Trish's Reviews > Foundation and Empire

Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
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it was amazing

This second book in the Foundation trilogy was quite different from the first.

One notable difference is that instead of many, there are only 2 parts:
- The General
- The Mule
Moreover, each chapter has its own title now instead of just a number.

That is only the difference in form however and therefore only a first indication. The author also changed his writing style in this. Where we had shorter stories forming a mosaic in the first, we now have a much more elaborate description of everything. The writing style is again very good, simple and yet intelligent. Nevertheless, I did not like this form as much as the shorter stories. To me, Asimov is most poignant and sharp in shorter stories put together to form one massive tale. Here, some weren't even important to get a feeling for the era, the galaxy and development of events; we had quite a lot of what I consider "background noise".

As a comment before we begin, please consider that I do not put much into spoiler brackets because the book itself often reveals things beforehand through entries of the Encyclopedia Galactica that are being cited before a chapter or simply by the title of the 3rd and last book!

The first part, The General, tells the tale of a very important man in the history of the Foundation. Not quite sure WHY he of all people was all THAT important. Perhaps just because he dared having a military conflict with the Foundation. Or because it was the first real outbreak of a war-like situation and, of course, a stark contrast to what The Mule did. Or because of his relationship with the Emperor. Or because it was the last effort made by the crumbling Empire.
You see, Riose (the general in question) was a member of the remnant of the Empire. It's significantly smaller now and only has relicts of technology but it's holding on. Where the military was exploring and conquering before, they are now as stagnant as the rest and it drives this general up the walls. Which I understand. The tragedy about him is that he is not a bad person per se and not stupid per se either. His motives were just bad in this case (conflict for conflict's sake) and the way he did it was doomed from the start.
Moreover, as mentioned before, apart from the conflict with the Foundation we also get to see the conflict between the Emperor and the General and what mistrust and arrogant inaction will do to you. This tale was definitely a nod to Belisarius (a famous Roman general).

The second and much more important part tells of an individual stirring things up about 100 years after the events in The General. The individual is never named. He calls himself The Mule and there are all kinds of stories about him. Not really a surprise considering that he gained enough influence and power to oppose the in the meantime basically ruling Foundation in only 7 years!
In my opinion the Foundation, if it ever has been, has ceased to be a force for good. Seldon's plan was to preserve knowledge and shorten the "dark ages". Noble in and of itself. But the Foundation we are seeing here has grown fat and complacent and is more of a cancer, forcing itself onto others. They are borderline dictators, the Mayor isn't elected anymore, the title is inherited instead (which is never a good idea), and so it is no surprise that the Traders (one of the forces introduced in the previous book) have become somewhat of an independent force that have had enough of the bureaucracy of the Foundation. Basically, the Foundation is what the Empire was, repeats the mistakes the Empire made and ... well. The funny thing is they never even consider the possibility of failure. Some are intelligent enough to at least call this a Seldon Crisis (we had a few during the first book where holographic messages of Seldon recorded in the past either helped or showed in retrospect what the correct course of action was) but most of those just want to wait for the next hologram to appear and tell them what to do. *facepalm*
When it actually is time and the hologram does indeed appear, we get(view spoiler)
On the side we have a few individuals caught in the events started by the Foundation and the Mule and I really liked them. Granted, not all five of them are equally good (which is to say I didn't care about each of them equally) but the relationship between Bayta and her husband was very sweet without ever beeing cheesy, the Captain/Colonel was a very tragic figure (*shudders at the thought of having something like this done to myself*) and Magnifico was ... well, magnifico (with or without diactrical mark, depending on whether you see it as the Italian or Spanish word). Four and a half are trying to stop the Mule by finding the Second Foundation that was supposedly established simultaneously to the one on Terminus but on the other end of the galaxy. It's a bit of a chase, really, since the Mule is interested in knowing their location too, of course.

Any further info would spoiler the story too much but I can say that most of the characters shown are very intelligent or play a part in showing just how stupid and doomed rigid systems are. As Darwin said: survival of the fittest (as in: best adapted / willing and able to adapt). It is very clear at this point just how heavily Asimov was influenced by the history of the Roman Empire.

I'm not sure I agree with his theory about psychohistory, a science that is basically never wrong, at least not about the big stuff (science is invented and applied by humans and therefore not infallible but psychohistory was introduced/shown as if it was infallible at least unless something god-like shatters the system) and that individuals are too insignificant to really matter. This is a personal opinion since I refuse to accept not to matter. My personal belief is that through intelligence and dedication an individual can indeed influence history so Asimov is hitting a nerve by saying No. Might be a typical example of the human ego. *lol*
Therefore, I'm also a bit disappointed that it took a god-like mutant to be able to shape events like that. Personally, I would have liked to see an ingenious individual without special powers (other than intelligence, persuasion, foresight etc) accomplish the same.

