‘Foundation’ is a novel set in the future when humanity has advanced to become the Galactic Empire. The Galactic Empire expands across the galaxy as many planetary systems materialize into existence. However, with the invention of a single field of thought, a terrible prediction gets made by the psychologist and mathematician Hari Seldon; this begins a series of events that put the human race in turmoil.
‘Spoiler-Free’ Summary of Foundation
The first part of the novel is called ‘The Psychohistorians’, which is a part of the many unique vocabularies created by Isaac Asimov. The story begins with a man, Gaal Dornick, meeting Hari Seldon, a mathematician and the founder of psychohistory. Hari Seldon shows Gaal Dornick his work; this sparks fear in Gaal as he discovers that the equations predict a tragedy that would befall humanity. With the authority of Trantor realizing the implications of Hari Seldon’s work, they try him on the count of treason. However, after convincing the authorities that his work is accurate, he receives the go-ahead to form an organization that would be crucial in stopping the calamity.
The second part of the novel is called ‘The Encyclopedists.’ The story begins fifty years after Hari Seldon and his followers leave for an isolated planet called Terminus. Now on Terminus, the encyclopedists start gathering knowledge crucial for saving humanity. However, the neighboring kingdoms bordering Terminus begin to make a move on the planet; this forces Salvor Hardin, the mayor of Terminus, to use a political strategy for the benefit of Terminus. Hardin faces resistance from the scientists who had worked with Hari Seldon. Later on, a message from Hari Seldon makes the scientists discover that Hardin was on the right track.
‘The Mayors’ is the next story, and it begins thirty years after the events of ‘The Encyclopedists.’ With the Foundation now a powerful government, it starts to govern its neighbors. However, Hardin experience opposition to his rule as some people begin requesting diversity in elections. With Hardin’s internal conflict, some kingdoms try to move against him. However, he uses the greatest weapon in his arsenal, science, to defeat the Anacreon king. A message from Hari Seldon proves him to be correct.
The fourth part of the novel is ‘The Traders.’ The story begins more than fifty years after ‘The Mayors.’ With the Foundation now a gigantic organization, it tried expanding. After Eskel Gorov gets arrested on the planet Askone, Limmar Ponyets gets sent to negotiate his release. Ponyets successfully helps with Gorov’s release and secures a trading agreement with Askone.
The last story of ‘Foundation’ is called ‘The Merchant Princes.’ The story takes place 20 years after ‘The Traders.’ With the Foundation now in charge of their four neighboring kingdoms and Askone, it tries expanding. Some of the ships of the Foundation start missing near the Republic of Korell. Hober Mallow, a master trader, gets sent by some members of the Foundation’s government to investigate and negotiate with the Republic of Korell.
On reaching Korell, Mallow’s men let out a missionary, Parma. Things go south as he gets captured and sentenced to death. Parma escapes back to the ship. However, Mallow gives him back to Korell for trial. On returning to Terminus, Mallow gets tried for murder. However, he proves his innocence and becomes the mayor. Korell tries to fight the Foundation, but it ends in Mallow’s favor.
Foundation Plot Summary
Spoiler warning: important parts of the novel are revealed below.
The first part of ‘Foundation’ is called ‘The Psychohistorians.’ The story begins with a man, Gaal Dornick. On receiving an invitation from the great Hari Seldon, Gaal Dornick travels to Trantor, the capital of the Galactic Empire, a government that has lasted for 12,000 years. On reaching Trantor, Gaal meets Hari Seldon, who introduces him to psychohistory, a form of mathematics and psychology capable of predicting the future based on the past. Hari Seldon shows Gaal his work on psychohistory, and it terrifies him as he discovers the prediction from the mathematical equations meant that the Galactic Empire would fall, which is one of the main themes in ‘Foundation.’ Gaal and Hari get arrested by the commission of public safety.
Hari gets tried for treason. In the trial, Hari proposes his theory of psychohistory to the commission. The predictions foretell the fall of the Galactic Empire within 500 years, and it showed that humanity would face a dark age that would last for 30,000 years.
The commission asks for a solution, and Hari proposes the idea of a Foundation, an organization that would create an encyclopedia of knowledge to help humanity through the dark times. He calls the knowledge bank Encyclopedia Galactica. Hari tells the commission that his plan would reduce the dark age from 30,000 to 1,000 years. Hari gets exiled along with his followers to the planet of Terminus. Before leaving for Terminus, Hari tells Gaal that he has only two years to live and the plan would only work if he dies. Hari tells Gaal to lead the Foundation in his death.
