Monday, January 16, 2012

Foundation by Isaac Asimov (Foundation Trilogy, Book 1) - A Group Discussion Part 2

One of the great masterworks of science fiction, the Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov are unsurpassed for their unique blend of nonstop action, daring ideas, and extensive world-building. The story of our future begins with the history of Foundation and its greatest psychohistorian: Hari Seldon.
For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. Only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future—a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire—both scientists and scholars—and brings them toa bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.

But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. And mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and live as slaves—or take a stand for freedom and risk total destruction.
This is the second-half, and thus conclusion, of the group read and discussion of Foundation by Isaac Asimov. I have wanted to read Asimov for years, but for whatever reason have never got around to his books before. I didn't even know what his books were about other than some guesses based solely on his titles. Foundation has been on my radar for a while, but this is my first time actually sitting down with the book. I am very glad I tend to join all of Carl's read-alongs because we usually have some similarities in our reading and I tend to read books that have been on my TBR pile for ages. I am looking forward to more from the Foundation Trilogy and more group reads as the year progresses. Now, on to the questions from the second-half of the book.

Salvador Hardin was the first character in the book that we got to spend any significant time with. What are your thoughts on the grande finale of his plotting, scheming and maneuvering to get the Foundation through to the next Seldon crisis?
I am glad that we were able to spend time with Salvador Hardin. When we first meet him he is still relatively young, but then the book jumps ahead a few years and we also get to see him when he is older. Asimov chooses to cut out all the unnecessary years in between, but will fill in details from that period if he thinks they are beneficial to the story. I have to admit that I am a bit of a leery of a system that lets people predict the future. I have never been a big fan of the idea that everything is planned out for us ahead of time. I much rather believe that there really is such thing as free-will. So, I have to admit that I have been second-guessing this book the entire time. I will be curious to see how things play out in the future books.

As to Salvador Hardin, he is doing everything in his power to keep the Foundation on the track that he believes was set out for him by Seldon. The thing is that he does not entirely know what that path is, so he has to guess what the best course of action is to get the results he believes in. So far things seem to be going to plan, but in the process Hardin has to be manipulative, sneaky, and in control of things. On the one hand, you can't help being appalled at the things he does to get the actions he desires. On the other hand, I couldn't help being impressed by how he works the system to get the result that he so desires. I am not sure if he is a good guy or a bad guy. He is just doing what he thinks is right even if it is not necessarily 'right'. Seldon did not lay out a path for them, but they are on a path nonetheless.

What are your thoughts on the way in which control/manipulation to achieve Foundation ends began to shift with The Traders?
In the first part of the book most of the focus on the political leaders and their systems. During the course of the second part of the book, though, we begin to see more of the 'common' folk make an appearance. The chapters that cover The Traders are very different than the ones that cover the leaders and it made for some interesting reading. First of all, those traders had some very cool items to trade. I wouldn't mind having some of them myself. Obviously they go about selling them in a sometimes underhanded manner and they don't always work like they promise they will, but still, interesting items.

This book has a strong religious background. The religious leaders have the control of the people and surpass the power of even though they believe themselves in power. This idea of religious superiority is one of the things that controls the people. Traders seem gifted at using the ideas of the people to gain what they want. It was good reading to watch them manipulate the situations to where they wanted them. The Traders really reminded me of Hans Solo from Star Wars, actually. I can see George Lucas reading these books and taking inspiration from them when he made the movies.

One of the interesting things about Seldon’s psychohistory is how much one man can actually affect it. In Foundation we see characters like Hardin and Mallow as key figures for positioning things just right to work towards Seldon’s later predictions. Do you see this as a contradiction to what Seldon said about psychohistory at the beginning of our story or part of an overall plan? Discuss.
I am very torn about this idea. I have been thinking about this question for a couple days because I am not entirely sure it is answerable. Foundation is still a work in progress, so you really do not know what will play out by the time the trilogy comes to an end. I think that this is the sort of series where you really can't speak to anything without reading all of the books. That being said, you can make predictions of a sort. As I said in the first paragraph, I am still a bit unsure about the whole idea of psychohistory. It all seems a bit too perfect to me, but we will see how it plays out. I am thinking it all part of an overall plan. It is not something that has been revealed yet, though, so a lot can change as the reading continues. What I do know is that when Seldon appears he is always rather cryptic, so it is hard to say if they even are on the path that he predicted. When someone speaks in general terms it is very easy to manipulate what has happened to fit what they are saying. So, they are a path, but who really knows if it is really 'the' path.

