Prelude to Foundation

Prelude to Foundation

by Isaac Asimov

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This daring story of humanity’s future introduces one of the great masterworks of science fiction: the Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov. Unsurpassed for their unique blend of nonstop action, bold ideas, and extensive world-building, they chronicle the struggle of a courageous group of people to save civilization from a relentless tide of darkness and violence—beginning with one exceptional man.

It is the year 12,020 G.E. and Emperor Cleon I sits uneasily on the Imperial throne of Trantor. Here in the great multidomed capital of the Galactic Empire, forty billion people have created a civilization of unimaginable technological and cultural complexity. Yet Cleon knows there are those who would see him fall—those whom he would destroy if only he could read the future. 

Hari Seldon has come to Trantor to deliver his paper on psychohistory, his remarkable theory of prediction. Little does the young Outworld mathematician know that he has already sealed his fate and the fate of humanity. For Hari possesses the prophetic power that makes him the most wanted man in the Empire . . . the man who holds the key to the future—an apocalyptic power to be known forever after as the Foundation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553900958
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/14/2012
Series: Foundation Series
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 13,849
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Isaac Asimov began his Foundation Series at the age of twenty-one, not realizing that it would one day be considered a cornerstone of science fiction. During his legendary career, Asimov penned over 470 books on subjects ranging from science to Shakespeare to history, though he was most loved for his award-winning science fiction sagas, which include the Robot, Empire, and Foundation series. Named a Grand Master of Science Fiction by the Science Fiction Writers of America, Asimov entertained and educated readers of all ages for close to five decasdes. He died, at age of seventy-two, in April 1992.

Date of Birth:

January 20, 1920

Date of Death:

April 6, 1992

Place of Birth:

Petrovichi, Russia

Place of Death:

New York, New York


Columbia University, B.S. in chemistry, 1939; M.A. in chemistry, 1941; Ph.D. in biochemistry, 1948

Read an Excerpt

CLEON I-- . . . The last Galactic Emperor of the Entun dynasty. He was born in the year 11,988 of the Galactic Era, the same year in which Hari Seldon was born. (It is thought that Seldon's birthdate, which some consider doubtful, may have been adjusted to match that of Cleon, whom Seldon, soon after his arrival on Trantor, is supposed to have encountered.)

Having succeeded to the Imperial throne in 12,010 at the age of twenty-two, Cleon I's reign represented a curious interval of quiet in those troubled times. This is undoubtedly due to the skills of his Chief of Staff, Eto Demerzel, who so carefully obscured himself from public record that little is known about him.

Cleon himself . . .



Suppressing a small yawn, Cleon said, "Demerzel, have you by any chance ever heard of a man named Hari Seldon?"

Cleon had been Emperor for just over ten years and there were times at state occasions when, dressed in the necessary robes and regalia, he could manage to look stately. He did so, for instance, in the holograph of himself that stood in the niche in the wall behind him. It was placed so that it clearly dominated the other niches holding the holographs of several of his ancestors.

The holograph was not a totally honest one, for though Cleon's hair was light brown in hologram and reality alike, it was a bit thicker in the holograph. There was a certain asymmetry to his real face, for the left side of his upper lip raised itself a bit higher than the right side, and this was somehow not evident in the holograph. And if he had stood up and placed himself beside the holograph, he would have been seen to be 2 centimeters under the 1.83-meter height that the image portrayed--and perhaps a bit stouter.

Of course, the holograph was the official coronation portrait and he had been younger then. He still looked young and rather handsome, too, and when he was not in the pitiless grip of official ceremony, there was a kind of vague good nature about his face.

Demerzel said, with the tone of respect that he carefully cultivated, "Hari Seldon? It is an unfamiliar name to me, Sire. Ought I to know of him?"

"The Minister of Science mentioned him to me last night. I thought you might."

