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The Second Foundation Series
A few years ago, the Asimov estate gave their permission and blessing for three bestselling science fiction writers, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear and David Brin (also known as the "Killer B's"), to write a "new" Foundation series. Each author would pen one book in the new trilogy, which continues the story (started in Prelude to Foundation) of Hari Seldon's career before the original trilogy's events.

Foundation's Fear: Gregory Benford starts things off with a portrayal of Hari Seldon's early political career, picking up where Asimov left off in Forward the Foundation. Seldon is continuing to study psychohistory, but he is thrust into the unfriendly world of galactic politics when the current Emporer appoints him as first minister of the Galactic Empire. Unfortunately, I found this book to be a meandering bore, and untrue to Asimov to boot. Beneford's style is annoying and needlessly excessive, often pursuing annoying subplots (such as when Seldon and his wife flee to a primitive planet where they occupy the minds of humbler primate creatures.) or science fiction for the sake of science fiction (see the same example as the annoying subplot). It stands in stark conrast to Asimov's simple, straightforward style, and I generally disliked this book.

Foundation and Chaos: Greg Bear penned the second installment of the new trilogy, continuing the story of Seldon's political career and pursuit of psychohistory. This time around, Seldon is on trial for treason while R. Daneel Olivaw attempts to guide the creation of one of the Foundation's first projects, all the while dealing with possible corruption among his own robotic staff. After Beneford's horrible start, Bear's contribution was a breath of fresh air. Bear's style is remarkably similar to Asimov's, and he is much less prone to the excessive fiddling that bogged down Beneford's book. The improvement of style greatly helps the story, but I can't decide whether or not Bear is able to undo the damage done by Beneford. In any case, this was a much more enjoyable book and a good read.

Foundation's Triumph: David Brin puts the series out of its misery. Seldon escapes exile and attempts to secure the future of humanity. He has the help of R. Daneel Olivaw, but Daneel is also busy dealing with his robotic bretheren. Again, Brin's style is simple, straightforward, and enjoyable but the plot is subpar. Again, I'm not sure if this series could have been saved from its awful beginnings, but Brin does his best to resolve the overcrowded plotline amicably. He does a fair job of it, but I was left with the feeling that this second trilogy didn't really accomplish much...

In case you couldn't tell, I didn't quite enjoy this series. Granted, it would be difficult for anyone to fill the shoes of Asimov, and they made a reasonable effort. Personally, there were a few things that really bothered me about the whole series in general. For example, the matter-of-fact way in which R. Daneel Olivaw appeared in the books was annoying to me. Daneel is one of my favourite characters, partly because he was such a mysterious figure and because Asimov didn't give too much away about Daneel's machinations. When Daneel showed up in Asimov's novels (outside of the Robot series), it was something special, and I was always left with a feeling of awe and trepidation. But in these novels, Daneel carries no such mystery; his appearances are mundane, sterile and ultimtely detract from the character.

I don't know much about how the three authors collaborated (if one dominated the overall plot, etc...), but in my opinion the trilogy got off to an absolutely awful start with Beneford's effort, and was never really able to recover. I don't know how much of that was Beneford's fault (but his style certainly didn't help), but in the end, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth and I didn't feel like anything worthwhile had actually happened. Then again, maybe I'm just being a wonk (for example, see my compaints about Daneel above); some people agree with me, but others seem to feel the novels were and interesting and worthwhile addition to Asimov's work. The jury is still out...

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