Foundation and Empire–First Group Read Discussion

Well folks it is time for the first discussion of Foundation and Empire, the second book in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.  This group read is hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.  If you would like to follow all the discussions please visit this page.  Also please note, that there will be spoilers below and probably in the comments.

1.  In the opening chapters of Foundation and Empire we get to see things from the Imperial side.  What are your thoughts on this part of the book?  Were you surprised to find parts of the Galactic Empire that still seemed to be thriving?  

I was surprised that there were parts of the Empire thriving.  I know Seldon predicted that the Empire would fall.  However, most of the first book in the series focused on the Foundation and I had completely forgotten about the Empire as an actual entity.  I thought of it in a more abstract notion.  Out of sight out of mind.  And then in this book, Asimov introduces characters from the Empire and I was like “whoa…I thought they were dead.”

It was nice to visit the Empire.  Being a political junkie, the Imperial story was fascinating.   The machinations, while frustrating in real life, make for a fun read.  And I found it interesting that not many people knew much about the Foundation.  I was sucked into the story during the first book about their start and their fight for survival and they are almost completely unknown in the bigger picture.  I wonder where Asimov is taking the story.

2.  The examination of psychohistory continues in this book.  What are your thoughts about the statement that was made: “Seldon’s laws help those who help themselves” in light of our previous discussions about Seldon, his predictions, and the interaction of the individuals that we are exposed to in the story?

I think many of us started to hint to this during the discussions of the first book.  The actions of men like Salvor Hardin demonstrated how individuals could use a Seldon crisis to benefit and gain control.  So far it seems that those who garner power are able to manipulate the unknown aspect of Seldon’s plan to instill fear and then act like a hero.  However, the entire concept of psychohistory is still not clear to me.
3.  How do you feel about Devers, Barr and Bel Riose?  Did you like this section of the book and/or these characters?  Was there anything about their stories that stood out to you, entertained you, annoyed you?

Out of the three, Bel Riose entertained me the most.  His devotion to the Empire and the Emperor reminded me of Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story.  After a while, whenever he talked about the “magicians” and the threat of the Foundation I pictured Buzz talking about the Evil Emperor Zurg.  I couldn’t help it.  However, even with this, I still really enjoyed this part.  Out of the three characters, my least favorite was Ducem Barr.  His insistence that Seldon knew all started to annoy me.  This may be due to the fact that I don’t believe that one man can have that much power and that I still don’t comprehend or understand Seldon’s true motive.  I can be a pessimist when it comes to people with power.  For some reason I just don’t think they have the better good at heart.  It is hard not to have this feeling considering the experiences in America over the past 60 or 70 years.  I’m referring to the Cold War, Vietnam War, and Watergate.

By the way, I don’t want it to come off that I’m not enjoying the book since I am finding this one even more entertaining than the first.  Even with the Buzz Lightyear giggles.

4.  Perhaps continuing from Question 2, do you agree or disagree, and what are your thoughts on, Barr’s devotion to Seldon and his belief that the “dead hand of Seldon” was guiding the events that led up to Riose’s undoing.

On one hand I can see why Barr is devoted to the idea that Seldon was guiding history given his own story.  However, I also would get frustrated by his devotion.  How does he know without a doubt that Seldon knew what he was doing?  How could anyone be so sure especially since I have no clue what Seldon is up to?  And I wasn’t surprised by Bel Riose’s undoing.  Given his popularity among his troops he was a threat to the Emperor.  Throughout history, political leaders do not like strong rivals who have a following.  Yes this proves part of Seldon’s psychohistory on the surface.  But I am being stubborn in my thinking. I still have a hard time believing that Seldon could foresee all off the events over centuries.  I’m waiting for something to go awry.  I’m wondering if I’ll be disappointed if nothing goes seriously wrong.

5.  Did you think I was lying to you when I said in previous conversations that there are more female characters in books 2 and 3, LOL, since we didn’t get to Bayta until near the end of this portion of the read?

The thought did cross my mind.

