Foundation and Empire

Title: Foundation and Empire
Type of Text: Novel
Author: Isaac Asimov
Published: 1952

Main Characters: Bel Riose, an adventurous young general of the Galactic Empire who looks for trouble (and glory) around the Periphery; the Emperor Cleon II, and Ammel Brodrig, his Privy Secretary. Two prisoners of Riose: Ducem Barr, a patrician of Siwenna who has studied the rumours surrounding the Foundation; Lathan Devers, a Trader for the Foundation. The Mule, a warlord who attacks the Foundation; Bayta and her husband Toran, who get caught up in events, and Magnifico Giganticus, the Mule’s clown, whom they rescue. Captain Han Pritcher, a spy; Mayor Indbur the Third of Terminus; Ebling Mis, the chief psychologist of the Foundation, who has some particularly fun affectations of speech, and who hopes to rediscover Hari Seldon’s methods and plans.
Genre: Sci-Fi
Narrative Style: Third-person omniscient narrative, chaptered in two parts: the first part focuses mostly on events from the Imperial point of view, a generation after the events of the previous book, while the second focuses on a resistance movement active about a century after that. There are a few passages of supposed quotation from the “Encyclopedia Galactica”, but not many.
Themes & Imagery: Forces of history. The inevitable decline of imperial power; politics and political disputes; corruption and despotism; rebellion; war and conquest. Expanding loose federal system. Inertia and stagnation; complacency; lack of innovation; fatalism, against the faith that things will turn out alright in the end; overwhelming bureaucracy. Lack of freedom or free will; historical necessity, bordering on a sense of fate or destiny. Betrayal.

Synopsis: A generation after the events of “Foundation”, the growing Foundation must face the might of the dying Galactic Empire. The novel is in two parts. In “The General”, Bel Riose leads his fleet against the Foundation, winning victories through smart tactics and force of numbers against people who are probably technologically more advanced but not expecting war; despite the efforts of his prisoners, Ducem Barr and Lathan Devers, he gains the support of the Emperor’s advisor Brodrig, and the pair seem unstoppable – until the forces of historical necessity, quite apart from the efforts of individuals, bring the war to an unexpected end. In “The Mule”, the rise of a mutant warlord overcomes the threat of civil war and revolt against the Foundation, but also adds a factor which Hari Seldon’s predictions were unable to take into account, so that, for the first time in its history, the safety and future of the Foundation is insecure; the only hope of rebellion lies in the abandoned heart of the Galactic Empire, the ruins that were once the great city of Trantor, and in the whispered promise of a Second Foundation.
Personal Response: I’m not sure how I feel about this novel. On the one hand, it was interesting to see further logical developments of the initial concept, and particularly to see how even the initial innovation of the Foundation moved towards corruption and stagnation; and I felt that having two longer parts (rather than five short) gave more space for some welcome development. On the other hand, I didn’t find the first part very appealing – despite the extra space, characters felt more superficial and less individualised than in the first novel, while the plot petered out into nothing (albeit with a thematic message encoded therein) – and although the second part was far more enjoyable, the foreshadowing was so strong throughout that the final twist wasn’t particularly shocking or unexpected. The novel as a whole had a tendency towards excessive exposition, I thought, especially at the climaxes (although this would have been a benefit rather than a drawback if I had not read “Foundation” or had it so fresh in my mind). The expansion beyond the initial Periphery of the galaxy was welcome, allowing a pleasant creativity in describing new worlds which might have been lacking in the first novel; but I think this came slightly at the expense of showing developments in detail, particularly on Terminus itself. I think that I would be disappointed with this novel if it were just a sequel, but as the central book of a trilogy, I hope instead that it is providing necessary (and still engaging) set-up for the next volume.
Favourite Part: The clown Magnifico plays the Visi-Sonor, offering one of few scenes of expansive wonder.

My Top Five Lines & Passages:

Riose doubts Ducem Barr’s claims that Hari Seldon predicted the fall of the Galactic Empire:

Riose laughed suddenly. “He foresaw that? Then he foresaw wrong, my good scientist. I suppose you can call yourself that. Why, the Empire is more powerful now than it has been in a millennium. Your old eyes are blinded by the cold bleakness of the border. Come to the inner worlds some day; come to the warmth and the wealth of the center.”
The old man shook his head somberly. “Circulation ceases first at the outer edges. It will take a while yet for the decay to reach the heart. That is, the apparent, obvious-to-all decay, as distinct from the inner decay that is an old story of the fifteen centuries.”

Ducem Barr refutes the Trader Devers’s accusation that he could have stayed behind with General Riose:

The Siwennian patrician opened his eyes and they were sharp with pain. “Riose came to me once; it was over a year ago. He spoke of a cult centering about the magicians, but missed the truth. It is not quite a cult. You see, it is forty years now that Siwenna has been gripped in the same unbearable vise that threatens your world. Five revolts have been ground out. Then I discovered the ancient records of Hari Seldon – and now this ‘cult’ waits.
“It waits for the coming of the ‘magicians’ and for that day it is ready. My sons are leaders of those who wait. It is that secret which is in my mind and which the Probe must never touch. And so they must die as hostages; or the alternative is their death as rebels and half of Siwenna with them. You see, I had no choice! And I am no outsider.”
Devers’ s eyes fell, and Barr continued softly, “It is on a Foundation victory that Siwenna’s hopes depend. It is for a Foundation victory that my sons are sacrificed. And Hari Seldon does not pre-calculate the inevitable salvation of Siwenna as he does that of the Foundation. I have no certainty for my people – only hope.”

Bayta discusses her expectations of an upcoming Seldon crisis:

She lit a cigarette slowly, and watched the growing tip absently. “The laws of history are as absolute as the laws of physics, and if the probabilities of error are greater, it is only because history does not deal with as many humans as physics does atoms, so that individual variations count for more. Seldon predicted a series of crises through the thousand years of growth, each of which would force a new turning of our history into a pre-calculated path. It is those crises which direct us – and therefore a crisis must come now.
“Now!” she repeated, forcefully. “It’s almost a century since the last one, and in that century, every vice of the Empire has been repeated in the Foundation. Inertia! Our ruling class knows one law: no change. Despotism! They know one rule: force. Maldistribution! They know one desire: to hold what is theirs.”

Pritcher enters the Mayor’s Palace on the conquered Terminus:

In three centuries the Foundation had grown from a private project of a small group of scientists to a tentacular trade empire sprawling deep into the Galaxy and half a year had flung it from its heights to the status of another conquered province.
Captain Han Pritcher refused to grasp that.
The city’s sullen nighttime quiet, the darkened palace, intruder-occupied, were symbolic enough, but Captain Han Pritcher, just within the outer gate of the palace, with the tiny nuclear bomb under his tongue, refused to understand.

Trantor lies in ruins:

It was strange that a world which had been the center of the Galaxy for two thousand years – that had ruled limitless space and been home to legislators and rulers whose whims spanned the parsecs – could die in a month. It was strange that a world which had been untouched through the vast conquering sweeps and retreats of a millennium, and equally untouched by the civil wars and palace revolutions of other millennia – should lie dead at last. It was strange that the Glory of the Galaxy should be a rotting corpse.
And pathetic!
For centuries would yet pass before the mighty works of fifty generations of humans would decay past use. Only the declining powers of men, themselves, rendered them useless now.

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