Final Discussion on Foundation

Last week we started our group discussion of Foundation, by Isaac Asimov.  Today is the next and final discussion of this novel.  This group read has been hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.  If you would like to follow all of the discussions, please visit this page.   Please note, that if you have not read the book, there will be spoilers in the discussion below.  Furthermore, if you have not been a part of the group but would still like to add your comments, feel free to do so.  This discussion is open to everyone.

One of the issues that we talked about last week on some of the blogs was the uninspired, or in my case, a book cover that intimidated me since I thought this novel would be too scientific and it wouldn’t excite me.  Some members of the group requested a picture of the cover.  I wasn’t able to find one online so I snapped a picture of it with my camera.  It isn’t the best quality, but hopefully it gives you an idea of why when I saw this book, I thought, “ugh.”  And this has been another great example of you can’t judge a book by its cover since I loved the story.

Salvador Hardin was the first character in the book that we got to spend any significant time with.  What are your thoughts on the grande finale of his plotting, scheming and maneuvering to get the Foundation through to the next Seldon crisis?

This book is somewhat different from many of the books I have read over the past few years.  For example, I recently wrote about The Lord of the Rings, which included a lot of plotting and scheming.  And in Tolkien’s novels, you have the clear bad guys and the good guys.  The good guys may have made mistakes or lost their judgment at times, but you knew deep down that they were good.  I found myself cheering on the hobbits and their companions.  From the beginning of Foundation, I couldn’t recognize who I was supposed to be cheering on and that included Hari Seldon.  At the trial, he maneuvers his way to set up his foundation on Terminus.  When Gaal finds out that they are given a short amount of time to prepare for the move he is upset.  However, Seldon had already been preparing for such a move for the past two and half years.  I got a sense that Seldon was quite a political schemer.  But since we are only introduced to Seldon, I felt that I should cheer for him.  But I didn’t trust him completely either.

The next part involves Hardin.  Once again, I found it hard determining the “good” guy.  Hardin acts like a politician of today, maneuvering behind the scenes to force an outcome that is beneficial to his power.  Maybe I cheered for Hardin since he lived on Terminus, which is a small planet that is out of the way.  Another reason why I cheered him on was that he seemed to figure out Seldon’s ultimate motives and was able to use this knowledge to place his enemies in impossible situations.  Also, Terminus doesn’t have an army. Instead they are scholars who provide technology to other planets in order to safeguard their own situation in the galaxy.  I am a sucker for cheering on the underdogs, which explains why I don’t win many bets.  So when Hardin travels to Anacreon and is threatened by Wienis it was fun to see that the “smart” guy outmaneuvered the bully with the weapons.  

What are your thoughts on the way in which control/manipulation to achieve Foundation ends began to shift with The Traders?

This progression of the novel made me enjoy the book even more.  Asimov was in touch with the way of the world during his own times and in history.  And as it turns out, over the past 60 something years, human behavior has not changed much.  If there is power to be seized, there will be those who will do everything they can to grab it.  The traders were no different.  Some of them saw the benefits of using religion to increase their own personal wealth.  When Ponyets is sent to rescue Gorov from Askone it was amazing to watch Asimov’s skill of storytelling.  Gorov’s ultimate purpose is to ensnare Askone into purchasing atomics and accepting religion to control the atomics.  Ponyets, is a trader and his sole purpose is to make his quota and to make money.  And he succeeds on both counts.  Asimov’s section on The Traders shows how power slips away from religious control and starts to rest on money.  Does this sound familiar in today’s world? 

One of the interesting things about Seldon’s psychohistory is how much one man can actually affect it.  In Foundation we see characters like Hardin and Mallow as key figures for positioning things just right to work towards Seldon’s later predictions.   Do you see this as a contradiction to what Seldon said about psychohistory at the beginning of our story or part of an overall plan? Discuss.