6.  We haven’t spent much time with them yet, but talk about your initial impressions of Toran and Bayta.

To be honest I am a little confused by this part of the story.  I know it has only begun and all the T’s aren’t crossed and all the I’s aren’t dotted.  But it seems to me that the planet Haven came out of the blue.  It shouldn’t have been such a surprise since even in the first book the traders started to take a more prominent role in the history and Toran’s family are traders.  And Bayta is a descendent of Hober Mallow, the kick ass trader in the first book.  But I was still thrown a little bit with this new development.  I’m not sure how I feel about Toran and Bayta’s plans to enlist the Mule’s assistance in causing the next Seldon crisis.  However, given that the Foundation has increased in importance since the fall of the Empire I’m not surprised that the couple are in league with a group trying to overthrow the new power base.  Especially since the leadership in the Foundation has taken, in my opinion, a turn for the worse.  Now I have questions about Seldon’s real plan and the identity of this Mule.

I’m loving the suspense!  It seems like as soon as I feel like I am finally figuring things out, Asimov throws something new at me and I have to reconsider my original thoughts.  I just can’t get a firm grasp on what is really going on.  And it may be frustrating at times, but it is a fun frustration.

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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23 Responses to Foundation and Empire–First Group Read Discussion

  1. Grace says:

    Omg… the Buzz Lightyear comparison is perfect. I’m not going to be able to think of Riose in the same way ever again.
    I’m kind of curious whether Seldon anticipated the Mule, as he isn’t Imperial, and Seldon’s predictions seem to be based on the deterioration of the Empire and its relations with the Foundation.

    • TBM says:

      Riose really made me laugh…he was so committed and serious about the Empire.

      I think you are on the right path, the Mule was not in Seldon’s plan. Of course we haven’t met the Mule yet so who knows. But it would be a nice thought since I’m not too fond of the idea of someone being able to predict everything that will happen in the future.

  2. Carl V. says:

    As someone pointed out to me in an email, I shouldn’t have been surprised about the Empire and it makes perfect sense that it would still be thriving but the story is written so Foundation-centric up to this point that you lose site of the even bigger picture. I suppose that is a commentary in and of itself on something or other, but I’ll leave it go for now. LOL!

    “So far it seems that those who garner power are able to manipulate the unknown aspect of Seldon’s plan to instill fear and then act like a hero.” True, but it is interesting to wonder if this idea itself was part of Seldon’s predictions all along!

    Even without doing a vast amount of research I feel pretty safe in saying that you are probably the first person to make a Toy Story/Buzz Lightyear and Foundation and Empire connection. Ha! I liked it though!

    I actually liked Barr a lot. I tend to believe that he is very devoted to psychohistory, but I don’t find him to be a complete fanatic because I also see him as very crafty and wise in his own right. And I don’t find those to be mutually exclusive things even in a good person. As a Christian I believe we are called to intense devotion but the Bible itself advocates being wise as serpents, harmless as doves. It is “stick your head in the sand” devotion that bothers me, but I didn’t see Barr that way. I think he genuinely believed that it would all work out right in the end but I also see him as having a more active, attentive role than he would let on.

    I do appreciate your honesty, LOL! I was beginning to doubt my own memory as well.

    There are some good, twisty suspense moments throughout this trilogy, to be sure. I’m planning on diving back into the book tonight as I can’t stand waiting any longer to be reminded of the ins and outs of Toran and Bayta’s story.

    • TBM says:

      Good point that using a Seldon crisis to gain power could all be part of his plan. If that is the case, then he is a lot smarter than I am giving him credit for. However, given his interest in history, it makes a lot of sense. This is a theme that is repeated over and over again. I don’t know why I am being so stubborn that he couldn’t have predicted all of this, but I am. We’ll see if he can change my mind.

      After reading your interpretation and Lynn’s interpretation of Barr I’m starting to like him more. At first I just thought of him as too devoted. But listening to you two, I see the other side. Yes he believed, but he was also plotting and maybe using his beliefs to his advantage. That rounds out his character more for me.

      I am loving all the plot twists. He is keeping me on my toes!

      • lynnsbooks says:

        I must confess that I’m not convinced that Seldon could have so accurately predicted all these events. But I feel like I’m being led by the nose here – maybe there’s going to be some big reveal at the end or something? Anyway, for now I’m just letting myself be taken wherever it is we’re going with this to see whether there’s an ‘ahh’ moment at the conclusion. Should be interesting.
        Lynn 😀

      • Carl V. says:

        Stay tuned!!! 🙂

      • TBM says:

        I’m kinda hoping for an ‘ahh’ moment at the very end and I can say, “well now that all makes sense. Bravo!”

