Asimov’s Robot, Empire, and Foundation Series

Asimov is considered as one of the Masters of the Science fiction genre. He was a very prolific author, and he started many book series. 3 of the most famous (the robot series, the empire series, and the foundation series) were later merged together in a single epic 15 volume+ series. It is hard to decide in which order to read them. The author himself provided the list of books in chronological order in “Prelude to Foundation” since the books “were not written in the order in which (perhaps) they should be read”. I personally do not recommend to read the books in exact chronological order because some of the books that were published at the end were prequels that contains many spoilers. As a result I am listing here the books both in chronological order, and in the spoiler-free reading order I recommend.

Chronological Order

As listed by the author in “Prelude to Foundation”, with the addition of “forward the foundation” that he has not written at the time.

Cons: prequel books contain a lot of spoilers for the following books, making the following books a way less enjoyable.

Robot Series

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The Complete Robot
(1982)
Collection of 31 Short Stories, marketed as the definitive anthology of Asimov’s stunning visions of a robotic future. In these stories, Isaac Asimov creates the Three Laws of Robotics and ushers in the Robot Age: when Earth is ruled by master-machines and when robots are more human than mankind.
Buy: [Amazon] or [Book Depository]

The Caves of Steel
(1954)
A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together. Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to the Outer Worlds to help track down the killer. The relationship between Life and his Spacer superiors, who distrusted all Earthmen, was strained from the start. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the “R” stood for robot, and his positronic partner was made in the image and likeness of the murder victim!
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The Naked Sun
(1957)
A millennium into the future, two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the Galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. On the beautiful Outer World planet of Solaria, a handful of human colonists lead a hermit-like existence, their every need attended to by their faithful robot servants. To this strange and provocative planet comes Detective Elijah Baley, sent from the streets of New York with his positronic partner, the robot R. Daneel Olivaw, to solve an incredible murder that has rocked Solaria to its foundations. The victim had been so reclusive that he appeared to his associates only through holographic projection. Yet someone had gotten close enough to bludgeon him to death while robots looked on. Now Baley and Olivaw are faced with two clear impossibilities: Either the Solarian was killed by one of his robots, unthinkable under the laws of Robotics, or he was killed by the woman who loved him so much that she never came into his presence!
Buy: [Amazon]

The Robots of Dawn
(1983)
A millennium into the future two advances have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the Galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together. Detective Elijah Baley is called to the Spacer world Aurora to solve a bizarre case of roboticide. The prime suspect is a gifted roboticist who had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to commit the crime. There’s only one catch: Baley and his positronic partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, must prove the man innocent. For in a case of political intrigue and love between woman and robot gone tragically wrong, there’s more at stake than simple justice. This time Baley’s career, his life, and Earth’s right to pioneer the Galaxy lie in the delicate balance.
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Robots and Empire
(1985)
The fourth (final) Robot novel, linking the robot series with the empire and the foundation series. I would suggest reading it after Pebble in the sky to avoid spoilers.
Long after his humiliating defeat at the hands of Earthman Elijah Baley, Keldon Amadiro embarked on a plan to destroy planet Earth. But even after his death, Baley’s vision continued to guide his robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, who had the wisdom of a great man behind him and an indestructible will to win.
Buy: [Amazon]

Galactic Empire Series

  

The Currents of Space
(1952)
The story take place on the word of Florinia, the only source in the universe of precious kyrt. The inhabitant are subjugated and kept in ignorance by the Sarkite. Things start to change when a scientist is found on Sark with his memories wiped because dangerous for the universe balance. Asimov wrote some extraordinary books, as well as some so-and-so ones. This book sits in the middle. It is well-written and quite entertaining, but it is not as memorable or powerful as others like pebble in the sky.
Buy: [Amazon]