The story of The Encyclopedists begins in the year 50FE (Foundation Era). With the Foundation now settled on Terminus, the scientists keep up the task set by Hari by collecting knowledge needed for the fall of the Galactic Empire. Doctor Lewis Pirenne leads the board of trustees and oversees the continuity of the encyclopedia of knowledge. Salvor Hardin, the mayor of Terminus, struggles with the Foundation’s Board of Trustees when he tells them of Terminus’s political disadvantage. Though he tries to stress his point of how the neighboring prefect of the Galactic empire gained their independence, he gets ignored, and his warnings get shoved aside.
Among the new kingdoms that gain independence is Anacreon. They visit Terminus and propose the idea of building a military base on the planet as a strategic advantage over the other Kingdoms in the outer periphery. As part of the deal made by the Anacreons, the Foundation would relinquish its land ownership to them, and in exchange, they would provide military support to the undefended Foundation.
Noticing a potential threat to the Foundation’s existence, Hardin diverts the Anacreon’s goals by proposing the idea of nuclear power to them. He also begins plotting a coup against the board of trustees with his advisor, Yohan Lee. Though Hardin still tries to show the board that they were leading Terminus to destruction, they still oppose his ideas and instead propose to wait for the time vault set by Hari Seldon to open before making other plans.
Finally, the time vault opens, and a holographic projection of Hari Seldon tells the scientists that the encyclopedia project was a façade and the true purpose of the Foundation was to serve as a nucleus for the creation of a second Galactic Empire. Discovering that Hardin had been right all along, the board of trustees admits defeat; this gives Hardin enough leverage to form a new pollical government on Terminus.
The story of ‘The Mayors’ begins in the year 80FE, 30 years after the events of ‘The Encyclopedists.’ With Hardin as the mayor of Terminus, the Foundation gains leverage over its four neighboring kingdoms by creating the idea of scientism, a religion based on the worship of technology. With the Foundation teaching people from the four kingdoms the ways of science, they begin to control the trading of technological goods throughout the kingdoms as the technicians they teach become priests that amass a massive gathering of followers from their home planet.
Hardin, who has been the mayor of Terminus since his rise to power, begins to face political opposition from Sef Sermak, the leader of The Actionists Party, an organization that advocated for direct action against the four kingdoms. With the kingdom of Anacreon being The Actionists’ greatest fear, all efforts by Hardin to calm them down fail.
Prince Regent Wienis and his nephew King Lepold I, rulers of Anacreon, begin to plot against the Foundation. With a plan to use an abandoned Imperial battlecruiser to destroy the Foundation, Wienis issues an order for the ship’s repair. Uncovering Wienis’s plot, Hardin orders minute modifications to the cruiser.
Hardin gets invited by Wienis to Lepold’s coronation, and on the night of his nephew’s coronation, Hardin gets arrested. Unknown to Wienis, Hardin had already plotted with Poly Verisof, the High Priest of Anacreon. Verisof convinces the people that Wienis’s plan against the Foundation and Terminus is blasphemous; this leads to a huge crowd gathering outside the palace demanding Hardin’s release.
Meanwhile, Hardin’s slight modifications on the Battlecruiser kick in, causing the ship’s systems to die. Interpreting the incident as a curse, Theo Aporat, the priest-attendant, commits mutiny against the ship’s commander, Prince Leftkin. Prince Leftkin gets forced to relay a message demanding that Wienis get arrested and placed before an ecclesiastic court for his blasphemy against the Foundation.
Angered by his failure to destroy the Foundation, Wienis orders his soldiers to kill Hardin, and after they refuse, he tries to do so himself but gets blocked by a protective shield on Hardin. Realizing he had failed, Wienis commits suicide.
Hardin gets freed and returns to Terminus, where another recording from Hari Seldon confirms he is on the right path. Hari tells Hardin about how unstoppable scientism would become in the future and how it would serve as a powerful force against the four kingdoms.
The story of ‘The Traders’ begins in 135FE, 55 years after the events of ‘The Mayors.’ With the Foundation’s dominance over the four kingdoms, a trade treaty gets set up between Terminus and the rest of the periphery kingdoms; this leads to the exchange of technology for political dominance between the Foundation and the four Kingdoms. The Foundation begins to send out its traders to unexplored planets. Among the traders sent out is Eskel Gorov, a master trader. On reaching the planet Askone, Gorov gets arrested for trying to sell technology.