This is a tough question for me to answer.  As of now, I really don’t understand Seldon’s plan.  So far it seems that certain characters like Hardin are moving Seldon’s plan along by navigating past a crisis.  I remember in the beginning when Seldon is talking with Gaal about moving to Terminus.  He tells Gaal, “in a plan such as ours, the actions of others are bent to our needs.”  To me, this implies that actions of certain people are meant to follow a certain path.  However, I have this nagging feeling that it won’t all go according to plan.  To be able to predict the actions of individuals over hundreds of years seems somewhat impossible.  Yet, since I don’t know Seldon’s plan I can’t determine if this was his ultimate goal, to have men like Hardin and Mallow act the way they did.  I have a feeling there is a lot more to the plan. 

Did you see similarities or differences between the way in which Salvador Hardin and Hober Mallow operated and what are your thoughts about this final section of Foundation?  Would you have been content as a reader back then with how everything played out?  

Both Hardin and Mallow had different backgrounds and yet they both operated in the same fashion.  For me, both of them used their wits to outfox their opponents.  They didn’t always use savory methods, but as I mentioned in one of answers above, not many characters in this book have.

The end of the book was exciting and yet disappointing all at the same time for me.  None of my questions about Seldon were answered.  I still don’t know where things are heading and how or why.  If I was reading this as the installments came out I probably would have been frustrated if I didn’t know when the next issue would come out to answer some of my questions. 

Has your concept/thoughts of what Seldon was trying to do changed at all since the book began?

I never got a firm grasp on Seldon’s plan so I don’t think my concept has changed since I never had one completely formed.  Good thing I like mysteries. 

Any final thoughts on the story as a whole, its structure, what it did or did not accomplish, how it worked for you, etc?

Overall I enjoyed reading this novel.  The methods he used were a bit unorthodox and it was interesting to see how he pulled together so many characters over time in order to show the progression of the problems in the galaxy.  I didn’t really connect with the characters, but I connected with the story and the evolution of the story. Would I want every novel to be like this?  Certainly not.  But I found it refreshing to delve into this story and to experience a different way of doing things.  I was somewhat disappointed that the ending was not really an ending.  I guess I will have to track down a copy of the next book…hopefully my library will have it.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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24 Responses to Final Discussion on Foundation

  1. Carl V. says:

    I actually kind of like that cover. It is probably the second best one with Whelan’s being first. But I realize you aren’t so much judging the art as you are judging the message sent and I would certainly call it an uninspiring cover, especially if I had no idea what the story was about. Whelan’s is also that way to some degree in that it is certainly against from to put an old crippled man on the cover of a book when we so often see swarthy men and busty women. Of course both of these artists had the advantage that Foundation was a well known much-beloved commodity when they did the covers. It was the name “Isaac Asimov” and the title “Foundation” that were selling these books, not the art.

    You hit on two very good points which makes sense as to why it is easy to cheer them on, they were the underdogs and the “bad guys” were indeed bullies. The ethics of all involved are in that gray area, for sure, making it an interesting book in comparison to those that we often see where the good and bad guys are more clearly defined. Good call on the fact that Terminus doesn’t have an army. I had overlooked that fact and it does give much more motivation to our “heroes” to use whatever means possible not to get taken over by the militaristic planets around them.

    There are some very, sometime scarily similar themes in this book and in today’s society. Now the reality is that things probably just haven’t changed so much in the last 60 years. Certainly a lot has changed technologically and with civil rights and other things but the basic political and economic scheming isn’t much different, is it? That is one thing I noticed even more this time through, the behavior of the protagonists seemed very contemporary.

    We are certainly not given much time with any of the characters to connect with them and I doubt many of us find anything common in their behavior, but it is interesting how they are used to convey the ideas and their cleverness is certainly fun to see. Like you I wouldn’t want all of my reading to be books of this style but it is nice to experience something different from what I normally read, and Asimov is certainly a master of ideas.

    I do hope you can quickly track down a copy of the second book and can join in on the continued adventures of the Foundation.

