Volume 16, Number 4, Fall, 1998

Foundation’s Fear

By Gregory Benford

Reviewed by Alberto Mingardi

Revitalizing an important cycle as Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series isn’t simple. Asimov toward the end of his life looked for a method to unify his incoherent “future history,” which Robert Heinlein had successfully managed. While Asimov succeeded financially, he resorted to trite and stale themes, models and situations, with his classic but now out-of-date style.

Gregory Benford’s Foundation’s Fear is quite different. Benford, coming from the vanguard of hard science fiction with memorable books like Timescape, and drawing from the experience of his scientific career, doesn’t just want to be a tie-in writer. The whole work of this new Foundation book wants to speak to the masses, but with logic, coherence, and intelligence.

At first, the most remarkable part of Benford’s work is the humanization of characters. In Foundation’s Fear Benford has fleshed out the characters of Hari Seldon and his robotic wife, Dors Venabilistart.

Benford did this without a “revolution.” Instead, he succeeded in becoming a part of the Foundation cycle without problems, making his book the logical consequence of the Good Doctor’s books.

The adjustment of scientific concepts to the new frontiers is also notable: the inter-spatial jump leans on a modern theory (wormholes), and there’s an Internet (big Web), but above all Benford speaks to the reader’s heart through two characters, the “simus” (simulations of personality), Voltaire and Giovanna d’Arco. The author takes two characters who really existed and puts them in a totally new context, showing the reader their possible reactions.

This lets us understand Benford’s (libertarian) ideas on the relationship between Religion and Reason and on human nature, which he sees as a combination of these elements. He also revises the concept of “psycho–history,” which receives a perspective that is less statist than Asimov’s.

All this combines into a fast read, in which “something happens” (another difference from Asimov’s novels). Foundation’s Fear opens new a perspective for a circle of readers unwilling to let the story die with Asimov.

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