Television’s next science-fiction epic is almost upon us.
And Apple’s ambitious take on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, premiering September 24 this year, looks like it will at least be a philosophically faithful adaptation of the source material, though the TV series is taking creative liberties elsewhere.
You’ve got revolutionary Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) proposing to shorten the galaxy’s new Dark Ages by creating The Foundation, which will rebuild a civilization he believes is on the brink of destruction. Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) has emerged as Seldon’s obvious successor. And the ruling Empire is resisting the rising influence of the Foundation’s smarty-pants scholars, by any means necessary.
But in the middle of all that, something new and not found in Asimov’s novels is already coming into focus. No, it’s not the fact that Gaal is now a woman instead of a man. (Other than Susan Calvin in the Robot books, Asimov didn’t have a great track record with non-male protagonists.)
Instead, the biggest change to Foundation is actually what this new trailer blasts out of the gate with. It’s a change that may reveal the show’s biggest secret and explain the existence of new characters Brother Day, Brother Dusk, and Brother Dawn, three characters created specifically for the series. Here’s what it all might mean. Mild trailer spoilers ahead. Speculation follows.
How Foundation changes the books
Right away, the trailer shows us an old man (Terrence Mann) looking at a floating embryo inside some kind of tank. “I can’t be the first one who wanted to see my youngest self,” he says.
We then get a flash of various versions of this person, from childhood through adulthood. We see actors Cassian Bilton and Lee Pace, who are playing characters named Brother Dawn and Brother Day, respectively. This older character is the mysterious Brother Dusk.
Then, in a voice-over narration, Brother Day (Lee Pace) tells us, “Our genetic dynasty has reigned for almost four centuries.”
Here’s the thing. Having cloned or genetically engineered oligarchs ruling the future Imperium in Foundation is not part of the Asimov books at all. In other words, one basic foundation of this Foundation has changed.
Why Brother Dusk is an Asimov game-changer
Although the first scene in the trailer could imply some kind of time travel, it seems more likely that cloning or another similar sci-fi genetic tomfoolery is taking place in Foundation. The three “Brothers” — Dawn, Day, and Dusk — represent some kind of life cycle for one person, split between three actors. Is this somebody who’s been cloned over and over again? If so, the character isn’t just a departure from the novel — it’s a completely new invention on the part of the series’ writers.
Asimov first published the short story “Foundation” (later retitled “The Encyclopedists”) in 1942. Although genetics were an established science at the time, the discovery of DNA and its role in determining genetic inheritance was not widely known until the next year. Cloning, in addition, didn’t become prominent in science fiction stories until after this date.
In fact, clones and genetic engineering don’t really factor into most Asimov stories at all. An author contributing a 1985 review of Robots and Empire to The Washington Post's Book World section noted that:
“In the Asimov universe, because it was conceived a long time ago, and because its author abhors confusion, there are no computers whose impact is worth noting, no social complexities, no genetic engineering, aliens, arcologies, multiverses, clones, sin or sex...”
At the time, the reviewer was making an aesthetic dig against Asimov, but the more literal point stands. As written, the Imperium in the Foundation from the novel did not feature clones.
Is this change good or bad? As compelling as the Foundation stories are, this universe was first created in the 1940s and then refined in the 1950s, though eventually retconned (by Asimov himself) in the 1980s. We’ve certainly come a long way with science-fiction epics since then, so it only makes sense for Foundation to update its mythology as well.
Will the new Foundation include robots?
One retcon that Asimov did make happen in his lifetime was the retroactive inclusion of robots into the world of Foundation, well after the books hit shelves. 1982’s Foundation’s Edge incorporated robots, as did his 1988 prequel novel Prelude to Foundation. The question is, if the new Foundation show updates its sci-fi nomenclature to include clones, will we be getting Asimovian robots as well? It’s been a while since the tragically unfaithful 2004 film I, Robot, starring Will Smith, and the last time somebody referenced Asimov’s robots in a big sci-fi series was in last year’s season of Star Trek: Picard.
The Foundation trailers do depict some kind of soldier (pictured above) that could signal the show’s inclusion of robots. We know an attack of clones is coming to Foundation. Are robots next?
Foundation hits Apple TV+ on September 24, 2021.