    • TBM says:

      For me the cover is not my cup of tea. I understand that others will like it, but when I saw it I thought I was in for a tough read that would involve big sciency words that would be completely over my head. But I get your point, that by the time the artists created these covers they didn’t have to draw in readers. Name recognition would. But I like the Whelan cover. The picture of the creepy old dude makes me wonder what he is up to.

      I like underdogs. And I wonder if Asimov used this notion to get readers behind characters that had the cards stacked against them so they used manipulation to turn things around–not the most honest methods either. No one in this novel is a saint.

      Yes technology has changed a great deal, but as you point out, human behavior, at the base level has not evolved as quickly. It is fitting that we are discussing this on MLK day. There has been progress in some areas like, civil rights. However, there are still too many examples of glaring human rights abuses in today’s world. Things haven’t change that much since the fifties.

      I’ll do my best to find a copy.

  2. Grace says:

    I agree with you on the style. I was a bit put off at first, because I do like to see character development, but by the second half of the book it had definitely grown on me. Might have something to do with the fact that the Traders and Merchant Princes are the loveable rogue type of heroes, and as you pointed out, paired with Terminus’ lack of an army it’s definitely rooting for the underdog. Doesn’t help that Han Solo was my mental image for both Mallow and Ponyents…
    I like how even many years later, the book continues to be relevant, and the writing doesn’t feel at all dated. Even the scientific parts feel like they can still be plausible enough with today’s knowledge.

    • TBM says:

      Both you and Carl thought of Han Solo and I didn’t make the connection until I read your posts. And I grew up watching Star Wars. I saw the originals in the theater when they came out. I am ashamed of myself for not making the connection on my own! I need to re-watch all the films and reconnect to my youth.

      The second half of the book clipped along even faster for me. I think I had grown accustomed to the writing and stopped looking for character development. And I agree with you, this book is very relevant today. It is a great study on human behavior and how people adapt to a crisis that threatens their power.

      • Carl V. says:

        I wouldn’t feel bad, I imagine everyone from Asimov’s time forward who is a fan of loveable rogue characters has one that they would identify as fitting that type of character. I’m sure it isn’t a comparison Asimov would find favorable, but as I am unduly fond of Han and Chewie it is meant as a great compliment from me.

  3. Chris says:

    I don’t like that cover, either. It makes me think the book is about politics and the lives of millions, which it is in part, but like you say, uninspiring.

    I do like the theme of smarts over violence. It’s what I’ve come to expect from books, but I have been reading a lot lately where the good guys resort to violence. It’s refreshing to get back to the way how things should be. I’d much rather have the “good” guys win from intelligence instead of superior firepower. That’s my definition of good guys. The ones who are the smartest!

    • TBM says:

      It is almost an original idea to me, smarts over violence. It is refreshing to see people relying on their wits. I think a lot of works created today rely heavily on violence. And I’m not saying that I don’t like novels or movies that include violence–I don’t like violence just for violence sake. If it doesn’t add to the story, then I don’t see the point to it. But it is a breath of fresh air to cheer on the smart ones in the room.

      • Grace says:

        I like it as well. I’m a bit of a pacifist, although I read a lot of fiction that involves wars/fighting/etc. I think that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t mind Hardin… for all his scheming, he avoided violence if he could help it, and understood that violence often causes more problems than it solves. It’s a refreshing change.

      • TBM says:

        I’m not big on fighting either, and yet I studied World War II during grad school…go figure. I appreciated Hardin’s persistence on not arming the planet and staying out of war. And I like that he shows that being smarter pays off sometimes.

