I want to start and (this time) finish the two Asimov series I have: the Foundation books (Trilogy in fact) and the Robots cycle.

Is there a particular order between those two series or are they totally unrelated and can be read in any order?

10 Answers 10

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Personally I would start with Robots, it's set in the same universe but earlier in its history. Geoffc is right though, they don't converge until later in the Foundation series

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    I actually read them in this order and was quite pleased stason.org/TULARC/education-books/sci-fi-sf-written/… – Jonny Blaze Jan 18 '11 at 22:44
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    I agree strongly with the published order, but there's one that needs to be added to it. You'll also want to read The End of Eternity as it ties in nicely. In theory, it should be read first as it "happens first", but it's more fun to read it last (sort of like the Cube, Cube 2, and then Cube 0 movie series)! – Brian Knoblauch Mar 17 '11 at 17:25

I think that neither published order nor chronological order quite does the series justice. Here's the order I think makes the most sense for maximum enjoyment of the books. You'll notice that I've left some out.

The series was never quite finished, so I feel that a non-linear approach is the best choice here. This allows one to emphasize the building of themes within the books, rather than individual plot threads. enter image description here

At their heart, these stories work best when they focus on individual people. This may sound odd, as the robot and Foundation tales are meant to illustrate great sweeps of history, but in my opinion, the strongest tales here are those that are small and intimate. Think of Susan Calvin and the Mule and you may see my point.

I've left out the two prequel foundation books that Asimov wrote. While they're good, they do very little to add to the fabric of the story, and can be viewed as bonus reading material for later on. (If anyone disagrees, please tell me why; I'd be willing to reconsider this point, but haven't read those books since they came out.)

Similarly, the three "Empire" novels, set in the very early days of the Empire--they're not up to the level of quality that the other books achieve, and can safely be read after finishing the main series--if at all.

Other books, like Roger MacBride Allen's "Caliban" novels, can be enjoyed off to the side, as they don't really forward the story arcs of the rest of the series.

Rationale for this order is below. Spoilers for those who haven't read the series.

  • "I, Robot" is a short, fun read, as is almost everything Asimov wrote. It was the first book of Asimov's that I read, and it's a great introduction to his work.

  • Next, jump ahead in time and read the "original" Foundation trilogy.

The reader will notice immediately the lack of robots in human society--what happened to the robots during the thousands of years in between these books?

  • Now we jump back into the past, slightly after the events in I, Robot, and read the Robot novels.

We see the harm that robots can do to a society where they are forced to preserve human life at any cost.

  • The next step is to read the two sequel Foundation novels.

Somehow, Daneel Olivaw has been behind the scenes for years. But how was this achieved? We'll find this out in the next book.

  • "Robots and Empire" is the single book in the series that ties everything together, so that's next.

Since Asimov never finished the Foundations series, this is the closest thing we have to a climax. Which is why I placed it here, and not after the Robot novels.

  • Our epilogue to all this is "The End of Eternity". While it's related to the series by the thinnest of threads, I feel it works at the end because:

The promise of humanity's future is a noble, optimistic one that we know will pan out imperfectly. The grand vistas of time stretching out at the end of this book show us that human history is cyclical, and that the nobility of human achievement is in the very act of us striving for something better.

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    Nice, thoughtful answer! – sjl Oct 15 '11 at 23:11
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    Except it's massively out of date, for some reason. You've ignored the two Foundation prequels - which, although their quality is debatable, do more than "Robots and Empire" to tie the two series together, and give the lie to your second-from-last spoiler. – Daniel Roseman Oct 17 '11 at 14:12
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    @DanielRoseman - Read the text of my answer and you'll see that I left those out on purpose. – neilfein Oct 17 '11 at 16:17
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    Excellent answer. While I like the two Foundation prequels, I agree that they should be read as "bonus" materials. That being said, I would replace "I, Robot" with "The Complete Robot", which is a more complete anthology of Asimov's Robot short fiction. – System Down Oct 17 '11 at 16:58
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    I'm just about to start reading The End of Eternity after following this list, and it has been a delightful experience. Having read most of the books before, I took the liberty of reading Prelude to Foundation first of all, which worked rather well to whet my appetite -- needless to say, it would have been too much of a spoiler if I hadn't already known how it all fits together. Thank you, @neilfein! – Bergius Aug 22 '13 at 9:29

If you start with the fundation series you will end with a happy face (because of all the little spoilers on the robot series).

