In Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...
The Galactic Empire Series is a science fiction series containing three novels and one short story by the American author Isaac Asimov...
/Foundation series of novels, the Galactic Empire
is an empire
Galactic empires are a common trope used in science fiction and science fantasy, particularly in space opera. Many authors have either used a galaxy-spanning empire as background, or written about the growth or decline of such an empire...
consisting of millions of planets settled by humans across the whole Milky Way Galaxy
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...
. Its symbol is the Spaceship and Sun logo.
Author's creation of the empire
Asimov created the Galactic Empire in the early 1940s based upon the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....
, as a proposal to John W. Campbell
John Wood Campbell, Jr. was an influential figure in American science fiction. As editor of Astounding Science Fiction , from late 1937 until his death, he is generally credited with shaping the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction.Isaac Asimov called Campbell "the most powerful force in...
, after reading Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon was an English historian and Member of Parliament...
's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a non-fiction history book written by English historian Edward Gibbon and published in six volumes. Volume I was published in 1776, and went through six printings. Volumes II and III were published in 1781; volumes IV, V, VI in 1788–89...
. The concept evolved through short stories and novellas in Astounding Science Fiction magazine during the 1940s, culminating in the publication of the Foundation
stories as a trilogy of books in the early 1950s.
The Galactic Empire of the Foundation
series comprises some 25 million worlds. According to the current Foundation series chronology established in the late 1990s, it comes into existence approximately 10,000 CE, year one of the Galactic Era. (The establishment of the Empire was originally 34,500 CE, according to Asimov's unofficial unpublished early 1950s chronology.) The Galactic Empire was made possible by the ability of humans to travel through hyperspace
Hyperspace is a plot device sometimes used in science fiction. It is typically described as an alternative region of space co-existing with our own universe which may be entered using an energy field or other device...
. The space navy
A space navy is a fictional military service arm tasked with waging battle in or exploring space.* Lensman - Galactic Patrol* Star Trek - Starfleet* Star Trek: The Next Generation - Imperial Klingon Navy...
of the Galactic Empire is called the "Imperial Navy". The empire's capital, named Trantor
Trantor is a fictional planet in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series and Empire Series of science fiction novels.Trantor was first described in a short story by Asimov appearing in Early Asimov Volume 1. Later Trantor gained prominence when the 1940s Foundation Series first appeared in print . Asimov...
, is the habitable planet closest to the center of the galaxy, and the novels in the Foundation
trilogy describe its fall, over a period of centuries, and a period of anarchy and decay, a parallel to the fall of the (Western) Roman Empire and the Dark Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...
Asimov posits that two foundations are instituted to restore the empire to its former glory. Through the use of psychohistory
Psychohistory is a fictional science in Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe which combines history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people, such as the Galactic Empire...
, a future science hypothesized by Asimov, a scientist on Trantor named Hari Seldon
Hari Seldon, a fictional character, is the intellectual hero of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series. In his capacity as mathematics professor at Streeling University on Trantor, he developed psychohistory, allowing him to predict the future in probabilistic terms...
in about 12,000 Galactic Era predicts the fall of the empire, and institutes the two foundations.
A complete list of Galactic emperors and their dynasties does not exist, however a number of names and their rule are known:
| Franken I
|| first Galactic Emperor
| Loris VI
|| introduced the "Law Codes of Aburanis"
| Kandar V
|| transplanted the last inhabitants of Earth to Alpha
| Agis VI
|| followed by Entun dynasty in c11830
|| nicknamed "Bloody Emperor"
| Cleon I
Cleon I is a character in the fictional universe of The Foundation Series. He was the last Emperor of the Entun dynasty . He was Emperor of the Galactic Empire when Hari Seldon first arrived on Trantor...
|| assassinated by his chief gardener
|| Interregnum between 12038 and 12058GE, rule by a military junta
| Agis XIV
| Daluben IV
|| ruled during the time of the Seldon Trial
| Stannnell VI
|| died 104FE
| Cleon II
Emperor Cleon II is a fictional character from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. He is the last strong monarch of the Galactic Empire, and reigned during the time when Bel Riose, the last great Imperial general, was engaging in a successful campaign against the early Foundation...
|| the last strong Emperor
| Dagobert IX
Emperor Dagobert IX is a fictional character from Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire. He is one of the last, if not the last, emperor of the Galactic Empire....
|| possibly the last emperor, resided on Neotrantor following the Great Sack of Trantor
Asimov's Galactic Empire was the first example after Olaf Stapledon
William Olaf Stapledon was a British philosopher and author of several influential works of science fiction.-Life:...
