Top positive review
Marvellous Conclusion to the Series
Reviewed in the United States on January 23, 2021
By a terrible coincidence, I read this book that talks about mobs acting irrationally when guided by messianic leaders (in the book, the leader is Jo-Jo Joranum) exactly when mobs in Washington, DC stormed Capitol Hill. This alone renders a completely new meaning to Foundation in general and 'Forward' in particular.
Anyone who has minimal familiarity with Isaac Asimov's saga knows that Hari Seldon predicts through psychohistory that the Galactic Empire is in a state of decay and decline and that he works to remedy the consequences of a such decay. But it is only here, in 'Forward', that it becomes clearer that Hari Seldon decides to write the Galactic Encyclopedia because he wants to preserve culture and all human knowledge, as he believes those are destroyed when civilization falls apart (pretty much as symbols of democracy at Capitol Hill were damaged by the mob). Maybe Asimov was only echoing something dark that was happening in the early 1990s, but the message is still quite strong to our current reality. It is like Margareth Atwood's 'Handmaid's Tale', published in 1985 and amazingling relevant to this date.
While 'Forward' is a much slower book than the best ones in the Foundation series, it is still a very nice and fulfilling closure. Structurally, it is closer to the first 'Foundation', which is not necessarily a good thing, with many jumps in time (from Hari Seldon at 40 with Eto Demerzel, then at 60, and finally at 70), short chapters and a sort of less laborious style, some chapters consisting almost of dialogs only.
But 'Forward' sounds all the time more personal and intimate than anything else in the Foundation series, and the fact that the Epilogue is written in first person reinforces that feel. It is Isaac Asimov's farewell, as much as is Hari Seldon's farewell. The whole book deals with the idea of growing old and witnessing the decay of the body and the losses that come with them, and that covers the whole book with a bitter-sour and sad taste, something that I also felt in 'Star Trek Picard' (and I like the Amazon series very much). As Hari Seldon ages and misses his beloved ones, it is impossible not to stop to imagine how Isaac Asimov himself was facing his own elderliness, when "even if he could look forward to some additional decades, the years of his most fruitful breakthroughs were surely behind him." With that as underlying context, it is impossible not to feel attached to the book and forgiving of any flaws it might have.
Many argue about the pros and cons of reading the Foundation series in publication order or chronological order (as the events in the two last published books 'Prelude' and 'Forward' occur before those of the first 'Foundation'). I am definitely for publication order.
Not that reading the books in chronological order would cause any harm. Asimov did envision that the books might be read in chronological order and very competently managed to write all books so that none of the mysteries and secrets in 'Second', 'Edge' or 'Earth' is taken for granted in 'Prelude' and 'Forward' (in particular, the whole mystery about "Star's End" is carefully preserved in 'Forward'). Moreover, reading 'Forward' first could enrich the understanding of later books, in particular the origins of The Mule in 'Empire' and the references to the Robot Series in 'Edge' and 'Earth'. So the pleasure of reading in chronological order or publication order may work just the same. Indeed, the temptation to start (re)reading the first 'Foundation' after finishing 'Forward' is almost irrestible, which is exactly what I did, and I must confess that I liked the first part of 'Foundation' much more the second time, as the whole description of Trantor seemed so well connected with that in 'Prelude' and 'Forward'.
However, there is one experience that only those who read the books in publication order will have: the pleasure of concluding a long journey of seven books by reading the very last words of 'Forward'. As I was advancing the last chapters, that was exactly the way I felt, that I was indeed concluding a journey with Asimov himself (and I would have been very happy already if the book ended in Chapter 33 of Part 4, which is one of the best chapters in the book).
That is why I say that nothing compares with the feeling I had when I turned the very last page of the Epilogue of this book and read Asimov's book dedication.
I could only feel the tears in my eyes with a silent gratitude.