Other than that, it is almost tragic to compare this to long lost empires in real life. Look at Rome; look at all the accomplishments. Or look at other ancient societies like Ancient Egypt. It's always the same: they grow, they have wonderful inventions and progress and art, they become powerful, and then something happens that turns it all sour and it's all downhill from there until all that's left are ruins to be dug out by archaeologists thousands of years later. It's tragic and always repeating itself, apparently. To see this pattern repeated by such an advanced culture instead of them learning from the mistakes of their past is dreary and depressing even if it is, ultimately, realistic as hell.

I was actually considering giving this only 4 stars for two reasons:
- the different writing style that is not 100% to my liking although still superb;
- what the author created in order to bring about the fall of the Foundation.
However, after finishing the book I was considering all aspects. Brad said I should wait with my final rating until after having read book #3 but I disagree: this is one book and it needs to be able to hold up on its own with no help by the following or previous volume. Of course it's part of a trilogy, but if this installment was bad, it would still deserve the appropriate rating. Same goes for a good but not excellent rating.
BUT (there always is one, isn't there?!) ... there are, in retrospect, many reasons not to deduct a star. Like the ingenious way Asimov rewards a smart and attentive reader with giving hints here and there (for example (view spoiler)). Or the seemingly effortless world-building with intricate and well thought-out details. Or the amiable writing style itself that might have been sharper in shorter stories but was still exceptional here as well (yes, one and the same point both on the pro and the contra side, I love making lists ;P). Or the historical context in which the novel was written that I often take into consideration too - in this case it was apparently believed in the 1950s that psychic powers were indeed possible so I cannot fault Asimov (or any other author) for being "realistic" although mutants were never mentioned as being possible/part of future humanity so at first it looked like a deus ex machina.
Therefore, although I do not consider this second volume as good as the first (pettifoggery, really), it does indeed receive the full rating of 5 stars.

Now on to the other end of the galaxy and the conclusion!
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Reading Progress

October 31, 2016 – Shelved
October 31, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
November 4, 2016 – Started Reading
November 5, 2016 –
15.0% "BWAHAHAHAHA. We have a General who is seriously put out by the fact that the Foundation is not in a hurry about anything.\nHe wants to subdue them, get the threat away with, possibly being the hero to do so (which means he's stroking his own ... ego).\nHowever, he accuses the Foundation of being arrogant (having too much ego) shown by the fact that they are not in a hurry.\nOh, the irony! Love it! :D"
November 5, 2016 –
25.0% "BWAHAHAHAHA! During the war the General mentioned before caught and imprisoned a Trader. The Trader then tried to explain to the General how one of the General's men died (by fondling a piece of technology the soldier didn't know, thus blowing out his own chest). HILARIOUS!"
November 6, 2016 –
38.0% "Hm. I think I preferred the shorter intervals of stories of the first volume. The war was stretched out a bit too much for my taste. Not as poignant and sharp as the points made in the first book. But funny what happened to the General (didn't expect it from what we knew thanks to the Encyclopedia Galactica)."
November 6, 2016 –
50.0% "Well, the direction of the rest of this book is pretty clear now, I think. Even so, it's still very interesting. Didn't know Asimov was the father of the X-Men too. ;P"
November 7, 2016 –
81.0% "BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Well, the best laid plans ... *can't stop laughing*\nThis is so FUNNY (well, for me anyway)."
November 7, 2016 –
90.0% "Drawing to a close but can't finish tonight, sadly. The pieces are coming together for the characters now, too."
November 8, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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Bradley Woah! I thought for sure you were going to give it a 3 or a 4 star rating lol :)

I might have been a bit of your antagonist on this book lol, arguing for its merits a bit too much. I also gave it a 4 star rating, once upon a time, but only just bumped it up on this re-read.

It's just one of those books that have things going on under the surface that makes it better on retrospect, perhaps.

So does this novel need to be judged by its time or does it still stand on its own, today? So few can stand on their own today. I'm very curious what you think. :)

message 2: by Trish (last edited Nov 08, 2016 04:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Trish No, 3 stars were never an option. I was only contemplating 4 stars. As I said, it was always top notch, I just didn't agree with some things. And trust me, it's MY opinion that gives the rating. But I do welcome a good and passionate discussion anytime. ;)
As for the book itself, one of the reasons I gave it 5 stars is that it manages the incredibly difficult balance between being a product of its time AND being important/relevant today. Some aspects belong to the past it was written in but Asimov proved foresight with many others.

Bradley Yes indeed. :)

Of course, in a more general way, I'm still in awe of Hari's math. Predicting the future by way of science is still a shockingly awesome idea. :)

Trish Yep and a very cool ability!

William Wow, what a spectacular review!

I read this series perhaps 50 years ago, and was completely enthralled.

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