The Foundation Groupread, Part II

“Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what is right!”  ~Salvador Hardin

Today marks the conclusion of the groupread of Asimov’s “The Foundation,” hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings.  Last week we had some great discussions about the first half of the book, which can be found here.  During the next few weeks, I’ll also be participating in groupreads of the next two books in the Foundation Trilogy.  Feel free to join!

The rest of my post may contain spoilers from the rest of the book.  Later in the week, I’ll post a normal spoiler-free review of the novel for anyone who hasn’t been following the discussions.

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?

It was interesting to see the way that his plotting worked out.  At first, I suspected a change in leadership similar to the manner in which Hardin himself took over.  Instead, Hardin continued to manipulate events to his favor.  In the previous section, we had seen Hardin find a way to allow the Foundation to tentatively coexist with Anacreon.  In this section, Hardin uses the foundations that he had built during the last Seldon crisis to give The Foundation the upper hand, establishing the dominance of the priests over Anacreon’s secular leaders.  I’m also quite pleased that Seldon showed up at the end of it all.  I love it when he does that!

What are your thoughts on the way in which control/manipulation to achieve Foundation ends began to shift with The Traders?

Religious power only works to manipulate people until they realize that they’re being manipulated and decide not to put up with it anymore.  By the time that Terminus was ready to expand it’s sphere of influence beyond the Four Kingdoms, the Foundation was definitely in need of a new strategy.  At the same time, it took someone who was willing to break with tradition in order to implement it, because the leadership tended to cling to tradition, even when it was no longer an effective way of relating to the world.  The way that the Foundation progresses reminds me a lot of dialectics… you’ve got one worldview, it’s opposite, and then a major event to shift the balance.  I like the direction that things are going thus far, and I loved the characters in the last two sections of the book.  The Han Solo types are always appealing!

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.

This was one of the things that I thought about a lot while reading.  Even though Seldon based his theory on mob psychology, there always had to be one person who had a bit of nerve paired with a different worldview to manipulate events in the right direction.  To an extent, they’re doing it with the knowledge of Seldon’s plan, but at the same time, not every individual who thinks that they have a better idea of how to do things ends up winning; take, for instance, Sermak.  It’s intriguing.

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?

Hardin and Mallow are similar in that they think outside the box and manipulate events to their advantage.  At the same time, I’m inclined to like Mallow better, and I love the way that he spins the trial in his favor.  If I’d been reading this back when it was written, I probably would have seen it against a Cold War background, especially the standoff with Anacreon, and I’d probably view Asimov’s Traders and Merchant Princes as representing the US fighting not to be overpowered by the Soviets.  Reading today is quite a different experience.

Has your concept/thoughts of what Seldon was trying to do changed at all since the book began?

The more I read, the more I regard Seldon as a genius.  I’d expected things to deviate somewhat from his plan, but thus far it hasn’t happened yet.  Not a lot, mind you, but just enough to stir things up a bit more than they already are.

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’m enjoying this book far more than I thought I would.  Last week I was a bit put off by Asimov’s lack of character development.  By the time that I got to this week’s sections, I couldn’t put the book down.  I’m fully invested in what happens to The Foundation, and the characters have gone off in the direction of the loveable rogue rather than the manipulative politician.  I’m excited to read the next two books!

What did everyone else think of the second part of the book?

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “The Foundation Groupread, Part II

  1. Miguel

    Seems we may have a real live “Seldon” today, operating on “Terran” history —

  2. I too love it when Seldon pays us a visit. I like the idea too that such a powerful man is in a wheelchair. It makes me think of FDR. I know that in Seldon’s case it’s old age, but it is still a powerful image for me.
    I loved the courtroom drama, and I’m not one to watch similar shows on TV. Maybe I’ve been missing out.

  3. I’m so glad you made the point about the trial – it had totally gone out of my mind – and I really enjoyed it, especially Mallow acting like a showman and milking it for all it was worth!
    I must admit that last week I read way more than I was supposed to (accidentally, 1. because I didn’t know where we were reading up to and 2. I just hadn’t realised how far I’d gone!). I think this probably made me a bit more forgiving of the lack of character development because I’d read further forward and so had really got caught up with the story.
    I don’t think this will become my favourite style of writing but I have enjoyed it on this occasion.
    Lynn 😀

    • The trial was one of my favorite scenes in the book thus far. 😀

      I think that if I’d have finished section 3 last week, I’d have been a lot more forgiving of the writing style. I do like the idea of an idea-driven story; it’s just a bit out of my comfort zone. It’s interesting to give it a try!

