The second Foundation story written begins forty years after “The Encyclopedists” ended. Salvor Hardin is still mayor of Terminus, although facing a new political challenge. The challenge involves his solution to the problems first raised in “The Encyclopedists”—he’s kept the Four Kingdoms off of the Foundation’s back by carefully pitting them against each other (none of the Kingdoms would allow any of the others to control Terminus, so any attempt to take it over would find a three-against-one war instantly declared). Furthermore, he’s taken advantage of the barbaric ignorance of the Kingdoms and built up a religion and ritual behind which he can provide advanced technology to the Kingdoms while retaining full control of it.
Hardin also faces an external challenge from Anacreon, whose young king is about to come of age. The king’s uncle Wienis covets both the throne and control of the Foundation, and forces (he thinks) Hardin to rebuild and resupply an ancient Imperial battleship which he hopes to use to further his ambitions. Hardin, however, holds all the cards: he controls the priests and the priests control the ship, which cannot in the end be used to attack Terminus. The distraught Wienis ends by killing himself rather than accept Hardin’s triumph.
The story is a bit smoother in style than “The Encyclopedists” had been but is not an entire success. The crisis on Terminus is really something of a red herring that doesn’t go anywhere, and Wienis is pretty much a cardboard cutout-type villain. The real weakness here is the religious element. Asimov’s view of religion here is a very negative and cynical one, that organized religion really is the opiate of the masses and a means for political control. That may be forgiven without hesitation. Harder to accept, however, is that the religion could be developed to such an extent and imposed so thoroughly in only forty years. (Although, of course, there are some precedents in history, and when it’s being done deliberately the process may be rather faster. Still, it detracts from the story for me.)