This work is Asimov's first novel — parts of the Foundation series had appeared from 1942 onwards, in magazines, but Foundation was not published in book form until 1951. The original Foundation books are also a string of linked episodes, whereas this is a complete story involving a single group of characters.
While walking down the street in Chicago, Joseph Schwartz, a retired tailor, is the unwitting victim of a nearby nuclear laboratory accident, by means of which he is instantaneously transported tens of thousands of years into the future (50,000 years, by one character's estimate, a figure later retconned by future Asimov works as a "mistake"). He finds himself in a place he does not recognise, and due to apparent changes in spoken language that far into the future, he is unable to communicate with anyone. He wanders into a farm, and is taken in by the couple who live there. They mistake him for a mentally deficient person, and secretly offer him as a subject for an experimental procedure to increase his mental abilities. The procedure, which has killed several subjects, works in his case, and he finds that he can quickly learn to speak the current lingua franca. He also slowly realises that the procedure has given him limited telepathic abilities, including the ability to project his thoughts to the point of killing or injuring a person.
Earth, at this time, is seen by the rest of the Galactic Empire as a rebellious planet — it has, in fact, rebelled three times in the past — and the inhabitants are widely discriminated against. Earth also has several large radioactive areas, although the cause is never described. (The prequels elaborate upon this specific point.) Because the radioactivity makes large areas of Earth uninhabitable, it is a very poor planet, and anyone who is unable to work is legally required to be killed. Earthpeople must also be executed when they reach the age of sixty, a procedure known as "The Sixty," with very few exceptions; mainly for people who have made significant contributions to society. This is a problem for Schwartz, who is now sixty-two years old.
Although Earth is part of the Empire, with a resident Procurator and a military garrison, it is in practice ruled by a group of religious fanatics. They have created a supervirus which they plan to use to kill or subjugate the rest of the Empire, and avenge themselves for the way their planet has been treated by the galaxy at large.
Schwartz, along with Affret Shekt, the scientist who developed the machine that boosted Schwartz's mental powers, his daughter Pola, and a visiting archaeologist Bel Arvardan, are captured, but escape with the help of Schwartz's new abilities, and are narrowly able to stop the plan to release the virus.
The book ends on a hopeful note — perhaps the Empire can be persuaded to restore Earth, and bring in uncontaminated soil.
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Pebble in the Sky
|Doubleday Limited Hardcover edition, Date published 1990, ISBN 038541269X|
||A facsimile copy of the 1950 edition released on the 40th anniversary of the original publication. The book and dust jacket are copies of the original, right down to the $2.95 price. Published with a slipcase and including an 8 page booklet with a new foreward and an editors note.||
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