So far, I think Greg Bear is my favorite author out of the entire Foundation series. Gregory Benford was definitely a step in the right direction with his characterization skills, but Bear takes that same skill and adds a prevailing plot that keeps the story moving along. It still gets bogged down with a lot of details, but overall, I think he brings the best combination of talents to bear with this novel.
This novel is a direct continuation, thematically, to Foundation's Fear (the story's chronology takes place a couple of decades after the events in that novel), and focuses more on how the robots play into the entire series. It helps alleviate some of the surprise I felt with the preceding novel, since I felt like the robots were over-represented, when Asimov had made them a rather understated element of the series, despite them being the reason the Foundation existed at all. But this trilogy appears to be an examination of the robots and their role in those events, which makes the series feel a little more significant.
I still have trouble accepting the idea that the events of over 20,000 years of history were all part of a grand plan set in place so long ago. It's not a criticism of the books or the series; I'm just not comfortable with the idea that individuals aren't all that important in the grand scheme of things. Life already reminds us that our existence is fleeting, and that we may not be as significant as we think we are; I don't want my fiction having to remind me of that fact, as well. I read to escape, not to be reminded of my ultimate futility.
One aspect of the book that I initially disliked was the rehashing of the trial that began this series some 70 years ago. At first, I thought it was a way to pad out the book, but as the trial continued, I realized that we were seeing more of what was going on behind that trial. Asimov's version moved quickly and clinically, focusing more on the elements of psychohistory than the people behind it; Bear delved into the people behind the trial, focusing on Seldon, Dornick, and other characters who weren't even mentioned in that initial story. It cemented the trial and made it more real, and I realized that this "rehash" was more necessary than I first realized.
I find it odd to consider that the book's theme reinforces the idea of the futility of an individual in the history of the world, while the focus of the story itself is on the individuals. I'm not sure if it's meant to be reassuring, or if it's just irony, but either way it made the book more readable for me.
With this book complete, I have one last volume to read to be done with Foundation for good (save for the Robot series, which is still up in the air with me). I don't see it as a series that I would want to read again in the future, but I'm glad that I've made it this far. It felt like one of those series that I needed to read, and I'm glad to say that I have.