Second Foundation by Issac Asimov, second group read along

And, so we’ve  finally finished the three Issac Asimov novels as part of a sci-fi readalong being hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.  It makes me sort of sad that it’s come to an end.  The discussions have been great and I’ve enjoyed reading some sci fi much more than I expected and actually understood what was going on (I was expecting to feel like a raging dunce!)  Below are the final questions for discussion but please don’t read these if you haven’t read these novels as they will definitely SPOIL the plot!

1.  Now that the trilogy is over, discuss your feelings on Asimov’s portrayal of female characters? 

I think that Asimov did a really good job portraying the females in the story and gave both of them key roles in the plot.  I suppose reading the book in the year 2012 they did come across as a little old fashioned but I think given when these stories were written he does a good job and I think it was probably quite risky for him to include such strong female roles because it can deter some male readers.

2.  After all the back and forth mind control of the first part of Second Foundation, what was your state of mind reading this second section of the book?  Were you suspicious of everyone? Did you figure things out? Were you just going along for the ride?

To be honest I wasn’t really trying to second guess the ending although I had started to feel as though the location of Second Foundation would be hidden amongst the systems we already knew – I just didn’t know where!  In terms of all the mind control flipping back and forth I was just enjoying it as and when it was revealed.

3.  Throughout the three novels we were shown a couple of versions of Trantor.  Which is more appealing to you? Which would you rather visit?

I preferred the latter version of Trantor.  I didn’t like the earlier version before the collapse – I thought it was all too glossy and fickle.  I liked the way towards the end that Trantor had actually turned a corner, soil had been revealed and plants had started to grow once again on the surface.

4.  How have your thoughts about Hari Seldon, his plan, and either or both Foundations changed, or not, during the course of these three novels?

I feel like I’ve come a long way!  We’ve twisted and turned along the way.  Been told one thing, then another, liked one person and then found that we didn’t like them, believed there was one Foundation only to find there was two and believed them to be poles apart when in fact they were cheek by jowl.  I must hand it to Asimov he’s a master of strategy.  I feel like his nickname should be the Trickster.

5.  What, if anything, surprised you in this last half of the book?  How do you feel Second Foundation held up compared to the other two books in the trilogy?

The biggest surprise for me in this half of the book was the discovery that Arcadia had been mind controlled from her birth – I hadn’t really understood just how far in advance the second Foundation people had been planning.  I think this was probably my favourite installment.  Particularly the first half which I though was gripping.

6.  Did any themes stand out for you in this series?  What are you taking away from the experience of reading the Foundation trilogy?

The particular theme that I think comes across is that no one is perfect.  I liked the way that the control changed from control based on religious belief, then commerce then mind control.  I also think that Asimov was trying to demonstrate that in spite of who is in charge they all have their own foibles.

I think what I’m taking away from this experience is: engagement with a great group of bloggers who have really active minds and get involved in some fantastic discussions.  At the end of the day reading is a bit of a solo pursuit and so getting involved in a readalong at least allows you to explore the story more fully and also awakens ideas that you didn’t know you had.  It also sometimes highlights different points of view and I found it really interesting how I may or may not like a character in contrast with some of the others.  I also have surprised myself and found that I liked sci fi a whole lot more than I thought.  I admit that I need to STOP judging a book by it’s cover – because I would never have picked these up otherwise! and I feel almost pleased with myself that I took part, completed the readalong and didn’t struggle too much to ‘get’ the plot.  Although, again, I readily admit that I didn’t second guess anything.

Thanks again Carl for hosting.

Lynn :D

Second Foundation by Issac Asimov, Group Readalong part 1

Posted On 20 February 2012

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Just finished reading Chapters 1-9 of Second Foundation as part of a group readalong I am taking part in hosted by Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings.

I don’t read a lot of sci fi but wanted to branch out some more and this series has been really great.  This weeks questions and discussion points below: (Beware of spoilers!)

1.  How have your perceptions of the Mule and his form of governing grown or changed, or not, after spending more time with him in this novel? 

I like the Mule less in this novel than previously (in fact I’ve lost any feelings of sympathy that I once had for him).  He seems more sinister somehow or perhaps I just totally misread him previously.  When he first appeared under the persona of the Clown I wanted to believe he was okay and he almost seemed a little sad which made me feel more forgiving towards him.  Also, although I didn’t agree with his methods he didn’t appear to take casualties if he could avoid doing so.  Now, he appears to have wiped out any traces of the clown almost as though when he lost his only friend  he lost his last shred of humanity.  He’s now wiping out full planets without a second thought and he seems much more vindictive.  I’m also not totally sure why he was so hell bent on discovering the Second Foundation and bending that to his will as well.  He already had the whole system in his pocket and yet he was ruthlessly determined in spite of the fact that most people didn’t believe that the Second Foundation even existed.

2.  Having finally gotten a glimpse into the mysterious Second Foundation, what are your feelings/thoughts about this group and their methods (as revealed thus far)

A bit mixed at the moment to be honest.  I found the conflict with the Mule the guy from Second Foundation fascinating.  Talk about twists and turns!  Again we seem to have a planet whose inhabitants are determined to keep within the confines of the Seldon prediction.  It’s strange that there are so many people absolutely set on ensuring this prophecy succeeds.  You can’t help wondering what would the difference have been without all the interventions.  I’m waiting to see how this new element develops – I couldn’t help thinking however that the tactics used to eliminate the threat posed by the Mule were so similar to the tactics he would have used himself!  I don’t totally agree with this mind manipulation ‘thing’, however, I was definitely not rooting for the Mule during the confrontation so was actually relieved to a certain extent (even though I didn’t approve the methods).  I’d almost started to believe the Mule was really invincible!