Demerzel frowned slightly, but only very slightly, for one does not frown in the Imperial presence. "The Minister of Science, Sire, should have spoken of this man to me as Chief of Staff. If you are to be bombarded from every side--"

Cleon raised his hand and Demerzel stopped at once. "Please, Demerzel, one can't stand on formality at all times. When I passed the Minister at last night's reception and exchanged a few words with him, he bubbled over. I could not refuse to listen and I was glad I had, for it was interesting."

"In what way interesting, Sire?"

"Well, these are not the old days when science and mathematics were all the rage. That sort of thing seems to have died down somehow, perhaps because all the discoveries have been made, don't you think? Apparently, however, interesting things can still happen. At least I was told it was interesting."

"By the Minister of Science, Sire?"

"Yes. He said that this Hari Seldon had attended a convention of mathematicians held here in Trantor--they do this every ten years, for some reason--and he said that he had proved that one could foretell the future mathematically."

Demerzel permitted himself a small smile. "Either the Minister of Science, a man of little acumen, is mistaken or the mathematician is. Surely, the matter of foretelling the future is a children's dream of magic."

"Is it, Demerzel? People believe in such things."

"People believe in many things, Sire."

"But they believe in such things. Therefore, it doesn't matter whether the forecast of the future is true or not. If a mathematician should predict a long and happy reign for me, a time of peace and prosperity for the Empire-- Eh, would that not be well?"

"It would be pleasant to hear, certainly, but what would it accomplish, Sire?"

"But surely if people believe this, they would act on that belief. Many a prophecy, by the mere force of its being believed, is transmuted to fact. These are 'self-fulfilling prophecies.' Indeed, now that I think of it, it was you who once explained this to me."

Demerzel said, "I believe I did, Sire." His eyes were watching the Emperor carefully, as though to see how far he might go on his own. "Still, if that be so, one could have any person make the prophecy."

"Not all persons would be equally believed, Demerzel. A mathematician, however, who could back his prophecy with mathematical formulas and terminology, might be understood by no one and yet believed by everyone."

Demerzel said, "As usual, Sire, you make good sense. We live in troubled times and it would be worthwhile to calm them in a way that would require neither money nor military effort--which, in recent history, have done little good and much harm."

"Exactly, Demerzel," said the Emperor with excitement. "Reel in this Hari Seldon. You tell me you have your strings stretching to every part of this turbulent world, even where my forces dare not go. Pull on one of those strings, then, and bring in this mathematician. Let me see him."

"I will do so, Sire," said Demerzel, who had already located Seldon and who made a mental note to commend the Minister of Science for a job well done.


Hari Seldon did not make an impressive appearance at this time. Like the Emperor Cleon I, he was thirty-two years old, but he was only 1.73 meters tall. His face was smooth and cheerful, his hair dark brown, almost black, and his clothing had the unmistakable touch of provinciality about it.

To anyone in later times who knew of Hari Seldon only as a legendary demigod, it would seem almost sacrilegious for him not to have white hair, not to have an old lined face, a quiet smile radiating wisdom, not to be seated in a wheelchair. Even then, in advanced old age, his eyes had been cheerful, however. There was that.

And his eyes were particularly cheerful now, for his paper had been given at the Decennial Convention. It had even aroused some interest in a distant sort of way and old Osterfith had nodded his head at him and had said, "Ingenious, young man. Most ingenious." Which, coming from Osterfith, was satisfactory. Most satisfactory.

But now there was a new--and quite unexpected--development and Seldon wasn't sure whether it should increase his cheer and intensify his satisfaction or not.

He stared at the tall young man in uniform--the Spaceship-and-Sun neatly placed on the left side of his tunic.

"Lieutenant Alban Wellis," said the officer of the Emperor's Guard before putting away his identification. "Will you come with me now, sir?"

Wellis was armed, of course. There were two other Guardsmen waiting outside his door. Seldon knew he had no choice, for all the other's careful politeness, but there was no reason he could not seek information. He said, "To see the Emperor?"

"To be brought to the Palace, sir. That's the extent of my instructions."

"But why?"

"I was not told why, sir. And I have my strict instructions that you must come with me--one way or another."

