There’s no such thing as “The Foundation Trilogy.”
Although Isaac Asimov’s well-known science fiction series is sometimes referred to as a trio of books, there are, in fact, seven Asimov Foundation novels. Turns out, the new Apple TV+ adaptation takes elements from all seven, but as series showrunner David S. Goyer and star Lee Pace tell Inverse, these characters and stories won’t be what longtime readers of the books expect. In fact, the series may even reveal Asimov Foundation concepts that were never published. Here’s your guide to how the new show “remixes” all of the books. Mild spoilers ahead for Foundation.
The origins of Foundation
According to Alec Nevala-Lee’s history book, Astounding, Isaac Asimov was inspired to write Foundation by an illustration from the opera Iolanthe contained in a book of Gilbert and Sullivan lyrics he was reading while riding a train. The figure of Prince Willis “made him think of soldiers and Empires” and caused him to pitch a short story about huge future history that would be about the “the collapse of the Galactic Empire.” This was 1941, Asimov was only 21 years old, and the editor he pitched was John Campbell, who ran the famous science fiction magazine Astounding. Campbell pressured Asimov to expand the idea into a series of short stories, sometimes called “novelettes.”
Subsequently, when the “novel” version of Foundation was published in 1951, it was comprised of these short stories, adapted to be made into a cohesive book. In fact, all three novels in the original trilogy — Foundation, Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953) — were originally published as serialized, interconnected short stories. The point being, Asimov did not have a plan — at all. On top of that, the original book versions of Foundation, published by Gnome Press, were not very successful. It wasn’t until Doubleday republished the books in 1961 that they blew up in popularity.
“I do have some secret knowledge of what he was planning on doing.”
By the 1980s, after decades of not touching this franchise, Asimov wrote two more sequels, Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986). These were followed by two prequel novels, Prelude to Foundation (1988), and Forward the Foundation (1993, published posthumously). In these four books, Asimov connected the continuity of his Empire series and various robot books into one giant canon. In fact, in Foundation and Earth, it was revealed that the robot Eto Demerzel was actually partially responsible for helping Hari Seldon develop the theory of “psychohistory.” In the new TV series, Demerzel is played by Laura Birn and has a similar role. But if you were to read the original Foundation trilogy, you’d never see that name, since the connection wasn’t made until the later books. This detail is the tip of the iceberg in the way the new Apple TV series approaches the adaptions of not three books, but at least seven.
Apple’s Foundation “remix”
In conversation with Inverse, Foundation showrunner David S. Goyer explains the show’s unique approach to adapting the books.
“To a certain extent, we're dealing with the trilogy, the prequels, and the sequels,” Goyer says. “But I've remixed them. Some of the elements from the sequels will be showing up in Season 1, and some of the elements from the prequels will be showing up in Season 2.”
Outside of the character Demerzel, the most obvious and prominent of Goyer’s remix are the characters that appear to be entirely new, the cloned emperors who make up the Cleonic dynasty: Brother Dawn, Brother Day, and Brother Dusk. The character of Cleon I is from Asimov’s novels, notably the prequel Prelude to Foundation. However, the idea that Cleon is cloned over and over again is unique to this show.
For Pace, who plays various Emperor Cleon clones, the brilliance of the series is in how it centers this millennia-spanning story around several characters who have found a way to live forever. In the case of Cleon, that means cloning himself over and over so he can live (and rule) forever.
“When they approached me about playing Cleon, I was like, damn, David Goyer cracked it,” Pace says.
Without spoiling anything, Pace points out that each of his performances as various versions of Cleon is influenced by the other actors playing one of his other clones at different stages of their lives. In just the first few episodes, we see Terrance Mann as Brother Dusk, and the young Cooper Carter as the child, Brother Day.
“We had a strategy about how we were going to approach playing the same man like this,” Pace says. “We're watching each other and trying to be specific about, you know, who these men are. Even though that they look the same, they are not the same. At all.”
Foundation’s plan for Season 2 and beyond
Despite some of the remixing, the first episode of Foundation does stick pretty close to the basic ideas of the stories presented in the first book. In both the book and series, Gaal Dornick is summoned to Trantor to work with Hari Seldon on his psychohistory project, which immediately gets bonkers when Seldon starts making mathematical proclamations about the impending doom of the Empire. The paths of Hari and Gaal after that first episode differ from the books pretty significantly, but it seems Foundation still needed the same basic setup to make the whole series work.
“Asimov was obviously smart enough to say, I'm going to throw a whole lot of crazy ideas at you,” Goyer says. “And so, we need a point of view character, we need someone who's not of Trantor, who is not of the Empire. That character is Gaal.”
“I did have to show Apple a roadmap for Season 2, Season 3, and Season 4.”
Despite the massive time-jumps in Foundation, Gaal’s presence and Hari’s influence, extend well beyond the initial episodes they appear in. Still, because the timeline of this series aims to cover 1,000 years of future galactic history, some characters will naturally come, and others will go. The question is, how many seasons of Foundation will there be? What’s the plan?
“I did have to show Apple a roadmap for Season 2, Season 3, and Season 4,” Goyer reveals. “So a lot of pre-planning went into Season. 1. There are definitely plotlines that we've set up in Season 1 that we hope to bring to fruition in later seasons.”
Unlike Isaac Asimov — writing various stories on demand to be published in a pulp magazine and then trying to make sense of those stories in other novels decades later — the TV version of Foundation has a big, methodical plan. And the most interesting piece of the puzzle is the tantalizing fact that Goyer and the rest of the team have access to some unpublished material that might complete the story.
Because Isaac Asimov’s daughter Robyn Asimov, is a producer on the show, it appears some science fiction vaults have revealed brand new treasures.
“Asimov himself never finished the series,” Goyer says. “He never got to the end of the 1,000 years. If we're fortunate enough, in the show to get there, I do have some secret knowledge of what he was planning on doing. And that will help chart the way.”
Foundation is streaming now on Apple TV+.