The Foundation Novels and stories by Isaac Asimov and Friends and The Fictional World of Archives

Asimov's Foundation series is set in the unimaginably distant future following the fall of the First Galactic Empire. A psychohistorian, Hari Seldon, secretly guided by the forbidden and long-presumed extinct robots, one of whom masquerades as his wife, devises a plan to steer humanity from chaos into a new galactic empire.

The series was not written or published in chronological order. Asimov provided a bibliographic guide to the series and others of his works set in the same timeline in Prelude to Foundation:

  1. Prelude to Foundation (1988)
  2. Forward the Foundation (1993)*
  3. Foundation (1951)
  4. Foundation and Empire (1952)
  5. Second Foundation (1953)
  6. Foundation's Edge (1982)
  7. Foundation and Earth (1983)

*Unwritten at the time, Asimov positioned Forward the Foundation in Prelude to Foundation.

The 1951, 1952 and 1953 titles are also referred to as The Foundation Trilogy.

Foundation coverFoundation and Empire coverSecond Foundation coverRead more about and purchase Foundation, Foundation and Empire, or Second Foundation via

The Foundation novels are presently being extended by new authors with the permission of Janet Asimov and the Estate of Isaac Asimov:

The Second Foundation Trilogy

  1. Foundation's Fear by Gregory Benford (1997)
  2. Foundation and Chaos by Greg Bear (1998)
  3. Foundation's Triumph by David Brin (1999)
  4. Psychohistorical Crisis by Donald Kingsbury (2001)

Among the short stories and novellas set in the Foundation universe are:

The management and long-term survival of records are explored in some of these novels. The entire series, including the second trilogy by Gregory Benford, Greg Bear and David Brin, revolves around the manipulation of reality and the transformation of history by robots and humans alike, both of whom depend upon the selective retention and destruction of records.

Examples of these uses are quoted below.

Original Novel Title: Foundation and Earth

Author: Isaac Asimov

Publisher: New York, NY: Doubleday, 1986 (hardcover); New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1987 (paperback).

All quotations are from the 1987 paperback edition.

Records expected to survive through millenia are a key component in this final novel in the Foundation series. All knowledge of Earth's location and history were lost many thousands of years before, not just documents, but memories as well seem blank on this point of where Earth existed within the Milky Way Galaxy. All that remain are legends (p. 6):

   "Documents twenty thousand years old? Things decay, perish, are destroyed through inefficiency or war."
   "But there should be records of the records; copies, copies of the copies, and copies of the copies of the copies; useful material much younger than twenty millennia. They must have been removed. The Galactic Library at Trantor must have had documents concerning Earth. Those documents are referred to in known historical records, but the documents no longer exist in the Galactic Library. The references to them may exist, but any quotations from them do not exist."
   "Remember that Trantor was sacked a few centuries ago."
   "The Library was left untouched. It was protected by the personnel of the Second Foundation. And it was those personnel who recently discovered that material related to Earth no longer exists. The material was deliberately removed in recent times. Why?"

In his search for these records on a planetary organism named Gaia, the protagonist Trevize who is hunting for Earth discusses the existence of records on Gaia itself (p. 15-16):

   "But what records are these you talk of, Trevize?"
   "Any records. Books, films, recordings, holographs, artifacts, whatever it is you have. In the time I've been here I haven't seen one item that I would consider in any way a record.--Have you, Janov?"
   "No," said Pelorat hesitantly, "but I haven't really looked."
   "Of course." She [Bliss] held out both hands, palms up before her. "We don't have any records."
   Pelorat recovered first, seeming the less astonished of the two.
   "My dear," he said gently, "that is quite impossible. You cannot have a reasonable civilization without records of some kind."
   Bliss raised her eyebrows. "I understand that. I merely mean that we have records of the type that Trev--Trevize--is talking about, or was at all likely to come across. I/we/Gaia have no writings, no printings, no films, no computer data banks, nothing. We have no carvings on stone, for that matter. That's all I'm saying. Naturally, since we have none of these, Trevize found none of these."
   Trevize said, "What do you have then, if you don't have any records that I would recognize as records?"
   Bliss said, enunciating carefully, as though she were speaking to a child. "I/we/Gaia have a memory. I remember."

A discussion follows between Trevize and Bliss regarding the technicalities of storing vast quantities of data in organic and inorganic structures such as rocks (p. 18-19). Trevize tests Bliss and asks her to retrieve her oldest memories (p. 22):

   There was a small hesitation. Bliss looked blankly at Trevize, as though, for a moment, she was in a trance. Then she said, "Fifteen thousand years."
   "Why did you hesitate?"
   "It took time. Old memories--really old--are almost all in the mountain roots where it takes time to dig them out."
   "Fifteen thousand years ago, then? Is that when Gaia was settled?"
   "No, to the best of our knowledge that took place some three thousand years before that."
   "Why are you uncertain? Don't you--or Gaia--remember?"
   Bliss said, "That was before Gaia had developed to the point where memory became a global phenomenon."
   "Yet before you could rely on your collective memory, Gaia must have kept records, Bliss. Records in the usual sense--recorded, written, filmed, and so on."
   "I imagine so, but they could scarcely endure all this time."    "They could have been copied or, better yet, transferred into the global memory, once that was developed."
   Bliss frowned. There was another hesitation, longer this time. "I find no sign of these earlier records you speak of."
   "Why is that?"
   "I don't know, Trevize. I presume that they proved of no great importance. I imagine that by the time it was understood that the early nonmemory records were decaying, it was decided that they had grown archaic and were not needed."