"But this seems as though I am being arrested. I have done nothing to warrant that."

"Say, rather, that it seems you are being given an escort of honor--if you delay me no further."

Seldon delayed no further. He pressed his lips together, as though to block off further questions, nodded his head, and stepped forward. Even if he was going to meet the Emperor and to receive Imperial commendation, he found no joy in it. He was for the Empire--that is, for the worlds of humanity in peace and union--but he was not for the Emperor.

The lieutenant walked ahead, the other two behind. Seldon smiled at those he passed and managed to look unconcerned. Outside the hotel they climbed into an official ground-car. (Seldon ran his hand over the upholstery; he had never been in anything so ornate.)

They were in one of the wealthiest sections of Trantor. The dome was high enough here to give a sensation of being in the open and one could swear--even one such as Hari Seldon, who had been born and brought up on an open world--that they were in sunlight. You could see no sun and no shadows, but the air was light and fragrant.

And then it passed and the dome curved down and the walls narrowed in and soon they were moving along an enclosed tunnel, marked periodically with the Spaceship-and-Sun and so clearly reserved (Seldon thought) for official vehicles.

A door opened and the ground-car sped through. When the door closed behind them, they were in the open--the true, the real open. There were 250 square kilometers of the only stretch of open land on Trantor and on it stood the Imperial Palace. Seldon would have liked a chance to wander through that open land--not because of the Palace, but because it also contained the Galactic University and, most intriguing of all, the Galactic Library.

And yet, in passing from the enclosed world of Trantor into the open patch of wood and parkland, he had passed into a world in which clouds dimmed the sky and a chill wind ruffled his shirt. He pressed the contact that closed the ground-car's window.

It was a dismal day outside.


Seldon was not at all sure he would meet the Emperor. At best, he would meet some official in the fourth or fifth echelon who would claim to speak for the Emperor.

How many people ever did see the Emperor? In person, rather than on holovision? How many people saw the real, tangible Emperor, an Emperor who never left the Imperial grounds that he, Seldon, was now rolling over.

The number was vanishingly small. Twenty-five million inhabited worlds, each with its cargo of a billion human beings or more--and among all those quadrillions of human beings, how many had, or would ever, lay eyes on the living Emperor. A thousand?

And did anyone care? The Emperor was no more than a symbol of Empire, like the Spaceship-and-Sun but far less pervasive, far less real. It was his soldiers and his officials, crawling everywhere, that now represented an Empire that had become a dead weight upon its people--not the Emperor.

So it was that when Seldon was ushered into a moderately sized, lavishly furnished room and found a young-looking man sitting on the edge of a table in a windowed alcove, one foot on the ground and one swinging over the edge, he found himself wondering that any official should be looking at him in so blandly good-natured a way. He had already experienced the fact, over and over, that government officials--and particularly those in the Imperial service--looked grave at all times, as though bearing the weight of the entire Galaxy on their shoulders. And it seemed the lower in importance they were, the graver and more threatening their expression.

This, then, might be an official so high in the scale, with the sun of power so bright upon him, that he felt no need of countering it with clouds of frowning.

Seldon wasn't sure how impressed he ought to be, but he felt that it would be best to remain silent and let the other speak first.

The official said, "You are Hari Seldon, I believe. The mathematician."

Seldon responded with a minimal "Yes, sir," and waited again.

The young man waved an arm. "It should be 'Sire,' but I hate ceremony. It's all I get and I weary of it. We are alone, so I will pamper myself and eschew ceremony. Sit down, professor."

Halfway through the speech, Seldon realized that he was speaking to the Emperor Cleon, First of that Name, and he felt the wind go out of him. There was a faint resemblance (now that he looked) to the official holograph that appeared constantly in the news, but in that holograph, Cleon was always dressed imposingly, seemed taller, nobler, frozen-faced.

And here he was, the original of the holograph, and somehow he appeared to be quite ordinary.

Seldon did not budge.