  3. lynnsbooks says:

    I absolutely love your Buzz Light Year comment – ‘to infinity and beyond’ could definitely be the catchphrase which encompasses the massive scale imagined by Asimov! ROFLMAO
    I must admit that when I was reading about the empire I couldn’t help comparing it to the Death Star from Star Wars – I can’t really remember what made me think of that comparison though – I think it might have been the Tractor beams landing the ship when Devers and Barr were on their way to the Empire to try and sway the Emperor.
    I know what you mean about Barr – at first I couldn’t help wondering why he was so self assured about everything but I couldn’t help reaching the conclusion that he was playing with Riose a bit. I still don’t clearly have my head around pyscho history and feel like a total nit wit – no idea what’s going to happen ultimately but I think I’m enjoying the suspense too much to be worried about my own lack of insight!
    Thanks for the giggles!
    Lynn 😀

    • Grace says:

      I was surprised that this segment ended the way it did; I was expecting Devers and Barr to be a bit more influential in stopping Riose.

      • lynnsbooks says:

        I know – I couldn’t believe that they found out about the conclusion to the war by picking up a weekly rag! At first I was ‘what’ but then I figured it was another lesson for me to learn – I was so convinced that they were going to forge ahead and make a difference but in the end the Seldon prediction just kept rolling on. Still in the dark over here with all this psycho history babble! Can’t wait for the conclusion.
        Lynn 😀

      • TBM says:

        I agree Grace the way he ended the part with Devers and Barr was abrupt and I felt kinda bad for them…they tried so hard and yet their efforts didn’t work and yet the outcome they wanted happened since the Emperor did away with the two anyway out of his paranoia.

    • TBM says:

      Buzz Lightyear rocks man! I couldn’t help but make the comparison.

      I can totally see the Death Star comparison. I didn’t pick up on that Barr was playing Riose until you and Carl mentioned it. Now I can see that, but when I was reading it I was like come on man, how did Seldon know everything?

      You aren’t alone in not being able to figure out the psychohistory part. I don’t know his intentions with it. Is is evil? Is it a good theory? Will it save the world…I have no clue. But I think that is what I really like about the books, I haven’t figured it out and I can’t wait until I do…suspense is good.

      • Carl V. says:

        I don’t think we are meant to necessarily figure out psychohistory. As a theory I doubt it would stand up to any intense scrutiny in the first place.

      • lynnsbooks says:

        I’m not really trying to figure it out any longer – every time I think i have something figured it all turns on it’s head, so, I’m just enjoying the story and waiting to see what happens. (Or I’m keeping a low profile so that I don’t say anything incredibly stupid!)
        Lynn 😀

      • TBM says:

        I have wondered that. That adds another layer of mystery for me.

  4. Shelley says:

    “So far it seems that those who garner power are able to manipulate the unknown aspect of Seldon’s plan to instill fear and then act like a hero.” I like this statement–it gives me a little bit more focus as to this relationship between individual will and the overall plan. I’m still struggling to wrap my head around it. I’m kind of like you and not totally trusting the plan. Even if Seldon ends up not having any ulterior motives, it seems like there will at least be something unexpected or some unintended consequences.
    I love the Buzz comparison. For some reason I was picturing Will Smith as Devers, and I’m not even sure why I made that connection.
    I see now that Carl quoted you too, lol! You must have really hit the nail on the head!

    • TBM says:

      I think the part that bugs me about his plan is that it takes the individual out of the formula except in the rare cases we read about. Maybe I feel that individuals matter more in a big picture. And the individuals that we have been meeting are mostly devious and plotters. I keep looking for that good guy/girl to come to the rescue.

      I am also struggling with accepting his plan and trusting in his plan. I keep waiting for that something to go wrong and to watch it all come crashing down. Maybe that is the Mule’s role.

  5. I read this trilogy when I was very young and remember loving it but…I never reread it and outside of Seldon and The Mule, I have not remembered one thing about the books as you are describing them except that it was a really cool space opera and that Seldon was a really cool old dude and The Mule just rocked (even if he had a name that really has very few positive connotations).

    • TBM says:

      Good to know that this series had an impact on you. So far I am really enjoying it. And I love how you put it, space opera. That is a fun way of looking at it. Thanks! We haven’t formally met the Mule yet in the reading, but he has been talked about. I’m quite curious as to what role he will play and your comment makes me want to learn more about him!

  6. The Hook says:

    Glad you’re having fun!

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