      • If you enjoyed the trial scene allow me to suggest another book to add to your to read pile, Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi. It is a very accessible reboot of an old sf series and has a great trial scene in it. Very Perry Mason.

  4. I think things really came together in this second half, too. I am looking forward to moving on to book 2 to see how things are going to play out. I too wasn’t sure if the changing characters was going to work for me because you never really get a chance to know anyone and it was a bit jarring at first, but once I got used to it I was finding myself intrigued. I think this is the sort of trilogy you need to read all 3 books before you can really say anything about liking or disliking. This book is basically just setting things up, so I imagine any real conclusions will not come until book 3. I am very curious in what direction Asimov will choose to go. Will he have everything turn out as a success, or will there be a major problem down the road that changes everything. Is it all just manipulation or is it really a tried and tested science… Lots of things to think about!

    • You are definitely right, Kailana, this part of the collection of stories is indeed largely set up and while I think we can judge whether or not it is working for us thus far it does take seeing the whole story play out to determine whether or not Asimov succeeded at what he set out to do and also whether or not he succeeded in telling a good story in the process.

      • I’m looking forward to see how Asimov ties everything together, but at the same time, I’m not expecting a concrete overall resolution, as he seems to be big on the cliffhangers.

  5. Chris

    I’m also a big fan of Perry Mason, and with the unscrupulous things going on in earlier sections of the book, I wonder if Mallow doctored the video and added that tattoo on the man’s wrist. The goal is to discredit your opponent, not get at the truth.

    • That is certainly possible Chris but I consider it less likely because of the way Mallow immediately reacted to the supposed priest. His assessment of the man’s behavior was exactly what we saw when we watched it play out in “real time” and so I think it more likely that they just took him to be a dumb trader not knowing that his knowledge of the religion and customs would help him see through the bluff.

      • I thought of it more as Sherlock Holmes powers of observance. As a whole, the Foundation has the brains, even though neighboring planets have the military power. A hero of the Foundation would have to use creative thinking to win his case or to bring Terminus into the future.

  6. I also like Mallow more. I am trying to figure out if this was because Hardin was a politician and when we first meet Mallow, he was a business person and I accept someone making a buck more than a politician manipulating situations to stay in power. I’ll have to think about this more.

    I keep thinking Seldon’s plan is going to go array…so far it hasn’t, but I keep waiting for that.

    • I think that it was more that Mallow was honest about who he was. Hardin used religion to manipulate people, which at the time was necessary but which also necessitated a certain measure of deceit. Mallow never claimed to be anything but what he was.

  7. I too really enjoy the traders and like you I cannot help but compare them to Han Solo, the first of that type of character that I really connected with. I think part of the appeal is that they are out on ships traveling the galaxy rather than sitting in an office plotting. As a person who spends a lot of time in an office or in meetings the “out and about” part of being a trader has appeal, in spite of the certain knowledge that I am romanticizing life aboard a vessel that would probably make me claustrophobic.

    It is intriguing to see how Seldon’s plan is working and how the individuals are interpreting the plan, the crises, and their own parts in the process. What has me most intrigued is the not knowing exactly what is going to happen next. Now yes I’ve read this and have the big parts in mind but it is the intricacies of the plan that I cannot remember and so I’m very excited to once again read the rest to see what happens.

    I don’t know if it was watching episodes of Perry Mason as a kid or what but I find trial scenes in books, films, tv shows to be very gripping. Good theater. I loved how Mallow planned everything just right to take advantage of the legal system and also how he used the media in his favor to put himself in the best light. That too seems very timely, especially since the media was nothing at all then like it is now. I give kudos to Asimov for his foresight in that department, he got that part of the future down cold.

    I’m glad the book continued to grow on you. If I recall correctly we spend a little more time with characters in the coming sections and I’m hoping that increases your enjoyment of the series.

    • Great point about the media. Mallow and Hardin both were able to turn public opinion in their favor even when it looked like they were about to be defeated.

      The independence of the traders definitely has it’s appeal.

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