Over the past couple weeks, I was introduced to Asimov’s Foundation series during the groupread of The Foundation. In “The Foundation,” a man named Hari Seldon predicts the demise of the Galactic Empire, and so creates two Foundations at opposite ends of the galaxy. These Foundations gathered the brightest scientific minds in one place in order to shorten the cultural void after the fall of the Empire. “Foundation and Empire” picks up many years from where “The Foundation” left off. People like Hober Mallow and Salvador Hardin have been reduced to a blend of memory and legend, and the Foundation is about to confront what remains of a dying Empire.
1. In the opening chapters of Foundation and Empire we get to see things from the Imperial side. What are your thoughts on this part of the book? Were you surprised to find parts of the Galactic Empire that still seemed to be thriving?
The neatest thing about the first few chapters being told from the Imperial side is the way that everything is interrelated. A somewhat minor character from the last book’s grandkid ends up being highly influential in this one. Even though Seldon’s predictions measure human action on a micro level, we see that one person’s actions do change the course of history on a micro level as well.
Even though the Empire seems to be thriving, it’s very superficial. The Empire has lost control of the outer planets, and it has few resources left. It thinks it’s at the height of its glory, but it’s already stagnating. It reminds me eerily of our economy.
2. The examination of psychohistory continues in this book. What are your thoughts about the statement that was made: “Seldon’s laws help those who help themselves” in light of our previous discussions about Seldon, his predictions, and the interaction of the individuals that we are exposed to in the story?
I touched on this a bit in my answer to the previous question. Seldon’s laws are based on trends among populations, but at the same time, a society is composed of individuals. Individual actions do have some effect, as we saw with Barr, but at the same time, if Riose hadn’t been the one to hear about the Foundation and come barging in with his puny little ships, then somebody else eventually would have. I liked how Devers and Barr kept trying to fix things the way that heroes of the past did, but the events resolved themselves instead according to inevitable political/socioeconomic forces.
3. How do you feel about Devers, Barr and Bel Riose? Did you like this section of the book and/or these characters? Was there anything about their stories that stood out to you, entertained you, annoyed you?
I liked Devers and Barr a lot, and I was amused by the attempt at bribery. One of the things that I’m liking about this book is that it’s structured a bit differently from the first. We get to see important characters a bit longer than in the last one, even though Asimov still jumps around over time.
It’s also interesting that Asimov takes a complex view of the forces that shape history. I studied international affairs in college, which involved a lot of political theory. Most theorists tend to place a lot of importance on one aspect of history, for instance, politics, economics, or religion, as the motivating force for political change and progress. Asimov highlights the way that various forces shape history during different circumstances, which is very insightful.
4. Perhaps continuing from Question 2, do you agree or disagree, and what are your thoughts on, Barr’s devotion to Seldon and his belief that the “dead hand of Seldon” was guiding the events that led up to Riose’s undoing.
I’m amused. Seldon isn’t guiding anything, beyond the fact that the existence of the Foundation was his fault. Socio-political-economic forces are guiding the events leading to Riose’s undoing, and in the end it was the power play within a crumbling Empire that made the Emperor feel threatened by Riose’s military prowess.
5. Did you think I was lying to you when I said in previous conversations that there are more female characters in books 2 and 3, LOL, since we didn’t get to Bayta until near the end of this portion of the read?
It seemed weird to finally get to a female character. Asimov is a good enough writer that I didn’t even notice the lack of female characters in the first book and a half. It just didn’t seem terribly important. I’m curious to see where Asimov takes her character.
6. We haven’t spent much time with them yet, but talk about your initial impressions of Toran and Bayta.
Bayta is an interesting character so far, and I felt bad for Toran as he was trying to make the awkward family introductions. I’ve been in a similar position before, although minus the whole eloping deal.
I was impressed with the way that Toran handled things with the guy from the Mule’s court. By impressed, I mean it was a bit awesome and a bit stupid. I hope it doesn’t come back to bite him too much…
I’m looking forward to next week’s discussion will cover the second half of the book! For links to everybody else’s posts, see Foundation and Empire, Group Read Part 1.