's 1937 science fiction novel Star Maker
of one of the eight stages of a "consensus cosmogony", also called the Science Fiction Cosmology
, identified by Donald A. Wollheim
Donald Allen Wollheim was an American science fiction ' editor, publisher, writer, and fan. As an author, he published under his own name as well as under pseudonyms, including David Grinnell....
in the 1950s, which science fiction writers needed only hint at in their stories for experienced SF readers to slot into their perception of future history and envisage the background to the tale without the writers having to expend time and space explicitly laying it out. These stages are:
- The initial exploration, colonization, and exploitation of the solar system, including plots modelled on the American War of Independence
- The first flights to the stars, with plots similar to those of the preceding stage
- The rise of a Galactic Empire, and possible contact, either friendly or hostile, with empires of alien species (however, in Asimov's galactic empire concept, there are no other alien races in the Milky Way Galaxy)
- The Galactic Empire at its height, with exploration occurring at its Rim
- The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire, as explored by Asimov and later other authors
- The Dark Ages, an interregnum with worlds reverting to barbarism, as also partially explored by Asimov
- The Renaissance, where a new democratic Galactic Civilization arises, including the restoration of civilization to and communication with worlds that were isolated during the Fall—this stage was called by Stapledon the Galactic Community of Worlds, was called by Asimov the Foundation Federation, and is most commonly called by most authors the Galactic Federation\
Other authors and Asimov's universe
Bondanella (listed in Further reading) analyzes Asimov's Galactic Empire as an example of the influence of the myth and history of the Roman Empire upon modern fiction. Asimov himself wrote two non-fiction books on the subject of the Roman Empire, aimed at the mass market and young readerships, The Roman Republic
in 1966 and The Roman Empire
in 1967, reflecting the positive view of the Roman Empire that then prevailed, as it was considered the prototype of the rising American Empire
American imperialism is a term referring to the economic, military and cultural influence of the United States on other countries. The concept of an American Empire was first popularized during the presidency of James K...
. After the cinematic release of the first Star Wars
Star Wars is an American epic space opera film series created by George Lucas. The first film in the series was originally released on May 25, 1977, under the title Star Wars, by 20th Century Fox, and became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon, followed by two sequels, released at three-year...
trilogy, another parallel to the Roman Empire that presents the negative view of the empire that became widely prevalent in late 20th and early 21st century popular culture as a result of the negative view of the American Empire resulting from the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...
, Asimov revisited his Galactic Empire and wrote further novels in the Foundation
series. Other writers to have been influenced by the Roman Empire include, of course, those who have written novels set in Asimov's universe of the Galactic Empire, such as David Brin
Glen David Brin, Ph.D. is an American scientist and award-winning author of science fiction. He has received the Hugo, Locus, Campbell and Nebula Awards.-Biography:...
's Foundation's Triumph
, and Robert Silverberg
Robert Silverberg is an American author, best known for writing science fiction. He is a multiple nominee of the Hugo Award and a winner of the Nebula Award.-Early years:...
, who wrote of an alternative universe in which the Roman Empire never fell, and who edited Far Horizons
(listed in Further reading) which contains several examples of Asimov's influence upon science fiction. Brian Herbert
Brian Patrick Herbert is an American author who lives in Washington state. He is the elder son of science fiction author Frank Herbert....
and Kevin J. Anderson
Kevin J. Anderson is an American science fiction author with over forty bestsellers. He has written spin-off novels for Star Wars, StarCraft, Titan A.E., and The X-Files, and with Brian Herbert is the co-author of the Dune prequels...
