It seems like the trick to liking science fiction books is to just read more of them–the longer I go between books, the harder it is for me to get engrossed in the story (although this doesn’t apply to reviewing books, apparently! I finished this book two months ago!). Because sci-fi books aren’t written to be strong character dramas, it took until the third book in the Foundation series for me to really connect and care about what happened–but when I started to care, oh boy did the story get interesting!

Second Foundation

Despite it’s title, Second Foundation is the third book in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. The series follows a colony of scientists established on the far edge of the universe, tasked with saving the world from thousands of years of war and ruin after the Empire falls. The first two books have little to do with the mysterious Second Foundation, another colony of scientists established “at stars end.” Second Foundation finally gets into some details about the role the Second Foundation has played in protecting the history of mankind, and how they maintained their secrecy all these years.

The Mule has failed to find the Second Foundation, a quest he started in the second book. His mind control is being disrupted by the Second Foundation, which gives the first insight into what knowledge they protect–mental science, as opposed to the Foundation’s physical science focus. Because the Second Foundation can manipulate thoughts, the Mule sends an Unconverted (has not been mentally manipulated by the Mule) young man named Bail Channis into space to find the Second Foundation–any behavior in mood or character would signify the mysterious foundation had messed with him and give clues to their location or spies. To keep watch over him, the Mule sends Han Pritcher, a Converted man from the Foundation. A war begins, but everyone is being manipulated by the Mule or the Second Foundation, it’s nearly impossible to know who’s on which side!

This book, along with being the most interesting, also had the first strong female character in the series. Fourteen year old Arcadia Darell throws herself into the middle of an investigation into the Second Foundation by running away from home to stow away on a Foundation ship leaving to research the Mule in a study headed by her uncle. Her father is a leading scientists, and has his own conspiracy brewing about the Second Foundation’s location. Arcadia is run off the planet because she becomes too involved in the Mule investigation, and is protected by an old farm couple who was in town to sell food and supplies. Desperate to get back to her family and let them know what she’s learned about the Second Foundation, she convinces the man who saved her to start running food to planets under siege by the warring armies–he gets to make money, and she gets to go home.

And while all of this was going on (because Asimov doesn’t seem to believe you can have too many main characters), key players from the Second Foundation are introduced. They have a school, which teaches promising young students how to control, manipulate, and protect the Sheldon Plan. The three main parts of the book–the Mule’s soldiers, Arcadia and the scientists, and the Second Foundation teacher and student–provide three distinct ways of analyzing every situation. No one side is more correct than the others, because everyone is missing critical information, but the reader has an advantage is knowing what each side is doing. But I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised at the end when it was announced who lead the Second Foundation and where they were located!

Is this book confusing, complicated, and a bit slow at times? Yes. But was it a good read? Undoubtedly! I’m always glad when books can stump me, because I’m so rarely wrong in my predictions for how the story will end. The three different plot lines don’t fit perfectly together, but Asimov’s style is much more focused on individual ideas coming together than character personalities working together. While my love for fantasy books has not been replaced, I’m glad I took the time to rediscover just how much I enjoy science fiction.

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