3.  Has your understanding of the Seldon Plan changed at all with the revelations about the plan and the Second Foundationers near the end of this first part of our reading? Looking back does it alter any ideas you had about Seldon and his predictions?

I think I’m still just as much in the dark as when I first started to read. I had no inkling of the Second Foundation until the point it was actually revealed (I did wonder how Seldon could have predicted things so accurately given how much things would change and develop in the years since he made his prediction and the fact that he would have no knowledge of the effect that these developments would actually mean) but, still waiting to see how things pan out.  I’m loving all the secrecy about the location of Second Foundation – I feel as though it’s going to be something really obvious that I should have spotted – hidden in plain sight maybe!  I like the way we’ve moved on through the books – we’ve had power through force, through economics and now it seems through intellect.  Very intriguing and thought provoking.  (I do feel like a big dunce for being so in the dark with how the plot will develop but on this occasion I’m actually not even attempting to second guess the outcome which is unusual for me.

4.  A simple one: How did you feel the first part of Second Foundation held up in comparison to the sections we’ve previously read?

Again, similar to the previous book, I really enjoyed this first half and am really looking forward to reading the concluding chapters.  I’m still enjoying the style of writing.  It’s sort of minimalistic yet manages to say exactly enough to put you in the picture, keep you entertained and make you keep turning the pages. Quickly.

5.  It is perhaps not surprising that Asimov’s second important female character in the trilogy would be a direct descendent of the first.  What do you think of young Arcadia “Arkady” Darell?

I like her – she’s got a lot of nous! It will be interesting to see what role she eventually comes to play and I think the link with Bayta is good to read about – and makes you keep her story fresh in your memory.

Thanks for the questions Carl.  Look forward to all the discussions.

Lynn :D

Foundation by Issac Asimov, group readalong part 2

Posted On 16 January 2012

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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!

Foundation

Foundation

The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov

Posted On 14 January 2012

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Just finished reading the Positronic Man.  I’m currently reading the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov as part of a read-along hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings and I’m really enjoying the experience, plus I’ve finished the first book in the series and enjoyed it much more than I expected to.  Positronic Man however is a different thing altogether – I loved this book, a lot.  I’m not trying to say that I’m now hooked to sci-fi because I’ve not really read enough to be convinced but this is a brilliant story, really thought provoking and extremely touching.

Positronic Man tells the story of a robot, serial number NNDR 113.  This is a series of robots that are being tested for roll out across the planet and Gerald Martin, a highly respected and influential member of the Legislature has undertaken to take one (along with varous other robots) by way of experiment to see how they cope and try to overcome the negativity that most people bear towards robots.  At the start we are given a brief history, the year is 2007 – and you just basically have to imagine it’s further into the future, the human population is in decline due to smaller sized families and the fact that some people are moving out to live on the moon.  Due to the dwindling population it has been necessary to introduce more robots in order to carry out everyday tasks but in spite of the need people are still cautious and suspicious.

So, Gerald Martin brings home his NDR and introduces him into the family where the youngest member of the family (little miss) names him Andrew and from there onwards we see Andrew become increasingly important to the family.

To be honest, it’s difficult to go into too much detail without giving away much of the plot.  Basically as you read along you watch Andrew change, very slowly, at first just in small awarenesses – things that have changed in himself such as feelings which he believes he experiences even though you would think this impossible for a robot.  And, slowly but surely, these small changes lead to other feelings.  You watch as he undergoes personal struggles to become free and then later to bring about legislation to protect himself.  He also undergoes massive changes to himself physically to the point where he looks human.  You can’t help reading along and wondering why?  Why is Andrew doing all these things.  Basically he wants acceptance.  He’s lived in a family and been accepted by them.  He’s worked and gained both fame and fortune.  He has a brilliant mind and has helped humanity – but he isn’t human.

I liked the way that Andrew succeeded in making changes almost in time with each new generation of the Martin family – who would always rally to his side and support him without reservation.  Progress is slow though – it’s like each new generation can only accept so much change at any one given time before they become weary of Andrew’s pursuit of his goal.  Yet, the Martin’s do really care about Andrew – in fact they love him and have accepted him as a member of his family. They fight for his causes, even if they don’t agree with them – because they allow him to chose his own path.  They visit him and make him a part of their new families and they try to protect him against outside prejudices.

You can’t help liking Andrew, although there was a point where I wondered whether his changes might make him too human.  He developed a short temper and the ability to manipulate and lie!  But I still liked him – it was just as though the longer he lived he adapted and took on the ability to become cynical – he even became bored.

It’s odd as well in that Andrew’s story is almost told in isolation – you have a few people surrounding him at any given time but that’s about the limit and the setting is similarly small scale and relatively normal – there are no dramatic sweeping descriptions of how the world has changed.  You know it’s changed.  Firstly there are robots, secondly people are living on the moon and space travel is commonplace and thirdly Asimov does introduce a few snippets here and there such as travel, dress sense, etc. But I think the  fact that there isn’t too much detail is better because it allows you to focus on Andrew’s story.  Asimov does go into quite a bit of detail about Andrew and his ‘workings’ but it’s not overwhelmingly ‘techy’ and easy to understand.

Anyway, I’m not going to go too much farther.  I really enjoyed it and was totally immersed in Andrew’s world.  On top of that there are all sort of thought provoking ideas not to mention quite a lot of ideas that I think have contributed to other books and on top of that a really good and emotional ending.

This is a great book.  I really can’t recommend it enough.

Rating A+

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