First of all...it's been a fortnight, so a quick status report. I've had the flu for quite a bit of the last couple of weeks, and although it hasn't stopped me working, I did end up deciding to focus on 'Not One Step Back' for a bit, and as of today, I'm just past the half-way mark. With a little luck, I should have the draft finished in a week, and still on course for getting this book out by the end of the month. 'Swords of the Damned' is essentially finished, and I'm just waiting on the cover before it goes live at this point...so look for that in about the same time-frame.
Now for the actual discussion, my recent reading. It's been years since I read the Foundation trilogy, and I decided to pull it down from the shelves, and as usual – I was completely lost within a few pages. It has to be one of the finest pieces of science-fiction ever written, and as a complete trilogy in itself, amazing in its scope, a real epic. Yes, there are a few creaky bits, but nothing that shows, and you still completely buy into the story, even though few of them share characters. Asimov is developing as an author while he is writing this (read his 'Early Asimov' for an insight into that process') and you can see him growing from story to story.
Then...I decided to push ahead with the story, and pulled down my battered copies of Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth, both books I have had for a very long time – I think my copy of the latter is twenty years old, I vaguely remember buying it in a bookshop long gone. I can say something rather depressing about Foundation's Edge...it's actually boring in places. Gone is the incredible tightly-plotted work, and in its place is a long, doorstop work that doesn't actually have any more story than one of the individual novellas in the trilogy, but takes forever to get there. And (spoilers here), after we have been completely dragged into the battle between Foundation and the collapsing Kingdoms, and later between the Two Foundations at war...neither wins. Seldon's Plan just fails, and is replaced with 'Galaxia', essentially turning the galaxy into a hive mind.
Foundation and Earth is a little better – though it ends up being Asimov's 'lets tie in all of my earlier works into a single setting' book, and it shows, but if you were a fan of the Elijah Baley stories – and I was – then it is interesting seeing what happened to the Spacers, a long time on...though there are echoes here from some of his earlier works. Now don't get me wrong, both of these books are actually still worth reading, but they suffer from a tremendous bloat, and they just don't provide a satisfactory conclusion to the saga. The ending of 'Earth' suggests that a third book in this 'second trilogy' might have been interesting...but alas, it was never written.
There was plenty of room for sequels after 'Second Foundation', don't get me wrong, but...this isn't it. It doesn't feel right, somehow. Ultimately, the Two Foundations are going to clash again and again, that is definite – I can see another series of novellas – for that is where this worked best – that would have built up to the foundation of the Second Empire...and there is the problem. That is what the reader wanted to see...yes, a twist in the tale, definitely, some surprises that they weren't expecting...but that we've read all this way only to find out that the ending we were seeking was 'wrong' just feels a bit of a cheat. No Second Empire that all the heroes we have cheered have lived and died for...instead, Galaxia, which would have been anathema to most of them. There's a lesson here somewhere about reader expectation, I think.
So...if you haven't read it before, read the Foundation Trilogy, today if not sooner. But don't worry too much about the sequels.