Foundation by Issac Asimov, group readalong part 2
Finished Foundation and really enjoyed it. The questions below have been provided by Stainless Steel Droppings as part of the readalong Carl is hosting.
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?
Hardin was very politically astute and ruthless in that he saw a way forward and he took it – although he didn’t actually shed any blood during his coup (so you have to have some respect for that – in fact one of his sayings was about violence being the last refuge – sorry, can’t remember the exact wording!) Also, in playing off the other planets against each other (during the first crisis) he actually managed to save Foundation from Anacreon’s attempted take over – which Anacreon were couching in different terms but if you get down to the nitty gritty they were basically planning on overtaking what they saw as the weaker planet. And, finally, he was the one who came up with the whole idea of Scientism which ultimately resulted in all the knowledge being retained by Foundation who then managed to continue to make breakthroughs whilst many of the other planets became dependent and almost started to slip backwards in their thinking and knowledge. So, whilst I don’t think he’s the sort of character that you would tend to say ‘you really like’ I couldn’t help feeling that I wanted him to be successful – especially when Anacreon was about to attempt to attack Foundation for the second time. You have to hand it to him, he saved Foundation twice, kept the prophecy on track and came up with a concept that kept everyone in the dark whilst Foundation progressed. And, if he hadn’t, Foundation would more than likely have been defeated by any of those inhabitants of the nearby planets who had more fighting power. Brain over brawn saved the day.
What are your thoughts on the way in which control/manipulation to achieve Foundation ends began to shift with The Traders?
I suppose the Traders brought a lot more players into what was previously a fairly restricted game because they were travelling about such a lot and getting to more places. Ergo bigger field of play. Plus the traders are all about the profit – they manipulate things with a different incentive in mind. That being said – Mallow – manages to use his business acumen to make his opponents more vulnerable as they become more dependent on the goods he has provided. It’s a different sort of dependency than the religious aspect generated by Hardin but it was equally as effective.
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 think it was part of the overall plan – otherwise I don’t think Seldon would have needed to set up his little return ‘shows’ even going so far as to have seating ready. I think he looked ahead and predicted a crisis and saw a way of manipulating people into behaving in a certain way in order to divert that situation as it arose. I suppose that was a bit of a gamble but he was relying on people wanting to ‘divert’ any such crisis as it occurred.
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?
As I said above, I do see similarities with Hardin and Mallow – they were both ambitious and astute. They both understand how to manipulate people into a situation. They have an idea of how to control ‘the masses’ and they think ahead. Their techniques are different. Hardin uses the mystery of scientism to keep people in tow whilst Mallow uses people’s materialistic values. They both managed to keep Foundation safe from attack by stronger planets. I think I would have been content if I read this when first published. It’s a very intelligent piece of work on quite a large scale – in terms of what is taking place – not in terms of the size of the book!
Has your concept/thoughts of what Seldon was trying to do changed at all since the book began?
I’m really puzzled with the whole Seldon prediction. At the start of the book he almost comes across as fairly meek and mild, trying to save 1000s of years of chaos, etc, etc. He manoeuvres himself into a position where he is relegated to a small planet at the back of beyond and he takes with him most of the big thinkers, mathematicians and put bluntly braniacs. He then has everyone working on his encyclopaedia which he ultimately admits is a ruse – purely to keep everyone occupied for however many number of years. In the meantime the practice of psychohistory is slowly becoming less and less used – which was clearly part of the plan – I don’t suppose Seldon would want any other psychohistory experts coming along and predicting something different from himself after all. And, so far, what we are actually seeing is Foundation growing in knowledge and power as a result whilst the surrounding planets seem to be heading into the dark ages. So, at the start I was just thinking he was trying to be like some sort of saviour but now my suspicious brain thinks maybe he has a different plan. Not sure what that is. Perhaps he’s thinking that Foundation will eventually become ‘it’. Frankly, I’m clueless!! (Also, you can’t help wondering if Seldon had never existed and never made his predictions would anything have happened anyway?)
Any final thoughts on the story as a whole, its structure, what it did or did not accomplish, how it worked for you, etc?
I really enjoyed it. It’s different from the books I usually read but I wanted to read something outside my comfort zone and this fitted the bill. It is very narrative led and not big on character building but I really didn’t mind. I like that it’s a short, snappy read which for me made it easier to keep track of everyone! I suppose if you wanted to be critical you could say the book isn’t very descriptive but again I didn’t feel it was detrimental to the story. Plus, I tend to read quite a bit of fantasy/adventure – and those types of books can be really quite descriptive – but I think it’s easier to be descriptive about something that really is ‘a made up world’ because as an author you can let your imagination run riot and you’re not limited to what we already know – so you can have elves running around and cave trolls and nobody bats an eyelid. I think it’s different with most sci fi because quite often the stories seem to be not so much in a different or alternative world but set in the future and I think this means you’re probably a bit more restricted because you’re looking around you and trying to imagine how it will be different – and it’s pretty easy to get it wrong. Also, as the book ages I think too much detail can really start to ‘age’ it. Again – I think more so with this genre. Anyway, enough of that! Lost my thread there!
To round up – it was good and exceeded my expectations. Thanks Carl!