Trevize naturally disagrees with this assessment and believes the destruction of these records to have been purposeful (p. 22):

   "First, there is something I am sure of. A civilization in being is not likely to destroy its early records. Far from judging them to be archaic and unnecessary, they are likely to treat them with exaggerated reverence and would labor to preserve them. If Gaia's preglobal records were destroyed, Bliss, that destruction was not likely to be voluntary."
   "How would you explain it, then?"
   "In the Library at Trantor, all references to Earth were removed by someone or some force other than that of the Trantorian Second Foundationers themselves. Isn't it possible, then, that on Gaia, too, all references to Earth were removed by something other than Gaia itself?"
   "How do you know the early records involved Earth?"
   "According to you, Gaia was founded at least eighteen thousand years ago. That brings us back to the period before the establishment of the Galactic Empire, to the period when the Galaxy was being settled and the prime source of Settlers was Earth. ..."

Upon confirmation from his fellow traveller and historian Pelorat that human beings originated on one planet named Earth, Trevize goes on to deduce that (p. 23):

   "...the records of Gaia's settlement and of the first few millenia thereafter must clearly have involved Earth and Earthmen and those records are gone. Something seems to be seeing to it that Earth is not mentioned anywhere in the records of the Galaxy. And if so, there must be some reason for it."

Trevize and Prelorat leave Gaia and eventually find their way to Earth and the twenty thousand year old robot that helped shape the course of human history.

Original Novel Title: Foundation's Fear

Author: Gregory Benford

Publisher: New York, NY: HarperPrism, March 1997 (hardcover)

All quotations are from the hardcover edition.

A subplot in this first novel of the second Foundation trilogy explores Hari Seldon's tenure as First Minister of the Galactic Empire ruled by Cleon I. Seldon, who lives and works on the metal planet Trantor as a mathist at Streeling University, is married to a humanoid robot named Dors who not only physically protects him from various assassination attempts but also guides him through her own robot mentor, the long-lived R. Daneel Olivaw (the R stands for Robot). So successful is the humaniform andvarious identities Olivaw has adopted, that at one point he served as First Minister Eto Demerzel to Emperor Cleon I. Bear's novel is set in the period after Demerzel's retirement but before Seldon's own appointment by Cleon I to the First Ministership.

Seldon and his colleagues, who are keeping their work on psychohistory a secret from the world at large, utilize data from a wide variety of sources to constructive a predictive model of reality and the future. Among the sources referred to early in the book are "truly ancient archives" from the planet Sark. These were "ferrite cores" stored in a "large warren crammed with ancient ceramo storage racks." (p. 53) The data cores held computer simulations of historic/legendary figures which the scientists of Sark hoped would "blow the lid off the whole question of pre-Empire origins, the Earth legend--the works!" (p. 53)

"Whoever had brought them [chimpanzees called "pans"] here might have been trying a domestication experiment, but the records from 13,000 years before were lost. Why?" (p. 244) While searching for clues in the research station library, Hari is bemused by the antiquated quality of the data he encounters:

Some data was encrusted with age, quite literally. In the vector spaces portrayed on huge screens, the research data of millenia ago were covered with thick, bulky protocols and scabs of security precautions. All were easily broken or averted, of course, by present methods. (p. 252)

Whether this is a deliberate obfuscation by Asimov or his character of the distinction between a library, an archives and a musuem, Seldon refers to neurological knowledge as "ancient studies, their data from museums long lost." (p. 253)

The pans are part of a neural-immersion experience on the planet Panucopia and Seldon and his wife barely escape a clever assassination attempt while living as primates.

The computer sims of Voltaire and Joan of Arc discovered on Sark take on, through Voltaire's ceaseless experiments in cyberspace, personalities far beyond what their original designers had anticipated. They encounter a lifeform hinted at in a quote from the Encyclopedia Galactica, a formulaic device in all the Foundation novels:

GALACTIC PREHISTORY-- ... the destruction of all earlier records during the expansion of humanity through the Galaxy, with the attendant eras of warfare, leaves in shadow the entire problem of human origins. The enormous changes wrought on so many worlds also erased any evidence for much older, alien civilizations. These societies may have existed, though there is no firm evidence for them. Some early historians believed that at least one type of remnant might have survived in the Galaxy: the electromagnetic records. These would have to be lodged in plasma streams or coronal loops of stars, and thus lie beyond the detection of Expansionist technology. ... Another theory holds that cultures might have "written" themselves into pre-Empire computer codes, and thus now reside undetected in some banks of ancient data. ...(p. 304)

In a dialogue between Robot Olivaw and his charge Dors, whom he assigned to serve and protect Seldon in Prelude to Foundation, Olivaw reveals that he has been manipulating the historical record for eons (p. 344):

   "There are signs in the historical record that this [the reinvention of robots] has happened before." [remarks Dors]
   "You are an insightful scholar."
   "There are only a few traces, but I suspect--"
   "Suspect no further. You are correct. I could not expunge every scrap of data."
   "You disguised such events?"
   "And much else."
   "Why? As an historian--"
   "I had to. Humanity is best served by Imperial stability. ..."

Original Novel Title: Psychohistorical Crisis

Author: Donald Kingsbury

Publisher: New York, NY: Tor Books, December 2001 (hardcover); 2002 (paperback)

All quotations are from the paperback edition.


Foundation's Fear dustjacketRead more about and purchase Foundation's Fear via

Foundation and Chaos dustjacketRead more about and purchase Foundation and Chaosvia

Foundation's Triumph dustjacketRead more about and purchase Foundation's Triumph via

 Read more about and purchase Psychohistorical Crisis via

CONTENTS: The Fictional World of Archives

Submitted by David Mattison, 1997.05.21. Updated 2007.03.19.