Friday, April 1, 2011
Foundation and Earth
ON August 1, 1941, when I was a lad of twenty-one, I was a graduate student in chemistry at Columbia University and had been writing science fiction professionally for three years. I was hastening to see John Campbell, editor of Astounding, to whom I had sold five stories by then. I was anxious to tell him a new idea I had for a science fiction story.
It was to write a historical novel of the future; to tell the story of the fall of the Galactic Empire. My enthusiasm must have been catching, for Campbell grew as excited as I was. He didn’t want me to write a single story. He wanted a series of stories, in which the full history of the thousand years of turmoil between the fall of the First Galactic Empire and the rise of the Second Galactic Empire was to be outlined. It would all be illuminated by the science of “psychohistory” that Campbell and I thrashed out between us.
The first story appeared in the May 1942 Astounding and the second story appeared in the June 1942 issue. They were at once popular and Campbell saw to it that I wrote six more stories before the end of the decade. The stories grew longer, too. The first one was only twelve thousand words long. Two of the last three stories were fifty thousand words apiece.
By the time the decade was over, I had grown tired of the series, dropped it, and went on to other things. By then, however, various publishing houses were beginning to put out hardcover science fiction books. One such house was a small semiprofessional firm, Gnome Press. They published my Foundation series in three volumes: Foundation (1951); Foundation and Empire (1952); and Second Foundation (1953). The three books together came to be known as The Foundation Trilogy.
The books did not do very well, for Gnome Press did not have the capital with which to advertise and promote them. I got neither statements nor royalties from them.
In early 1961, my then editor at Doubleday, Timothy Seldes, told me he had received a request from a foreign publisher to reprint the Foundation books. Since they were not Doubleday books, he passed the request on to me.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Not interested, Tim. I don’t get royalties on those books.”
Seldes was horrified, and instantly set about getting the rights to the books from Gnome Press (which was, by that time, moribund) and in August of that year, the books (along with I, Robot) became Doubleday property.
From that moment on, the Foundation series took off and began to earn increasing royalties. Doubleday published the Trilogy in a single volume and distributed them through the Science Fiction Book Club. Because of that the Foundation series became enormously well-known.
In the 1966 World Science Fiction Convention, held in Cleveland, the fans were asked to vote on a category of “The Best All-Time Series.” It was the first time (and, so far, the last) the category had been included in the nominations for the Hugo Award. The Foundation Trilogy won the award, which further added to the popularity of the series.
Increasingly, fans kept asking me to continue the series. I was polite but I kept refusing. Still, it fascinated me that people who had not yet been born when the series was begun had managed to become caught up in it.
Doubleday, however, took the demands far more seriously than I did. They had humored me for twenty years but as the demands kept growing in intensity and number, they finally lost patience. In 1981, they told me that I simply had to write another Foundation novel and, in order to sugar-coat the demand, offered me a contract at ten times my usual advance.
Nervously, I agreed. It had been thirty-two years since I had written a Foundation story and now I was instructed to write one 140,000 words long, twice that of any of the earlier volumes and nearly three times as long as any previous individual story. I re-read The Foundation Trilogy and, taking a deep breath, dived into the task.
The fourth book of the series, Foundation’s Edge, was published in October 1982, and then a very strange thing happened. It appeared in the New York Times bestseller list at once. In fact, it stayed on that list for twenty-five weeks, much to my utter astonishment. Nothing like that had ever happened to me.
Doubleday at once signed me up to do additional novels and I wrote two that were part of another series, The Robot Novels -And then it was time to return to the Foundation.
So I wrote Foundation and Earth, which begins at the very moment that Foundation’s Edge ends, and that is the book you now hold. It might help if you glanced over Foundation’s Edge just to refresh your memory, but you don’t have to. Foundation and Earth stands by itself. I hope you enjoy it
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