cover image Foundation's Fear

Foundation's Fear

Gregory Benford. HarperPrism, $23 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-06-105243-9

Set thousands of years in the future, this novel begins the Second Foundation Trilogy, a prequel to Isaac Asimov's famous original (1951-1953) about the waning centuries of a galactic empire. The story opens with Hari Seldon, the protagonist of the Asimov series and discoverer of psychohistory, learning that his prospects of being appointed First Minister of the Empire are interfering with his research and spawning a horde of enemies. He and his humanlike robot wife, Dors, must flee, undergoing an enlightening but perilous adventure as their minds are transferred into the bodies of primates on a distant planet. Meanwhile, computer simulations of the minds of Voltaire (supremely skeptical) and Joan of Arc (supremely faithful) take on lives of their own and discover a potentially catastrophic computer virus planted by aliens who themselves exist only as electronic memories. Benford (Sailing Bright Eternity) writes up to his usual high standard and excels in bringing Asimovian concepts such as the planet-wide Imperial capital city on Trantor to vivid, visually compelling life. This novel stands well on its own, but much of its readership likely will be followers of Asimov's Foundation tales. To them, a warning is due: the next novel in the trilogy will be written by Greg Bear; the third, by David Brin. Will authors of such high caliber necessarily pull so much Asimov out of the Foundation that it will be no longer be his? The answer lies in the future, but, for now, this return to a touchstone of SF's Golden Age stands as a richly rewarding delight. (Mar.)