||Like all of Asimov's later books, this
one is filled to the brim with talk, and not much else. The characters
reason their decisions endlessly, both to themselves and to each other.
It gets dull rather quickly to go through that for everything.
The story, what there is to it,
concerns Hari Seldon, a young mathematician who had proven
theoretically that human society could be modelled by mathematics. He
is tricked into thinking that he is a hunted man (it seemed obvious to
me, even it I have read the book before), and flees from sector to
sector across Trantor. We get to visit a small university in Streeling
sector, then, when Seldon gets into trouble there, he is hidden away in
Mycogen and Dahl, and finally captured by Wye. Everywhere Seldon is
hidden, he gets into trouble. For the man who tricked him into thinking
that he was being hunted, Hummin, also convinced him that he could help
save humanity by developing psychohistory, and he sees leads everywhere.
Initially, Seldon is convinced that it
is not a practical science. As he learns more of history and society,
however, he becomes increasingly convinced that he could do it -or at
least start it. Exposure to the very different cultures in the different
Trantorian sectors helps illustrate some of humanity's cultural
extremes. It also helps give Seldon a sense of history, which after all
makes up the second half of "psychohistory".
The story is entirely character driven,
with minimal plot. I had trouble getting over the initial drive that
convinced Seldon to move forward with his work. The events leading up to
his residence at the University were not naturally-occurring. It was
obvious that Hummin was influencing the people they met, which made it
frustrating to read about, because it takes away the natural human
drive. If the tales are supposed to be about humanity, then the humans
must be allowed to make their own choices. When The Mule shows up in the
later Foundation and Empire, he influences the people with his mind, but
since he is the bad guy, it can be excused, as the unaltered human
ingenuity is what defeats him.
For those of us familiar with the rest
of the "history" leading up to this book, especially the robot novels, we
know that R. Giskard and R. Daneel Olivaw were robots who could read and
alter people's minds. Daneel was also humaniform, indistinguishable from
a human being on the outside. Taking this into account, it was obvious
that Hummin had to be Daneel. It didn't occur to me that Hummin was a
mispronunciation of 'human", though. I did recall from previously
reading this book that Demerzel was the same person as Hummin. I just
couldn't figure out why everybody hated Demerzel, but none recognized
him as Hummin, to whom everybody owed favors. It turns out that Demerzel
was only ever seen by a handful of people in the Imperial Palace.
Back in Robots of Dawn (and
Empire as well), Giskard was the one who coined the term
"psychohistory". Daneel seems to have forgotten, and I wonder how Seldon
got a hold of the term.
Most of the story takes the form of
discussions between Seldon, Hummin and/or Dors. (It's strange that
Asimov uses the men's last names to identify them, but Dors gets
first-name treatment.) Seldon, whose thoughts we get to see most often,
was full of so many questions, most of which had no real answers. His
dialog and thoughts felt like a rushing whirlwind. It is as if every
possible argument for and against an action or idea must be explored
thoroughly before he can continue.
Through Seldon and Dors, Asimov has a
lot of good observations about humanity, especially social behavior in
groups or as individuals, under stigma or oppression. Most of the
characters that we meet are very different from each other, even if they
don't get enough story to become very deep.
This book illustrates how language
issues can get confusing or misleading. It becomes obvious that the
characters are not speaking English when they refer to terms like
"religion", "temple", "aerie", and so on as being unknown. The terms
must have equivalents in Galactic Standard, but the terms they are
speaking about are from another language -ours. It's like having a
Klingon word stuck in an English sentence in Star Trek, but the author
does not differentiate between foreign words and common ones. It is nice
to see, however, that the language has indeed changed in twenty-thousand
years, and on twenty five million planets!
I think I liked the Mycogen sections
the best, as Seldon proceeded to break every strict custom that these
people had! It is also there that we get most of the archaic terms. The
women are subjugated almost to the point of non-existence, which makes
it more satisfying when he gets one of the women to talk to him. Seldon
tours a microfarm, which produces some of the most delicious spices and
foods on Trantor, and learns about a sacred book the Mycogenians have.