The Stars, Like Dust
(1951)
Biron Farrell was young and naïve, but he was growing up fast. A radiation bomb planted in his dorm room changed him from an innocent student at the University of Earth to a marked man, fleeing desperately from an unknown assassin.
He soon discovers that, many light-years away, his father, the highly respected Rancher of Widemos, has been murdered. Stunned, grief-stricken, and outraged, Biron is determined to uncover the reasons behind his father’s death, and becomes entangled in an intricate saga of rebellion, political intrigue, and espionage.
The mystery takes him deep into space where he finds himself in a relentless struggle with the power-mad despots of Tyrann. Now it is not just a case of life or death for Biron, but a question of freedom for the galaxy.
Buy: [Amazon]

Pebble in the Sky
(1950)
This book made me understand why Isaac Asimov is considered one of the fathers of science fiction. The book is impossible to put down: I found myself staying up all night to see how it ends. On top of being so entertaining, the book also explores interesting themes like xenophobia, and how Religion (“customs” and “traditions” in the book) can potentially be used to enslave people.
One moment Joseph Schwartz is a happily retired tailor in Chicago, 1949. The next he’s a helpless stranger on Earth during the heyday of the first Galactic Empire. Earth, as he soon learns, is a backwater, just a pebble in the sky, despised by all the other 200 million planets of the Empire because its people dare to claim it’s the original home of man. And Earth is poor, with great areas of radioactivity ruining much of its soil—so poor that everyone is sentenced to death at the age of sixty.
Joseph Schwartz is sixty-two.
Buy: [Amazon]

Foundation Series – Prequels

More then thirty years after penning the conclusion of the original trilogy, and 5 years after writing two new sequels, Asimov decided to extend the story further and link it with the empire and robot saga. To avoid spoilers, I would read them at least after “Second foundation“, or even better, after “Foundation and Earth”.

 

Prelude to Foundation
(1988)
It is 12,020 G.E. and Emperor Cleon I sits uneasily on the Imperial throne of Trantor. Here in the great multidomed capital of the Galactic Empire, forty billion people have created a civilization of unimaginable technological and cultural complexity. Yet Cleon knows there are those who’d see him fall, those whom he’d destroy if only he could read the future. Hari Seldon has come to Trantor to deliver his paper on psychohistory, his remarkable theory of prediction. Little does the young Outworld mathematician know that he has already sealed his fate and the fate of humanity. For Hari possesses the prophetic power that makes him the most wanted man in the Empire… the man who holds the key to the future, an apocalyptic power to be known forever after as the Foundation.
Buy: [Amazon]

Forward the Foundation
(1992)
A stunning testament to his creative genius. Forward The Foundation is a the saga’s dramatic climax—the story Asimov fans have been waiting for. An exciting tale of danger, intrigue, and suspense, Forward The Foundation brings to vivid life Asimov’s best loved characters: hero Hari Seldon, who struggles to perfect his revolutionary theory of psychohistory to ensure the survival of humanity; Cleon II, the vain and crafty emperor of the Galactic Empire, doomed as the last scion of a fading dynasty; Eto Demerzel, the mysterious eminence grise of the palace, who wields the power of the throne and guards the fledgling Foundation; Dors Venabili, Seldon’s devoted wife, whose life mission is to protect her husband-whatever the cost; and Wanda Seldon, Hari’s strangely gifted granddaughter, whom he entrusts with this greatest creation —the Second Foundation.
Buy: [Amazon]

Foundation Original Trilogy

    

Foundation
(1951)
This book collects the original 5 stories that started the saga, initially published between 1942-1949.
In 1966 a one-time Hugo awards for the best all time series was given to Isaac Asimov for the Foundation saga. It is well deserved. I read this book as a kid, and I remember enjoying it, but reading it now as an adult I came to appreciate the breath of his work, how daring it is, in creating this fictional future history, modeled after historical pattern of the past.
The story starts with Hari Seldon, a scientist that spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology. Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale. Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting 30 thousand years before a second great empire arises. Seldon also foresees an alternative where the interregnum will last only one thousand years. To ensure the more favorable outcome, Seldon creates a foundation of talented artisans and engineers at the extreme end of the galaxy, to preserve and expand on humanity’s collective knowledge, and thus become the foundation for a new galactic empire.
Buy: [Amazon]