If you start with the robot series, you will have a lineal understanding of asimov universe.

I've done it both ways and preferred reading in chronological order, except you want to include the empire series between the robot and foundation series. There's a lot of time between robots and foundation and the few short books of empire take place during that time. It gives a better understanding to how Earth was lost.

  • David's agree. Read in chronological order for maximum enjoyment. – DCShannon Mar 9 '16 at 20:12

I like to look at the series as the story of R. Daneel Olivaw, which results in me having a different order than most. For the sake of simplicity and focus, the robot short stories, the Empire novels, and the Caliban trilogy are left out as interesting, but non-essential.

First, the four Robot novels should be read before the Foundation novels, in chronological/publication order:
A) The Caves of Steel
B) The Naked Sun
C) The Robots of Dawn
D) Robots and Empire

After the Robot novels come the Foundation novels: seven by Asimov, plus the Second Trilogy by Benford, Bear and Brin. Some include the Second Trilogy, others don't. I prefer to include two of them, as I find they improve the overall story of Daneel. Foundation's Fear by Benford can be skipped entirely; it's disrespectful to the source material, adds almost nothing to the overall story, and is just not an enjoyable read.

As you said, the two common recommendations are to read these either publication order or chronological order. I have a third recommendation: start with the original trilogy, then read the prequels, and end with Edge and Earth.

A) Foundation
B) Foundation and Empire
C) Second Foundation
D) Prelude to Foundation
E) Foundation's Fear (if you really must)
F) Forward the Foundation
G) Foundation and Chaos
H) Foundation's Triumph
I) Foundation's Edge
J) Foundation and Earth

This gives a good arrangement stylistically, with the earlier novels followed by the later ones. Asimov's writing style changes distinctly over time. It also gives a good arrangement chronologically, with the prequels foreshadowing the final two books, instead of explaining things you've already read about. (This can be compared to the Machete Order of viewing the Star Wars movies. But I digress.) And best of all, you end with the cliffhanger, instead of reading it and then reading 2-5 more books that don't resolve it.

And if the cliffhanger bothers you, I wrote a conclusion which seems to be well-liked.

Go for publish order. As the others have said, the universe is filled out with later books. And by the time you get towards the end of the series Asimov event starts bring in relationships to books outside the Robots & Foundation series.

They start off unrelated.

However they start to converge in the last few sets of books. I forget which ones specifically (5th Foundation? The one after Foundation's Edge I think). Sort of like Heinlein's universe-as-fiction notion to unify all his books. But Asimov did it a little bit cleaner I think.

An order that has been working for me was to start with the End of Eternity. That's give you the basic understanding of how and why the galactic empire comes to be. Then I started The Foundation all the way to prelude. I read prelude last to give you More back story on Hari. Because of the reference to the robots in the last few Foundation books, I feel it brings a lot of exciting tie-ins when you start the Robot series. From there I read the Empire series. And then I finish at Forward to Foundation.

My dad gave me the books in a specific order. I read the Robots books first (the series with Daneel). Then I read Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation, Forward the Foundation, Foundation's Edge, Foundation and Earth and lastly I read Prelude to Foundation. I liked this order but in hindsight I would have re-read the first few Foundations before reading Prelude to Foundation, just to refresh my memory. I read End Of Eternity somewhere in between the Foundations but I don't really think that matters, beacuse it is not explicity linked with the Foundation universe, or it is not necessary to the storyline to understand this link.

I'm going to recommend my own personal hybrid, partly based on the order the stories were written, and partly the internal chronological order. In my opinion, it gives a better sense of the development of the story and Asimov's direction than simply following the chronology or the writing order. Also, I think it's compulsory to read 'Forward the Foundation' last. Asimov "ended" the series by taking it back to its beginning - I think it's a nice touch. Also, the final scene in this book is a nice way to finish.

So...

  1. I, Robot

  2. The Caves of Steel

  3. The Naked Sun

  4. The Robots of Dawn

  5. Robots and Empire

  6. The Currents of Space

  7. The Stars, Like Dust--

  8. Pebble in the Sky

  9. Foundation

  10. Foundation and Empire

  11. Second Foundation

  12. Foundation's Edge

  13. Foundation and Earth

  14. Prelude to Foundation

  15. Forward the Foundation

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