21 June 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project


Unfinished Asimovian Business

I have neglected thus far to mention just how vexed I am with Isaac Asimov.  I repair that omission now.  Asimov was one of my favorite authors, and still would be if he weren't 100% life-free.  Although he is best known for the size of his oeuvre* and for the many, many books he wrote, his earliest and best-known works were science fiction, and the best-known of those were the Robot Series and the Foundation Series.  Asimov's writing, as he would be the first to aver, was unornamented and unstyled.  Just the thing for this then-teenager, whom grownups kept trying to expose to "literature" at the wrong phase of life.  His books were rich in science-fictional ideas, and for whatever reason I found the three volumes of the Foundation Series (the original canon) to be especially inspirational. 

I had the misfortune of reading them out-of-order, and so knew the secret of the Second Foundation before I managed to find the first two volumes.  Even so, I hunted these down and read them with alacrity and very little light** since I was supposed to be studying/sleeping at the time.  And reread them and read them yet again.  To this day I can name the major characters, and whenever I clean my desk I think of Mayor Indbur and Ebling Mis.  I didn't ascribe any mystical significance to the existence of the Foundation universe.  That it had none of Asimov's robots wasn't a surprise; authors (and some current versions of string theory) are entitled to multiple universes*** with different characteristics.  And the fact that the "Eternals" (from the 1955 "End of Eternity," one of Asimov's short novels,) weren't mentioned didn't distress me at all.  This unique time travel tale had always been one of my favorites, but I had no urge to consider it anything other than just that.


Rumored, but not necessarily expected, Asimov wrote a sequel to the Foundation series.  It came out in 1982, and I'm sure I obtained a copy within minutes.  I was older and more sophisticated (for me, at least) and it didn't grip me as the originals had.  But I came across a passage, late in the book, described thus in Wikipedia:   

"Asimov placed a hint in Foundation's Edge many years later, that the Eternals might have been responsible for the all-human galaxy (and the development of humanity on Earth) of the Foundation Series, but that interpretation is disputed, and indeed Asimov himself mentions the disparity. It is perhaps one of the loose ends that he had planned to clean up, but which his death obviously prevented."

Whoops.  Although for Asimov, this was probably an auctorial version of bait-and-switch, intended to entice readers to buy his sequels, it worked all too well on me.  I would have read them anyway, but each of the succeeding Robot and Foundation novels I combed obsessively for mysteries and clues about the Eternals, who never should have been mentioned in Foundations Edge, and couldn't have been (since they disappeared) unless there was actually something to it.  Although I did find another mystery (Giskard's telepathy, unexplained to this day), there were no other significant clues to the integration of the Eternals into the Foundation universe.  

Unlike the real universe, whose explanation we may some day deduce, Isaac Asimov is no longer with us.  Although other writers have been authorized to carry on with the Foundation, none seems interested in or willing to explain the role of the Eternals.  If Asimov planned this to assure sufficient curiosity remains to lobby for his resurrection when the technology becomes available, I can forgive him.  But given the likely time frame for such technology, it is hardly likely to help me!  For that, forgiveness will remain elusive. 

*Perhaps he responded to an early spam.  Guys are sensitive about this.
**Zeugma alert!
***Oxymoron alert!


Richard Factor