The book speaks about Aurora, which we know was the first of the Spacer
worlds, and about robots, implying that one of them, The Renegade, is
still alive and will return in time. This leads Seldon and Dors to
infiltrate the Mycogenian temple to see a metallic robot in the Elder's
chamber. It was, alas, a trap, but Hummin steps in to save them. This is
the second most obvious instance of mind-tampering, after Seldon's
In Dahl, Hari tours a heat-sink, with
workers considered to be lower-class than other people in the same
sector. His hosts don't like the way he keeps bringing lower-class
people to their house, and eventually do something about it. In the
meantime, however, Hari meets a gifted self-made mathematician who will
probably take a central role in the next book, and he meets with Raych,
a young boy who guides him through troubled neighbourhoods, saves them
from the Imperial security forces and will eventually be adopted by him.
In Dahl, Seldon learns about Earth, and how the Renegade helped the
people of Earth.
Eventually, they are captured by Wye
-or saved, if it can be put that way. But Demerzel was prepared for an
uprising from Wye, and managed to take control before a coup on the
Imperial throne could be mounted. Near the beginning of the book, when
the Emperor and Demerzel discuss the Mayor of Wye, there appears to be a
repeated conversation, and I can't figure out why. Demerzel brings up
the topic very early in the book, suggesting that he might have Seldon
killed rather than seeing him fall into the Mayor's hands. Later, when
Seldon arrives at Streeling University, they have nearly the same
conversation, but neither one seems to recall that this point has
already been made. Very strange that this was left standing in the book.
Aside from giving us insights into the
very self-righteous and somewhat arrogant Hari Seldon, the book also
gives us a tour of Trantor. As mentioned in the book, the planet is a
veritable galaxy of societies in itself. We even get to visit Upperside,
where Seldon gets lost in a copse of trees growing on top of the domed
planet, and nearly freezes in a sleet storm. We get insights into the
self-sufficiency of a world that is completely covered, through the
microfarms, the heat sinks, and the energy dispersal systems of Wye.
The most interesting parts of the book,
however, were references to the other books or concepts in the
over-riding series. Mention of robots, Aurora, Earth, and their feud are
very neat because they illustrate some sort of continuity. This is made
more plain when Seldon explains to Hummin/Demerzel how he deduced that
the man was a robot -a mind-altering robot. The final chapter actually
resembles the ending of a mystery novel, in laying bare how everything
happened, and it is nice to have it included here, even though it takes
the form of exposition. Seldon thought he would need to see the entire
Galactic Empire in order to develop psychohistory, but given that
Trantor is a mini-Empire of itself, he found a starting point on a
Then there is Dors. I liked her as a
no-nonsense character who takes it upon herself to protect Seldon. I
recalled, but wasn't sure if I recalled correctly, that she was a robot.
That was only confirmed when she used the knives so expertly in
Billibotton. That was a very well-written fight -and very revealing when
she didn't kill the instigator, though she could have done so easily.
Seldon falls in love with her almost immediately, but she never returns
it, until the end. But I wonder if she was simply trying to please him
then, as well. The fact that she was able to hurt humans means either
that she also believes in Daneel's Zeroth Law, or that Daneel managed to
figure out how to make some humans more important than others, as the
Solarians did in Robots and Empire.
Just in case psychohistory doesn't work
out, Daneel mentions off-handedly that he has an alternate plan in the
works -very likely Gaia, the planet the Mule comes from, and featured n
The Foundation novels, even the ones
written later, seem more mature than the robot or Galactic Empire
novels. Even while written around the same time as the other later books
in the series, the others seemed much more focused on sexuality, while
Seldon was much more academic in his thinking and attitudes. Obviously
attracted to Dors, he still respected her enough to avert his eyes when
she was caught topless, and so on. I think this is probably due to the
fact that Seldon was a mathematician, and therefore Asimov could apply
some of the research skills he undoubtedly learned in his youth to the
character. I think the best line of the whole novel comes when Seldon
asks "why don't people keep asking questions -even the simplest
questions?" That is something an academic would say.
If he had lived to continue the series,
would we have seen more Galactic Empire novels, hopefully without robot
In all, the book held my interest, but
not much more than that. This is the weakest of the series, I would say.