At the beginning of Isaac Asimov’s classic sci-fi novel Foundation, Hari Seldon introduces his idea for a massive project to create the ultimate set of world knowledge in the Encyclopedia Galactica. Using the science of psychohistory, Seldon has predicted that the current Galactic Empire will fall and a dark age will follow. By creating a store of the collective knowledge of the world, Seldon argues that humanity will be able to reduce the length of the dark age from thirty thousand years to just one thousand years. Seldon describes saving knowledge from being scattered so that, “if we prepare a giant summary of all knowledge, it will never be lost. Coming generations will build on it, and will not have to rediscover it for themselves.” While the creation of the Encyclopedia Galactica will ultimately be revealed to be a cover for Seldon’s true purposes, the novel retains a strong encyclopedic focus, but not a futuristic one.
Rather, Seldon’s encyclopedia draws inspiration from the past, specifically an Enlightenment-era encyclopedic project with goals very similar to those that Seldon mentions. Even as the Encyclopedia Galactica loses importance and disappears from the narrative, the project behind it informs the arc of the novel and reveals the true nature of Seldon’s plan.