Limmar Ponyets, another master trader, gets tasked by the Foundation to negotiate Gorov’s release and soften the political strain between the Foundation and Askone. Ponyets meet with the Askone Elders’ Grand Master. Realizing that the Grand Master can get bribed with gold to release Gorov, Ponyets uses a transmuter to convert iron to gold and offers the grand Master, who accepts his bribe. Ponyets also convince the Elders that gold is suitable for the planet’s religious purposes.
Ponyets meets with Councilor Pherl, the Grand Master’s student. Ponyets soon discovers that Pherl was willing to work with him as long as he could become the Grand Master. Ponyets hands over the transmuter to Pherl and assures him the Grand Master’s position, a title he gets. Ponyets confronts Pherl with a recording he had of their agreement, and Gorov gets released.
A new agreement between Pherl and Ponyets opens the Foundation’s access to all the tin on Askone.
The Merchant Princes
The story of ‘The Merchant Princes’ begins in the year 155FE, 20 years after ‘The Traders.’ With it retaining its dominance over the four kingdoms and Askone, the Foundation tries to expand its reach throughout the once alive Galactic Empire. However, it begins to face issues as some of its ships go missing near the Republic of Korell.
With fears of resistance and a crisis at bay, Foreign Secretary Publis Manlio and Mayoral Secretary Jorane Sutt send Hober Mallow to investigate and negotiate with the Republic of Korell. With their ulterior motives to weaken the traders and on suspicions that Mallow was in league with smugglers, Jaim Twer gets planet among the crew of the Far Star, Mallow’s ship. On reaching Korell, Mallow’s men let out a Foundation missionary, Jord Parma, against his orders. Parma gets captured by the Korellians and gets sentenced to death. Badly injured, Parma escapes back to the ship. Suddenly a mob gathers and demands that Mallow relinquish the missionary to them; he agrees.
Mallow meets Asper Argo, Korell’s authoritarian ruler, and discovers he was hospitable but only hated the Foundation’s missionaries. Mallow tours Korell and finds no signs of heavy industries. He also notices Asper’s guards using weapons with the Galactic Empire’s emblem; this leads him to believe that the Galactic Empire was trying to rescue itself after its decline.
Mallow leaves his ship behind and travels to Siwenna, where he meets Onum Barr, a former senator who served in the government of Siwenna. Barr tells Mallow how a rebellion against the emperor caused a revolution that almost succeeded. Barr tells Mallow that his daughter got married to Asper after he lost his children to the conflict.
After Barr narrates his story, Mallow tours a nuclear power plant on Siwenna and discovers that the power plant has no technicians to repair it. Mallow realized that the religious front taken by the Foundation was no longer competent enough to ensure its continuous dominance. Instead, Mallow discovers that a commercial approach was what the Foundation required.
After returning to Terminus, Mallow gets tried for the murder of Parma. However, he presents a recording that reveals that the missionary is a Korellian spy. Mallow becomes a hero and goes for the mayor’s position. On becoming mayor, the republic of Korell declares war against the Foundation and begins to attack its ships. However, Mallow refrains from reciprocating the attacks, and instead, he places an embargo on Korell; this forces Korell to surrender.
Mallow’s new commercial strategy gradually turns the government of Terminus into a system of government where trade and industry get controlled by the wealthy.
What happens at the end of ‘Foundation‘ by Isaac Asimov?
At the end of ‘Foundation,’ Hober Mallow gets tried for the death of Parma. However, he releases a recording proving that Parma was a spy for Korell; this gives him enough leverage to become the mayor. As mayor, Hober turns the Foundation into a plutocratic organization.
What book is ‘Foundation‘ based on?
‘Foundation’ by Isaac Asimov got inspired by ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ by Edward Gibbins. After getting inspired, Isaac wrote the first story in the Foundation series.
Is the Foundation TV series similar to the novel?
Though the Foundation TV series got created from Isaac Asimov’s story, it had subtle differences. A difference between the novel and the adaptation is the characters of Gaal Dornick and Salvor Hardin.
How many stories are in ‘Foundation‘ by Isaac Asimov?
‘Foundation’ comprises five separate stories across different timelines. Though each existed as a stand-alone novelette, Isaac combined them to give a bigger picture of the Galactic Empire.