Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov is the third novel in the Foundation trilogy. It was first published in 1953; I read the Bantam 1991 edition. I read the first novel in the trilogy, Foundation, in January of 2012. I read the next in the series in August of that same year. Unfortunately, I failed to return to this series until now in 2017. I gave both of the previous novels four stars in my rating/review and I think this novel will also get the same. It was a bit of a struggle to read this one, because Asimov has a very distinctive writing style that does not lend itself, in my opinion, to brisk reading. I think this is at the core of the reasons why many readers dislike the Foundation series and rate them lower than other novels.
Asimov was an intelligent fellow. Fiercely intelligent, even. I do not think that this can be disputed whatsoever. His science fiction is also creative – full of big ideas. Asimov also stuffs the presentation of all his big ideas with logic. I believe when he sat down to write his novels, he did not go about it by writing: and then the character did this. No, I believe Asimov did say that the character did some action – and then Asimov considered why this character did the action. Asimov’s intellect does not seem to tolerate random and empty things. Unfortunately, in contemporary society, I find a lot of people who accept prima facie anything and everything. Many times, their interest is very superficial. Asimov does not strike me as a writer who will just write stuff for the sake of word count.
Asimov’s considerations of things (which sometimes make it onto the pages and sometimes hide in the background – barely discernible) made his writing very much his own. I found many reviews and comments on his novels wherein the readers complain about how “slow” his writing is. Or how the characters are “wooden.” Or how the novels are so “boring” that they could not finish reading them. Maybe these reviewers are not the most articulate in describing what they experience when they read Asimov, but I can understand where they are coming from. There is a perfect example in Second Foundation of this sort of writing. Chapters five and six of the novel (pgs. 64 – 96 in my edition) are exactly what readers complain about regarding Asimov’s writing.
In all honesty, I stalled out in my reading during these chapters. I think I re-read these pages nightly for a week because they kept putting me to sleep. Literally. It is indeed boring writing and it seems repetitive and it did take some effort to push through. Are these chapters integral to the overall story (both in this novel and in the series)? Yes, I think they are and so would be very against excising them at all. Could these chapters have been shortened or otherwise edited to make them less tedious? I am not sure. I think to do so would be to lose the very Asimovian aspect of the whole series. I would not care to do that to the author or his works. Honest to goodness, once I marched through these pages, the novel picked up pace and it was very good the rest of the way.
What the heck goes on in those pages? Asimov has several characters confront each other and they converse back and forth about what happened and why it happened and what the possibilities are. Who is lying? Who has incomplete knowledge of the subject? Who is being fooled? What are the intentions behind these matters? In other words, Asimov is digging into the characters’ minds to root out the purposes in their actions. He is logically arguing among them. And he is also showing all the likely possibilities that the storyline could follow. From this standpoint, it really is not bad. However, considering the pacing and style in a novel, it is quite numbing. Readers who make the effort and want to care and understand Asimov, will appreciate what he does when he writes segments like that. Readers who just want to be entertained probably will not pull much from such sections.
In this novel I really like Darell and Arcadia. They are awesome – in their own way. I want their continuing adventures, so to speak. I want to get to know them and have their backstories with all the nuances in good fiction. However, this is another aspect of Asimov’s writing. It seems he is so potent a personality himself that his characters tend to all seem flat and cardboard – wooden, if you will. So many readers complain about the lack of “character development” in Asimov’s novels. But in my opinion, this does not precisely state what happens. I think that all of Asimov’s characters are all very flat and similar – because he, himself, shows through so strongly in all of them. There is something subtle and familiar about all the characters – even though, on the surface, they are totally different. I am willing to bet Asimov, when he wrote, often asked himself something like: now, what would I do if I were this character? And then took his response into consideration when writing the story.
Overall, this is an excellent ending to the trilogy. I can see so many places where this series could be expanded and developed and re-examined. The big idea of it is so awesome, I think the novels all get four stars just because they present it. Sure, there are valid complaints about Asimov’s writing style throughout, but at the end of the day, the novels are very much Asimov’s novels and not something churned out by machine or a “novel generator.”