhaps it was the way Asimov skillfully manipulated the conversations to carefully mete out only the requisite chunks of information. I found the tension high throughout, and rapidly turned the pages to find out what would happen – which is all the more interesting considering the fact that I have read this book two times before!

It is also in this section that we begin to understand how powerful Psychohistory is, and what a great scientist Hari Seldon was. The ending of this story, in which Seldon holographically appears, was terrific! The message he delivers is timely, scientifically sound, and of the utmost importance to the Foundation. Well done that.

Finally, the political intrigue in The Encyclopedists is fantastic. The political love triangle between Anacreon, the Empire and Terminus is beautifully orchestrated and keeps the reader guessing. But truthfully – we know who is going to win in the end right? Still, very fun to read.

How Does The Foundation Hold Up On A 3rd Reading?

So, how does The Encyclopedists hold up over time and on multiple readings? Very well I think. I enjoyed reading about the maneuverings of Hardin the most – seeing how Terminus and the Foundation struggle to get the upper hand in the region was fascinating. And when it comes to outdated technology, well, I just used my imagination (imagine that!) to picture an updated and futuristic version of the story. Overall I was quite pleased. Hopefully you will be too. Let me know what you thought of this section.

If this book sounds like something you might be interested in reading you can find a used copy at eBay, or buy it new on Amazon.com.

If you enjoyed this article please see my other posts on The Foundation Project.