Foundation and Earth (1986) is pretty much a direct sequel to Foundation’s Edge (1982). In case you can’t remember how Foundation’s Edge ended, the entire first chapter is a retread of “what wacky thing did Golan Trevize decide in the previous book?” and “what was this Gaia thing anyway?” So, Councilman Trevize and his history professor buddy Pelorat went out in search for Earth, the mythical place of birth for the human race. In a roundabout way they ended up on Gaia and Trevize made a fateful decision regarding Gaia.
But Trevize doesn’t understand why he made that decision and feels that the answer lies on the real Earth when they find it. So the search is on again!
Notice the time gap between the publication of Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth. Asimov wrote two other Robot novels in between, and Foundation and Earth not only puts a capstone on the entire Foundation series, but it also connects those Robot novels fully into that series. In the search for Earth, Trevize and Pelorat come across a couple of odd planets (Aurora, Solaria, Baleyworld…), and these are the same planets that were visited by Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw in the Robot books (The Caves of Steel (1954), The Naked Sun (1956), going all the way back to the books of the 1950s, and the newer books of the 1980s). A central feature of Foundation and Earth is to discover what happened to these planets 20,000 years after we have last seen them.
When Asimov embarked on the new Foundation novels in the 1980s, Doubleday asked him to double the page count to conform to the new standard. That doesn’t mean that Asimov gives us double the juicy content – just a stretched-out version of the kind of novel he used to write in the 1950s. He adds a lot of water to the meat. And that water comes in the form of long, drawn-out conversations, often going over the same points again and again. Trevize is constantly arguing with his fellow passengers about Gaia, ad nauseam. This is where Asimov’s skill in dialogue falls short and turns his characters into annoyingly one-note people. In his fiction, Asimov remained a writer from the 50s, writing short tales and having some problems with longer formats, and with adding computers and women to his stories. Aw, give the guy a break. He was old.
The search for Earth is an entertaining quest. The fellowship navigates space, odd cultures and ancient myths in search for the truth. If A.E. van Vogt had not written The Voyage of the Space Beagle, Asimov could have used that title. But not all is well with this novel. Some sudden sexual escapades are ridiculous and come completely out of left field. Some astronomy lessons add realism but also feel needlessly inserted to up the page count. Some characters are just mouthpieces who stand ready to narrate the entire history of their planet to Trevize the moment he arrives.
These newer Foundation novels hardly exist in the same spirit or the same conceptual landscape as the earlier books. The Foundation novels of the 50s had an awe-inspiring vision, in which we saw societies change over large time spans, and were a celebration of and a faith in the value of science and knowledge. Very little of that comes back in Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth. The Seldon plan has been replaced by esoteric ideas about consciousness, and we stick with a group of uninspiring characters in a sliver of time. And for the Foundation series as a whole, it cannot hold its own in comparison with other classic series like Dune or The Book of the New Sun. Asimov can certainly play on that level with the strength of his ideas, but he does not have the quality of prose nor the poetic understanding of human interaction.
The story is still entertaining enough to follow and Asimov is an intelligent writer, so I can’t be too critical. I never regret reading one of his books, but high literature this is not, and even compared to many other books in the genre it has many rough edges.