An Obscure Sci-Fi Prequel Just Got Rewritten In The Best Way Possible
The origin story of the greatest fictional mathematicians is suddenly personal.
When Isaac Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy of novels was first published between 1951 and 1953, those original books presented math-genius Hari Seldon as a force of nature. Since 2021, the Apple TV+ adaptation of the Foundation books has done the same, establishing Hari Seldon as the soothsayer of a mathematically predictable future. At the start of Season 2, however, Seldon is much more fallible, a fact that actor Jared Harris previously revealed was all part of an effort to make Hari seem less like an all-knowing Sherlock Holmes. And in Episode 6 of Foundation Season 2, “Why the Gods Made Wine,” we witness the true beginning of Hari Seldon, which further humanizes him by retroactively making his Psychohistory origin story specifically connected to heartbreak.
But, interestingly, back in 1988, 35 years after the publication of Second Foundation, author Isaac Asimov also reframed the origin of Hari Seldon with the prequel novel Prelude to Foundation. And now, another 35 years after that, the Foundation TV series is rewriting the Seldon origin again with surprising, and brilliant results. Spoilers.
Hari Seldon’s backstory explained
In “Why the Gods Made Wine,” the latter portion of the episode flashes back not just to Seldon’s unhappy childhood with a super-abusive father, but also to his days as a young professor on the planet Helicon. It’s here that we learn that during this time, Hari fell in love with a colleague at this university, Dr. Yanna Kine (Nimrat Kaur), and, only through her collaboration did he make the theory of psychohistory, and the prime radiant, practical.
Packed into roughly 20 minutes of screen time, we get the entire story of Yanna and Hari, including the moment when Yanna reveals she’s pregnant with their daughter. We also learn, that even way back then, Empire was very interested in Hari’s future-predicting theories, and, as such, attempts to pressure both him and Yanna to leave Helicon and resume their academic work at Streeling University on the more centralized planet Trantor. Hari pushes back against this, hard, which results in their colleague, Dr. Tadj, labeling the pair traitors. Yanna is slain, which sends Hari on a revenge mission, in which he uses a herd of moonshrikes to trample Dr. Tadj. But, in the end, he reallocates to Trantor and Streeling University anyway.
Basically, up until this point, we’ve been able to view Seldon’s dislike of the Empire as somewhat impartial, or at least, connected to the treatment of the Foundation in Season 1. But now, his motivations are retroactively, deeply personal.
How Foundation changes Seldon’s book origin
Asimov’s prequel novel Prelude to Foundation also finds a young Dr. Seldon reallocating from Helicon to Streeling University on Trantor, albeit under less dramatic conditions. In that book, the younger Seldon is encouraged by a character named Chetter Hummin to come to Trantor. In Prelude Hummin also tells Seldon that Eto Demerzel is trying to capture him, which we later learn is a ruse because Hummin is actually R. Daneel Olivaw, an ancient robot, who also goes by the name Demerzel. In the books, Demerzel/Olivaw/Hummin is male but uses various aliases. As of yet, the TV version of Demerzel (Laura Birn) has to been revealed to have any aliases that we know of, but, because Empire ordered Tadj to seize Hari’s work in the show, it stands to reason that just like in the book, Demerzel is behind everything.
What’s very different between Prelude and the new Seldon origin story in the show is the existence of the character of Hari’s partner, Yanna, who does not come from the books at all. In the book, Hari’s companion throughout the story is Dors Venabili, a woman who is not-so-secretly a robot, and later, becomes Hari’s wife. Dors and Yanna are similar only insofar as both are in love with Hari Seldon in their respective stories, both are about his age, and both teach alongside him. But, clearly, Yanna was not a robot, and interestingly, Foundation the TV series has far fewer robots-in-disguise than the Asimov novels.
None of these changes preclude some version of Dors existing later in the show in a different guise, but with the tragic loss of Yanna and his unborn daughter, Hari’s backstory is much darker and more painful than anything Asimov wrote in Prelude to Foundation. This backstory puts Hari, more or less, in the same place he was in the books around the same time. But the man we find in this story is much more complex, and crucially, way more dangerous.