Foundation and Empire
(1952)
This books collects 2 stories originally published in 1945.
As for the previous book, the second installment of the series is a collection of multiple short stories, each set decades apart from each other, each connected to the previous one to tell the history of the “foundation” over the centuries.
Led by its founding father, the great psychohistorian Hari Seldon, and taking advantage of its superior science and technology, the Foundation has survived the greed and barbarism of its neighboring warrior-planets. Yet now it must face the Empire, still the mightiest force in the Galaxy even in its death throes. When an ambitious general determined to restore the Empire’s glory turns the vast Imperial fleet toward the Foundation, the only hope for the small planet of scholars and scientists lies in the prophecies of Hari Seldon. But not even Hari Seldon could have predicted the birth of the extraordinary creature called The Mule, [SPOILER: a mutant intelligence with a power greater than a dozen battle fleets, a power that can turn the strongest-willed human into an obedient slave.]
Buy: [Amazon]

Second Foundation
(1953)
This books collects stories originally published in 1948 and 1949.
As for the previous books, the third (and originally the last) installment of the series is a collection multiple short stories, each set decades apart from each other, each connected to the previous one to tell the history of the “foundation” over the centuries.
After years of struggle, the Foundation lies in ruins—destroyed by the mutant mind power of the Mule. But it is rumored that there is a Second Foundation hidden somewhere at the end of the Galaxy, established to preserve the knowledge of mankind through the long centuries of barbarism. The Mule failed to find it the first time—but now he is certain he knows where it lies. In the second story, the fate of the Foundation rests on young Arcadia Darell, only fourteen years old and burdened with a terrible secret.
Asimov was well known for his lack of interesting, well rounded, female character. That was quite common (unfortunately) at the time, and the author recognized his limitation and attributed it to his lack of success with women at the time. After many quite unremarkable female side characters, Second Foundation’s Arcadia is a groundbreaking and welcomed change: she is captivating, smart, and well-rounded. She is definitely in control of her life, and in the center stage. She is probably one of the most interesting of Asimov’s characters. It does not come as a surprise that, of all the Foundation’s stories, this is often the favorite one.
Buy: [Amazon]

Foundation Sequels

More then thirty years after penning the conclusion of the original trilogy, Asimov delighted his fans with 2 sequels!

  

Foundation’s Edge
(1982)
30 years after the publication of the original Foundation trilogy, Asimov decided to revisit one of his most famous series, and extend it further.
The plot is adroitly waved, and everything fall into place magically like a clockwork. What I did not like were the characters, that are almost stereotypical caricatures… and don’t get me started with the female ones (the books miserably fails the Bechdel–Wallace test). While this was often true for the majority of the foundation stories, with [book:Second Foundation|29580], Asimov managed to create a great, well-rounded character in Arkady Darell, so I was quite disappointed that Asimov would regress to the previous norm.
This said, the book is fun to read thanks to his fast paced and clever plot: some politicians at the first foundation starts to suspect that the second foundation may have not been destroyed as they thought. Some mentalist of the second foundation noticed that the Seldon plan is going too well according to plan. Is somebody else playing the galactic game of thrones?
Buy: [Amazon]

Foundation and Earth
(1983)
The final novel in Asimov’s popular Foundation series opens with second thoughts. Councilman Golan Trevize is wondering if he was right to choose a collective mind as the best possible future for humanity over the anarchy of contentious individuals, nations and planets. To test his conclusion, he decides he must know the past and goes in search of legendary Earth, all references to which have been erased from galactic libraries. The societies encountered along the way become arguing points in a book-long colloquy about man’s fate, conducted by Trevize and traveling companion Bliss, who is part of the first world/mind, Gaia
Buy: [Amazon]

Suggested Reading Order

Pros: no spoilers, maximum enjoyment
Cons: the books are not in chronological order

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