Gary's Thoughts

Last Updated: August 27, 2001

Thoughts on similarities between Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and Frank Herbert's Dune series

At first the series seem very different: Asimov's theme pushing the insignificance of single human contributions and effects on human survival and direction, while Herbert's initial quartet of books culminate in God Emperor where one man (well, he started as a man) rules for thousands of years, apparently guaranteeing humankind's future "forever."

However, Foundation has a running paradox throughout the 14 or so books: Daneel, the robot. Basically, he single-handedly keeps humankind on the path toward survival and civilization for twenty thousand years. Yep, that's right: one being does this notwithstanding the running theme that individuals do not matter.

And Herbert's God Emperor Leto also realizes that even a man who lives thousands of years cannot control nor withstand humankind's collective yearning for technological progress. Sure, he can tighten the screws and hope to herd humanity safely for a while on its "Golden Path" of survival, but he is riding a tiger, and humankind's yearning to excel and advance technologically will not be denied, as evidenced by those pesky Ixians.

So both series collapse back toward each other and toward a middling ground: one man can indeed make a significant difference, and humanity's inevitable march toward technological advancement cannot be withstood for too long.

What's also interesting is that both series are afraid of humankind becoming too smart for its own good. Foundation's last "trilogy" -- three books actually written by three other science fiction authors after Asimov's death -- wrap things up quite nicely and, I believe, correctly identify that the secret of humankind's survival in the series was more due to Daneel and his minions pulling the reins on humanity's rush toward technological advancement rather than the mentalic caretaking of Gaia and the Second Foundation

Similarly, Dune ends with the God Emperor dowsing any spark of technological advancement in the galaxy, all in the name of the "Golden Path" of human survival. As Lynrd Skynrd said, I may be alive but I'm not necessarily making a livin'.

So both series appear to advocate that the goal of humanity is simply to survive and not to advance too much technologically, presumably ensuring that we don't drop the proverbial Hiroshima bomb on ourselves. I think these conclusions are a bit of a downer, but if the book's timelines are true, then we shouldn't have to worry about it for a few thousand years.

Other similarities between the two series involve Dune's Bene Gesserit "witches" and Foundation's Second Foundation. Both groups subtly -- and not so subtly -- act as caretakers of humankind while guiding them along not-so-destructive paths.

Yeah, I know, the Bene Gesserit are fundamentally selfish, essentially streamlining a human breeding system to produce special men and women. However, they are almost superhuman: able to control their body temperatures and every muscle in their bodies, able to change chemicals they ingest into other chemicals, etc., so I think they would match up pretty well against Foundation's Second Foundationeers and their mind control.

I guess I would propose another similarity: Dune's God Emperor Leto with Foundation's Mule. Both characters were deadly threats to the Bene Gesserit and Second Foundation, respectively. And both eventually were "defeated," though Leto seems to still have an invisible guiding hand even thousands of years after his death, at least as far as the fifth Dune book Heretics of Dune is concerned.

Actually, the more I think about it, I think Leto is more like Foundation's Hari Seldon and Daneel combined into one person. Leto maps out a path for humanity like Daneel and Hari had done, and the path is still apparently being followed long after his death, like with Hari Seldon.

More thoughts to follow...