The Emperor frowned slightly and, with the habit of command present even in the attempt to abolish it, at least temporarily, said peremptorily, "I said, 'Sit down,' man. That chair. Quickly."

Seldon sat down, quite speechless. He could not even bring himself to say, "Yes, Sire."

Cleon smiled. "That's better. Now we can talk like two fellow human beings, which, after all, is what we are once ceremony is removed. Eh, my man?"

Seldon said cautiously, "If Your Imperial Majesty is content to say so, then it is so."

"Oh, come, why are you so cautious? I want to talk to you on equal terms. It is my pleasure to do so. Humor me."

"Yes, Sire."

"A simple 'Yes,' man. Is there no way I can reach you?"

Cleon stared at Seldon and Seldon thought it was a lively and interested stare.

Finally the Emperor said, "You don't look like a mathematician."

At last, Seldon found himself able to smile. "I don't know what a mathematician is supposed to look like, Your Imp--"

Cleon raised a cautioning hand and Seldon choked off the honorific.

Cleon said, "White-haired, I suppose. Bearded, perhaps. Old, certainly."

"Yet even mathematicians must be young to begin with."

"But they are then without reputation. By the time they obtrude themselves on the notice of the Galaxy, they are as I have described."

"I am without reputation, I'm afraid."

"Yet you spoke at this convention they held here."

"A great many of us did. Some were younger than myself. Few of us were granted any attention whatever."

"Your talk apparently attracted the attention of some of my officials. I am given to understand that you believe it possible to predict the future."

Seldon suddenly felt weary. It seemed as though this misinterpretation of his theory was constantly going to occur. Perhaps he should not have presented his paper.

He said, "Not quite, actually. What I have done is much more limited than that. In many systems, the situation is such that under some conditions chaotic events take place. That means that, given a particular starting point, it is impossible to predict outcomes. This is true even in some quite simple systems, but the more complex a system, the more likely it is to become chaotic. It has always been assumed that anything as complicated as human society would quickly become chaotic and, therefore, unpredictable. What I have done, however, is to show that, in studying human society, it is possible to choose a starting point and to make appropriate assumptions that will suppress the chaos. That will make it possible to predict the future, not in full detail, of course, but in broad sweeps; not with certainty, but with calculable probabilities."