's Dune: House Atriedes
(1999) is, similarly, a Greek parallel to ancient Rome.
Other works to have been influenced by Asimov's Empire include Donald Kingsbury
Donald MacDonald Kingsbury is an American–Canadian science fiction author. Kingsbury taught mathematics at McGill University, Montreal, from 1956 until his retirement in 1986.- Books :...
's Psychohistorical Crisis
Psychohistorical Crisis is a science fiction novel by Donald Kingsbury, published by Tor Books in 2001. An expansion of his 1995 novella "Historical Crisis", it is a re-imagining of the world of Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, set after the establishment of the Second Empire.Review by Peter...
, whose galactic empire, and the scholar-empire that succeeds it, are clearly based upon Asimov's Galactic Empire and the Foundations, albeit that Kingsbury was not granted permission to set his work directly in Asimov's universe. Seed calls this work "perhaps the most remarkable homage that any SF writer has received from another SF writer".
Asimov's Galactic Empire, its decline, fall, and rebirth, in particular, is characterized by Perelman as a simple repetition of the history of Western Civilization from the fall of the Roman Empire to the 20th century, borrowing freely from Toynbee
Toynbee is a surname, and can refer to :* Joseph Toynbee, British physician, pioneer of otolaryngology,* Arnold Toynbee, British economist, son of Joseph Toynbee* Paget Toynbee, British Dante scholar...
, and a validation of postwar American culture of the 1940s and 1950s, with the Second Galactic Empire being "definitely suburban".
Other writers to explore the cycles of civilisations in their works include James Blish
James Benjamin Blish was an American author of fantasy and science fiction. Blish also wrote literary criticism of science fiction using the pen-name William Atheling, Jr.-Biography:...
, who studied the works of Oswald Spengler
Oswald Manuel Arnold Gottfried Spengler was a German historian and philosopher whose interests also included mathematics, science, and art. He is best known for his book The Decline of the West , published in 1918, which puts forth a cyclical theory of the rise and decline of civilizations...
and whose novels Cities in Flight
, They Shall Have Stars
, A Life for the Stars
, Earthman Come Home
, and The Triumph of Time
portray the rise and fall of the galaxy as an inevitable cycle, of which (unlike in other dystopian SF stories of the 1940s and 1950s) the use of machine technology is merely a symptom not the actual cause, and culminate, as in Wollheim's eighth stage, with the end of the universe and the birth of a new one.
Colin Manlove characterizes Asimov's description of the Galactic Empire, its people, its culture, its history, and its planets, laid out in the Foundation
novels as an aesthetic monotony: "persons are usually seen as typical rather than special, even as clichés … the mutant Mule
The Mule is a fictional character from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. One of the greatest conquerors the galaxy has ever seen, he is a mentalic who has the ability to reach into the minds of others and "adjust" their emotions, individually or en masse, using this capability to forcibly enlist...
[…] is not given a personality, he is merely a powerful anomaly … Nor do we hear much of landscapes, apart from Trantor and one sea-scape … we do not know how one planet differs from another, as, say, Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin is an American author. She has written novels, poetry, children's books, essays, and short stories, notably in fantasy and science fiction...
differentiates the desert Anarres
Anarres is one of two inhabited planets of Tau Ceti, in the 'Ekumen' science fiction novels by Ursula K. Le Guin.-Geography:Being the smaller body of a double planet system with Urras, Anarres is largely covered by land while having two large seas as the biggest bodies of water.While its society is...
from the lush twin Urras
Urras is one of two inhabited planets of Tau Ceti, in the 'Ekumen' science fiction novels by Ursula K. Le Guin.-Geography:Being the larger body of a double planet system with Anarres, Urras is covered by oceans and continents....
… Nor are we given details of battles, lingering accounts of love, different customs of civilisations. There are no animals, only man. … Thought-processes and conversations largely fill the trilogy, and nearly all these are confined to finding things out and with gaining power."