  4. lynnsbooks says:

    I enjoyed your post. This readlong has made me realise you can’t judge a book by it’s cover- unfortunately I can’t honestly say that I won’t still be put off by the odd cover or two! But, I have enjoyed this and like you say I didn’t find it as ‘techy’ as I expected.
    I never pictured any of the characters in my head when I was reading and so I’m kicking myself now – I wouldn’t have minded picturing Hans Solo when I was reading about Mallow!
    I’m glad that you’re in the dark about Seldon’s plans because I haven’t the first notion what’s going on with that – and it’s nice to be in company!
    Thanks
    Lynn 😀

    • TBM says:

      It is hard not to judge a book by the cover. I also hate it when I get duped by a fantastic cover and the story isn’t that great. And thank goodness this novel wasn’t as “techy” as the cover made it out to be.

      I seriously don’t have a clue as to what Seldon is really up to. I just don’t trust the guy and I can’t put my finger on why. I sorta feel like an idiot since I’m like, what is this going to really be about.

      • Carl V. says:

        I wouldn’t bother feeling like an idiot, the fun of the mystery of the story is trying to figure out what is really going on. Just enjoy it. 🙂

      • TBM says:

        Thanks Carl. I stopped by the library and the next book is checked out until Feb. 1. I put in a request, so hopefully things will work out in my favor. And I’ll look into other avenues.

  5. I feel so unschooled – I haven’t read any Isaac Asimov yet!! You see picture books and children’s lit have kind of cast a spell on me, and now I’m at their mercy. But I’m glad to be visiting your site (and others) that look into the nitty gritty of ‘adult’ lit – reminds me of what I’ve been missing (or not! hahaha). Hopefully, I can read one Isaac Asimov book in my lifetime, and I shall definitely consider Foundation.

    • TBM says:

      I think Foundation would be a great one to read, but I will warn you that it is the first of three and they aren’t stand alone novels.

      I love visiting your site and seeing all the different types of picture books and children’s literature. It is so fun to see what wonderful things you have discovered.

      • Carl V. says:

        Yes, if you are wanting to pick up just one Asimov novel to try at some point I would suggest The Positronic Man, which is a very accessible, non-techy read about a robot who longs to be human. I would actually see this as a book that would fit nicely in the YA section of a store given its story structure and style.

      • TBM says:

        That one sounds good Carl. It reminds me the movie Blade Runner, which I enjoyed.

      • Carl V. says:

        It really is. I *think* I said in my review that is was a “sweet” novel and it really is. You develop such empathy for the robot, Andrew, and it is a very character-driven story despite also being filled with ideas and messages.

  6. Shelley says:

    I’m one to root for the underdog too. I think in the book we also end up rooting for the art of outwitting someone else’s schemes. Very entertaining.
    I was worried that I was missing something big about the whole plan, so it’s good to see that it seems that’s the way it’s supposed to be at this point.
    Great thoughts! I hope you get a hold of the second book. I haven’t checked yet, but I have a few libraries I can check out from.

    • TBM says:

      I also thought I was missing out on the something big, but it seems like a lot of us don’t know the actual plan. That’s good, we can all find out together. I did put a request on the book, but I might be late posting my thoughts. However, I requested the next two so hopefully I won’t be late for the third installment. We’ll see…this is my first time using the library system here.

      • Grace says:

        You’ll have to let me know how British libraries are. I’m curious. 😛

      • TBM says:

        I went to a small branch in my neighborhood and it is small. There are six branches in my district and I’m hoping the others are bigger. I looked on their site to see if they had any of Sanderson’s novels and they only had The Way of Kings. I know they have bigger libraries here, but I think you have to pay for the bigger ones. And then there are the ones associated with the universities. I got very spoiled by the public library system in Boston. I’ll let you know how it goes…so far, I’m worried.

      • Grace says:

        I’m definitely spoiled by the libraries here, even though it took me a while to find one near me with any sort of selection. Do they do interlibrary loan in the UK, or is that just an American thing?

      • TBM says:

        They do with the branches but there is a fee. I don’t know how much though. And I think you can make request from the British Library, which would be useful if I was still in grad school. Again there are fees.

        I’m hoping once I get used to the system it will be better. It always takes time to adjust.

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