Did you see similarities or differences between the way in which Salvador Hardin and Hober Mallow operated and what are your thoughts about this final section of Foundation? Would you have been content as a reader back then with how everything played out?
I enjoyed the final section of the book. Salvador Hardin and Hober Mallow might be different people, but at their core they are the same. They both ultimately have the same goals in mind and will come to those goals anyway that they see fit. They have both been raised with the same ideas of Seldon's predictions and the path that they are on so it is easy to see that they are both after basically the same thing but going about it in slightly different ways. And, because Seldon's path is only hinted at and never expressed entirely, it is easy to interpret the same things differently.

As to the ending, I am glad to know that there is more in store for us and we will hopefully get to see things played out. That being said, if I was living back then I think I would have turned the last page of this book and been baffled. There are many unanswered questions. I suppose it would have made me think about the book trying to figure things out, but at the same time it would almost be disappointing not to see how Seldon's predictions play out.

Has your concept/thoughts of what Seldon was trying to do changed at all since the book began?
um, not really. I have been a bit hesitant in making any real theories about things, though. I am just sitting back and enjoying the ride. I look forward to where we go next.

Any final thoughts on the story as a whole, its structure, what it did or did not accomplish, how it worked for you, etc?
First, the second half of the book acknowledge that women exist. I was very impressed by the couple cameo performances. The book overall didn't entirely lack without mention of women, but at the same time how can you have an entire society without at least mentioning that they exist period? I never understand how books can just leave out half the population.

You can read my first post about this book by clicking here.

Foundation Series:
Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation


  1. I find it odd that in this book, there really aren't any good guys. Like you, I cheered on Hardin, but I think that was because I disliked Wienis even more.

    Also I am in the same boat as you. I didn't know how to answer the Psychohistory question since I'm not sure how the whole thing will play out. Like you said, it all seems too perfect right now. What about Free Will? Will someone assert Free Will and blow the whole thing apart?

    1. Yes, they were all sneaky and conniving...

      It is an intriguing idea but one I am not so quick to believe. I will be curious to see how it plays out in the next books.

  2. I know what you mean about Seldon being cryptic - he's a bit like horoscopes - you could read one and make it fit for your day in some way or another - very sweeping. And, a bit like horoscopes, so many people want to believe the predictions.
    Lynn :D

    1. Oh, yes, comparing it to horoscopes is exactly along the same lines I was thinking. :)

  3. It isn't so much the idea of not having free will that I am concerned about, it is more the idea that we as humanity could be that predictable. I believe the concept of free will could still be in place within Seldon's predictions but the scary thing is the idea that group behavior could be that predictable.

    I second guess it too, and that is part of the fun.

    Hardin is a character who brings up a lot of conflicting emotions, that is for sure. I admire him very much and yet decry that same kind of behavior when I assume our politicians today are doing it. Weird to come to that realization this time reading the book as those contradictions did not dawn on me last time.

    The traders do have some great stuff, don't they? I imagine a trader's market on any one of these planets would be filled with all kinds of hard to imagine delights.

    Had I been living at the time the last section of Foundation was released I would have immediately been writing the magazine, demanding to be assured that Asimov was not done and that more would be on the way.

    I had forgotten that there were any women at all in Foundation so it was a pleasant surprise to find them involved even if they were a bit cliched. Looking forward to revisiting the women I remember from the next two books.

    1. hm, yes, that's true. It is interesting when you think of it from that direction.

      Second guessing is part of the fun. I agree!

      Yes, I think part of reason why I have avoided going into the politics is I can't think about it without getting cranky about our own politics.

      I would love to be able to visit one of the trader's market. Just seeing all the weird things would be lots of fun.

      I am sure lots of people at the time did write letters demanding more. I believe that is basically why the series went on as long as it did... People kept wanting more.

      I hope the next two books have some wonderful women characters!

  4. I'm with you in believing in free will. It reminds me of the line in Men In Black, when Tommy Lee Jones "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky..." I hate to admit that as a society, I think we are pretty predictable and that quote is right on the money and it's why Seldon can make his predictions.

    1. Yes, I am sure we are predictable, but I always like to think otherwise...


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