Foundation and Empire Groupread, Part I

So this was supposed to be posted yesterday, but I mixed up the dates.  Oops.  I’ll be around to visit everyone’s blogs shortly!

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.

14 thoughts on “Foundation and Empire Groupread, Part I

  1. I also noticed that he changed the structure of the book somewhat. It seemed like we spent a lot more time with certain characters and he is making connections with the people we met in the first novel. He still jumps ahead quite a bit, but I feel like he is laying more groundwork for us to latch onto to help with the flow of the story.

    1. Part of the reason for the structural change seems to be that the stories are becoming more complex as time progresses. The first book had short stories that were pretty straightforward, whereas I think that the first section of this part had a more difficult situation with more events and parties involved. I like the longer segments, as I like to get attached to characters more than I tend to do in a 50-page episode.

      1. Absolutely. It is much easier to get attached to a character when you have more time. And I find I’m learning more about the history of the individuals, Foundation, and Empire.

        1. I’m so curious to see where Asimov is going to take the story from here. It’s interesting having a concept instead of a central protagonist, but I’ve definitely started to get used to it, and find it to be an interesting style of writing.

  2. Your opening comments made me step back and think about “real” people as opposed to fictional ones. Like Hardin and Mallow, in our lives we have leaders and various other individuals whose memories are now equal parts myth and legend. Yet if we were to be dropped in on their actual lives in progress we would not doubt have seen some of the same flaws of character that we witnessed in Hardin and Mallow. This could of course be a cynical comment on the nature of humanity, but it can also be looked at in the reality that not a one of us are perfect but that we can still devote ourselves to things that matter to us and make a lasting difference, even if we are not to become the stuff of legends ourselves.

    There are some very eerie parallels with the Foundation and our current global economic and political state.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly on the way Asimov doesn’t stick to showing that only one area is key in the evolution of history but that there are many key factors working in concert together, even if we don’t see them all.

    I think Asimov does some interesting things with Bayta and with female characters in the next book and I will be curious to see how everyone reacts to them, especially given the time period these were written in.

    1. So many historical figures in our own history tend to be overly glamorized, and we forget that they were human beings with very real flaws. Thomas Jefferson particularly comes to mind on that one. I like the way that Asimov takes characters that we’ve already been introduced to and then portrays people’s ideas about them in the future, which teaches an important lesson on the accuracy of our perception of history. The nature of history and the way that societies evolve seems to be one of the major themes in this book, which is something I’m liking a lot. Part of the reason why Foundation doesn’t feel dated at all is because it seems as if Asimov is writing about us and the problems in the world today.

  3. I think you’re spot on with your comment about the chapters being long and more detailed/involved this time around. I hadn’t picked up on that but it’s definitely the case.
    I also think your remark about the story not ageing because it feels like it relates to us is insightful – and probably always relevant – because there are always problems of one nature or another so readers will always have some way of relating.
    Lynn 😀

    1. I was surprised that the story didn’t seem dated at all, considering that Asimov wrote it before computers even existed. The technology aspect seems to remain in the background, and the devices that exist seem like something that could in theory exist if we had a better knowledge of how to harness nuclear energy without poisoning or blowing ourselves up in the process. Meanwhile, the story of the Empire’s downfall is one that mirrors so many societies throughout history. Asimov was a genius.

  4. I love the new format of this second book, but I think I like it all the more because of all the set up in the first collection.
    Asimov is focusing on these patterns and cycles in history, and it does make the reader try to figure out where we are in the pattern. I’m a little nervous…
    I can’t wait to find out more about The Mule. What a name!

    1. I’m so curious about the Mule! The name itself is intimidating enough…

      I definitely agree that the setup in the first book was necessary, but the new format is refreshing. I was surprised to see it, but it seems to work rather well.

  5. I didn’t post yesterday either and now I am running late in the day today. I might just wait and post both parts next week. We will see.

    I am actually enjoying this book more than Foundation. I am glad for the read-along, though, because I might not have read it otherwise.

    1. I’m also glad, as Foundation is one of the books I’d bought early last year and hadn’t gotten around to reading. I’d probably have kept putting it off indefinitely.

    1. Thanks! I love readalongs; it’s almost like having a virtual book club! It’s neat to hear everybody else’s thoughts on a book, and we each pick up on different things in the stories.

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