Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE

A novel by Isaac Asimov (1982, Doubleday [original copyright 1952])
Book 2 of the Foundation Trilogy

When the Foundation becomes a major military power in the galaxy, it is challenged by Trantor and an entity known as The Mule.

 

 

Read September 6th to 13th, 2006 for the third time  
    I had some trouble with the first half of this book, but absolutely loved the second half.

The second book in the Foundation Trilogy is more mature in writing style, and has a more continuous narrative. The author also makes more amusing observations about the galaxy and human nature. As in Foundation, the writing is tight and focused, and therefore the point is made rather quickly.

However, the point of the first half of the book, as an Imperial General attacks the Foundation, was lost on me until I was a fair bit through the second part. Seldon said in his first appearance to the Encyclopedists that each crisis would become more challenging, and that the solution would present itself only when there was one option left, after forces both inside and outside created pressure that would force the solution.

In my opinion, the crises seen in Foundation did not increase in complexity -or else the people in charge were so smart and intuitive that the solutions seemed easy. In the face of The General, there was no leadership to speak of. Hober Mallow left a political mess, which was successful at gathering new worlds to become dependent on Terminus, but ineffective at facing down a physical threat.

I think what the protagonists said at the end of the section was wrong. One person meant a lot to solving each of the previous crises. I wondered, in my review of Foundation, what would have occurred if those critical people had not been in charge. The point of this section of Foundation and Empire was to answer that question. The individual does not matter, but can speed up the solution, or make it less bloody. As one of the characters said in The Mule section, if they had had effective leadership at the time, the war with the General might have been a lot less bloody.

That is the point I missed throughout the end of the first section -the inevitability of the Foundation's victory through social forces, even if the effective leadership is not in place. The religion would have surfaced eventually, though it might not have been so effective, as would a free market trading empire. With Salvor Hardin and Hober Mallow in charge, those things took on a inertia of their own.

The story follows Lathan Devers as he tries to be the hero that he cannot be. He allows himself to be captured by Bel Riose, the General, in the hope that he can sabotage the Empire from within. But the General knows how to fight a war, and ties the Foundation in a noose. The Emperor becomes suspicious, however, because a popular General is not such a good thing, as they tend to assassinate Emperors to become Emperors themselves. He sends his most loyal subject to keep an eye on Riose, but through Devers' attempted bribery, the advisor joins with Riose, making the Emperor even more suspicious. Everybody is after the throne! Before the General can defeat the Foundation, he is recalled, and executed.

Meanwhile, Devers and ally Ducem Barr (rebel son of the person Hober Mallow met on Siwenna back in Foundation) escape and make their way to Trantor, where they take a month not even to reach an audience with the Emperor. However, their journey sparks interest, in that they might be assassins from Riose, as the police know that they have escaped easily from the General's ship. More suspicions. They manage to escape, realizing that their journey was futile, that the inertia of society forced the Empire to fail.

I think I enjoyed the second, longer, part of this book even better this time around, because I knew what was going to happen. I could read all of the signs, and I knew why people did the things they did. When Toran suddenly rises up to defend the Mule's jester, he surprises himself. When Magestico plays the visi-sonor, everyone feels depressed. Magestico comes up with a complex explanation for how they encountered a Foundation ship with the Mule's people on board just as they were entering Imperial space. Everybody is suspicious of the coincidence, but nobody suspects the clown.

I think my favorite part of the book is how Hari Seldon got the crisis wrong. This was a real crisis in development, but derailed by the arrival of the mutant Mule. The Foundation government was taken over decades ago by a tyrannical ruler, who passed his rule to his son then his grandson. The Traders have declared independence and founded worlds of their own. They plan to overthrow the government, with the help of the democratic underground on Terminus.

All of this is stopped, however, when a warlord calling himself The Mule takes over several planets, suddenly acquiring a fleet of ships capable of confronting the Foundation. Each planet was taken without a fight. When Bayta and Toran bring Magnifico to Terminus, and he plays the visi-sonor for a huge crowd, they soon feel despaired, and when the Mule's ships attack, the tyrannical Mayor surrenders immediately. The Time Vault opens, and Seldon proclaims a successful end to the civil war that tore open the Foundation, created a new type of government, and therefore made it more stable for the future. Everybody is confused! Of course, instead of attacking the government, the Traders joined with them against the Mule. But even the Traders gave up in the end, coincidentally after Magnifico played several concerts on their chief world of Haven.

I liked the way the Mule had a couple of tricks to use. He had an atomic neutralizing field, a neat contraption that caused all atomics to stop functioning, effectively turning off the power. At the same time, he could manipulate emotions, making everybody depressed. Combined, these caused mass hysteria and surrender.

Before Haven falls, Toran, Bayta, Magnifico and a psychologist Ebling Mis (greatest psychologist since Hari Seldon, even in the mathematical sense) leave for Trantor, with a special mission -find the Second Foundation! They try to go through official channels, meeting with the senile Emperor on Neotrantor, who moved there after Trantor was attacked and sacked. Doing things the proper way gets them captured by the crown prince and his advisor, but Magnifico plays the visi-sonor and kills the prince.

They move to Trantor, where Mis becomes single-mindedly obsessed with finding the Second Foundation. He finds it, of course, but not before Bayta puts the clues together and realizes that the stupid clown, Magnifico, is really the Mule! What a great disguise. The former Foundation Captain, Han Pritcher, shows up on Trantor, also, converted to a loyal subject of the Mule, giving Bayta the final clues.

It still comes as a total surprise when Bayta kills Ebling Mis so that he won't tell the Mule where the Second Foundation is, because, of course, he pieces everything together, under the psychological pushing of the Mule.

While I am not a fan of the evil tyrant telling the story of why he failed, the Mule's story is rather intriguing. I don't recall if the story of his childhood is compatible with what is explained in Foundation's Edge, but it became more interesting, more human, when he told of not touching Bayta with his mental powers, because she liked him for who he was- the first person he had ever encountered like that. (I'm sure he would have been loved on Gaia, if he had rediscovered it, but by then he would have been so full of hate that he probably couldn't reintegrate.) And so Bayta defeated him, because he had a need to feel the fullness of her emotion without it being tampered.

As Bayta and Toran have no more power over him, he lets them go. But his search will continue in Second Foundation...

Knowing in advance that Magnifico is the Mule makes the second part of this book very enjoyable. For most of the book, there is no reason for the characters to become suspicious. It is not until the come across Pritcher's ship in Imperial space that they should have become suspicious, and it is exactly then that Bayta started to grasp it. This part of the tale was very engaging, and more than made up for the earlier part.

Of course, it only tells half the tale. The Mule must be defeated, so that the Foundation can continue on. And by then, Daneel Olivaw's project on Gaia, for the safeguarding of the Human species, will be nearly complete, so perhaps the Foundation will become obsolete. Then again, maybe not, because the people need to be able to see their rulers, and must be kept ignorant of the hands that are guiding them. We'll see!

 

 

Also read June 29th to July 4th, 1994 for the second time  
   

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