Monday, January 30, 2012

Foundation and Empire Group Read Discussion, Part 1

I’m still in the middle of the Science Fiction Experience and I decided to join along with the second group read, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings, of Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov.

In the first book, Foundation, Hari Seldon predicted the slow collapse of the Galactic Empire and the years of barbarism that it would bring. Seldon proposed to establish the Foundation on two opposite ends of the galaxy. Their goal was to work on an encyclopedia to preserve the knowledge of the Empire. So instead of 30,000 years of barbarism, between the breakdown of the first Galactic Empire and the stronger second that would follow, the work of the Foundation would reduce that time to 1,000 years.

We saw in the first book the Foundation faced with 3 different crisis that threatened their lively hood. Each crisis was overcome with determination, and without resorting to violence, by two men, Salvor Hardin and Hober Mallow. But the challenges they faced were against fringe kingdoms, that had broken away from the Galactic Empire, each stronger than the Foundation, with strength in numbers and natural resources. But weak in terms of being out of reach from the core of the Galactic Empire and having lost all knowledge of nuclear power and how to apply it to their economy.

Now, in the second book, Foundation and Empire, the Galactic Empire is ready to reclaim those fringe kingdoms they lost three centuries ago. Commanding the fleet is an ambitious general, Bel Riose, who has his sights not only on the fringe kingdoms, but the Foundation itself.

Following are discussion questions and my answers. There will be spoilers so carry on at your own risk.

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?

I was not surprised the Galactic Empire was still thriving. It was the planets on the fringes they lost control of. As quickly as they descended into their “barbarous” state, it didn’t seem like they affected the core of the Galactic Empire all that much.

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?

In Foundation, it was individuals (Hardin, Mallow) who were helping themselves but also trying to help the Foundation. I’ve always been of the opinion that Seldon knew there would be individuals who would act on their own that would help steer the Foundation out of a crisis.

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 did like it, up until the war was over and Devers and Barr basically did nothing. That was a bit of a letdown for me. I was expecting them to have more impact. I thought they’d be important. They did give us the first taste of action in this book with their escape from Trantor.

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.

The Foundation was definitely in the middle of a crisis and although previous crisis were solved without bloodshed, this one was still resolved in a similar manner of playing people against each other. Seldon could not foresee events but I’m sure through psychohistory he knew it was a matter of these individuals stepping up and making a critical decision. But in this case we had paranoia at work, with the Emperor recalling Bel Riose and having him tried and executed. This turn of events ended up helping end a war the Foundation would not have been able to win.

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?

I was hoping you weren’t. And I’m glad we finally have a female character that has appeared in more than one scene.

6. We haven't spent much time with them yet, but talk about your initial impressions of Toran and Bayta.

I don’t know about these two yet. They look upon each other as if they just acquired something valuable. I get the feeling they are trying to give the impression that they only married for convenience; a very profitable arrangement that works in both their favors. But the looks they give each other might suggest deeper feelings. I’m not quite sure what to make of it yet.

I’m really enjoying this second book despite the fact we spent a good portion of the book with characters that ended up not doing very much. But it was with these characters we were introduced to some action and a wild escape from Trantor, the central seat of the Galactic Empire. Part one of this group read stopped with Bayta and Toran, newlyweds on vacation on Kalgan to discover who the Mule is. I’m intrigued because I want to know who the Mule is too so onward I go!


  1. That was such an interesting experience going along with Devers and Barr expecting them to be heroes, and then nothing. We're certainly not used to that in most stories or movies. It sure gets the point across clearly though.
    I'm looking forward to continuing the story of Bayta and Toran to see what impact they have.

    1. Yeah, my reaction at the end of Devers and Barr's storyline was, "That was it?" Hopefully Bayta and Toran's story doesn't end that way.