When I reviewed Foundation in December, I predicted that reading science fiction would be an adjustment for me. Instead of plot heavily driven by characters, the plot is driven by the world evolution–and as I’ve documented many times on this blog, I really love a good character drama. But I want to try my hardest to expand my literary taste and complete the NPR Top 100 Science Fiction, Fantasy books list. So I started Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov, and was it was both everything I expected and so much better.

Foundation and Empire

Just like Foundation was so fond of doing, Foundation and Empire jumps ahead a few hundred years to start the story. All the characters we knew from the first book are dead, and the Foundation is once again in trouble. The Empire is starting to visible collapse and lose power, but the Foundation still struggles to remain safe. A Seldon crisis is looming but the Foundation’s win is guaranteed, right? Except…there are some things coming to light about the Second Foundation that might make the Foundation’s win not so safe.

There are several main characters in this book: first up is Bel Riose, an Empire soldier determined to turn the Empire’s demise into his success; Ducem Barr, an old man with a curious knowledge of the old Traders and Hari Seldon; and Lathan Devers, a captured Foundation Trader. In the second part of the book, after war has started between the Foundation and the Empire, we meet Bayta and Toran, two young newly weds. They get along rather horribly, and the rest of the book follows them. Turned into Foundation spies by Toran’s father and uncle, Bayta and Toran go on their honeymoon on the planet of Kalgan. On Kalgan, a mysterious man called the Mule has taken military control without resistance by manipulate other people’s emotions.

Bayta and Toran are thrown into a crazy mystery figuring out who the Mule is–a mutant who stands outside the history predicted by Hari Seldon. He can change the course of human history, and potentially doom humanity to a violent barbarian life. He is obsessed with finding the Second Foundation, the little-known other foundation established by Seldon. The Mule is an interesting character because he is the only one truly in control of his actions. He is portrayed as a horribly manipulative and un-lovable person, but in the end you feel sorry for him even as he does horrible things. Of all the characters, I found the Mule to be the written!

Foundation and Empire has a much more solid story line, and better developed characters. There is still a lack of connection between the individual parts (it feels very much like several short stories were strung together, which is apparently how the Foundation series started), but the overall world narrative is developing as well as I had hoped. By the end of the book I was eager to start the third book and see where things go. I’m not 100% sure I’m a science fiction fan yet, but I enjoyed this book a whole lot more!