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Prelude to Foundation 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First and formost you need to read all the empire and robot series to fully appreciate the depth and brilliance of Azimov's story telling attributes. Do not let yourself miss a great and epic story from beginning to end. If you only read the Foundation series, this is a great place to start. It is a prequel and it sets up the rest of hte series nicely.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This Asimov prequel to the Foundation series offers a perfect original story of the protagonist and his first adventures.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first Isaac Asimov novel I read, and I recommend reading this one before going on to the original Foundation trilogy. Asimov creates a fantastic portrait of humanity thousands of years in the future, and animates a game of cat-and-mouse that plays out as if you were actually there. This book took me to another place and I regret having to come back at the end. I give it four stars because the original Foundation trilogy is impeccably brilliant, especially when one considers that Asimov was only 21 when he wrote them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Absolutely the best of the foundation novels for me! INCREDIBLE ending! i have never been quite as insanely joyously shocked out of my mind when the first huge twist occurred, then the second, then the third left me solidly believing that this is one of asimov's greatest books if read in context with his other writings. i will admit, i guessed who Da-nee and Ba-lee were (in the robot novels) but never expected those last few chapters! a MUST read for any robot/foundation fan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A classic in any context. This is a novel firmly rooted in the series as one of the best. Showcases the authors immense talents and furthering a story rich in detail and prose.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite series of books. There is so much that can be learned about our basic humanity from the works of Isaac Asimov. They should be required reading!
Britt84 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved it, great story, gripping, everything you want in a good scifi story. Started off a bit slow, but got better and better.I really liked the ending, it took me completely by surprise. The funny thing is, I had considered that Demerzel might be a robot, and I had considered that Hummin might be a robot, but I never considered they would both be the same person, AND a robot :PAnd it's Daneel!!! I love Daneel! Really really really looking forward to the next part :)
dsoj84 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Maybe it was just me, but i was not very happy with the book. I loved the original foundation series and expected a lot from the prequel. The book was written many years after the original series ended and it seems as if something is missing. I kept reading the book and the more i read the more disappointed i got. i admit i expected a lot more. however if you like the foundation series then it is must read.
mantooth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Favorite in this series regarding psycho history and predicting the course of the galactic empire. This book involves the central character to the books that sets in motion the entire series, however in future books Seldon is less of a focus.
papyri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderful prequil to the Foundation Series. Exciting story. One of those books you do not want to put down once you have started reading and are longing for more when you have finished it.
Jitsusama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A really good read. Light politics, strong character development, action, and a weaving plot line made this book a wonderful page turner. Strangely enough, I was looking for more of a focus on the technology of this world, and instead received more of a social/political commentary on an imaginary future. Not that this was a bad thing, just wasn't expected :)
palmer73 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I've read by Asimov, no particular reason why I started picking up this particular series. I'm familiar with I, Robot and the robot laws he devised but after reading this novel I'm finding Asimov to be much more interesting of a read on a different human pyschological/political bent. This particular book was written well after the first Foundation which I just recently started reading. It's interesting to see how much easier it is to build upon our own hind-sighted creations when we've had time to think about our lot over time. Based on what I've read with Preludes, it seems Asimov creates a universe that was totally representative of the times he wrote in. I expect more of the same as I continue the series.
coffyman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked it. I'm on my way to read the entire series.
weakley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A much better work! You can tell that this was written very late in his career. It begins to tie together the three series of books by Asimov into a cohesive story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fast moving. Event catch you unprepared. Leaves you wanting to know the next stage. Great read.
acrn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great introduction to the later Foundation works. Mildly amusing, as i read it AFTER i read most Foundation novels, but who knows, i enjoyed this book.
MorHavok on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Prelude to Foundation is a novel following the scholar Hari Seldon. Hari has proven that predicting the future is possible, in a limited way. This becomes the defining point in his life as he is then embroiled in a mess of political maneuvering and intrigue. From his meeting with the Emperor to every other political figure head on the planet Trantor, Hari must struggle to protect himself and his new theory. Prelude is a decent book. It didn¿t draw me in over much, and the story is not especially exciting. Not a ton of action takes place, and yet not a ton of philosophizing either. There is a lot of world building though. You do get a good feel for the planet of Trantor, and how complex all of the empire is. There is also some common themes such as classism, or blind faith. It¿s interesting to see how these are portrayed in this future world. I also found the idea of losing knowledge of Earth interesting since the empire is so old. The idea of psychohistory is also intriguing. I have had this idea when I was younger, and having it put into print and explained a little bit more in detail helped define it a bit more. I would recommend this book to anyone planning on reading the series, but as a stand alone book there are probably better ones out there.
sgerbic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reviewed July 1999 Well here is the beginning book for the Foundation part of the series, last year I had decided to take a break from the series. Now I¿ve finished the main books and I need to read/reread the robot novels. I really think that Asimov¿s favorite part about continuing this series was that he got to develop such fun sub-cultures located on Trantor. Asimov spent too much time dewling on Sheldon¿s escape from Upperside and who might be after him. The visit to Mycogen was interesting but could see no purpose for Hummin to send him there. The violent escapade to Dahl seemed a lot overdone, and Raych was a poorly done Dicken¿s child. Dors and her overprotectness was just too unreal. Only Hummin and Sheldon seemed to be well written. The nutty daughter at the end should have received more space in the book and given less to Raych. The jokes about Wye show Asimov¿s personality. I enjoyed learning about the imprisoned emperor, kept outdoors his entire life. The constant babble about psychohistory (which is a dumb name) wore me out. I understood it better before he tired over and over to explain it. The true identity of Hummin was surely a surprise I didn¿t expect but should have guessed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love ? this saga…
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