Foundation and Empire Final Group Discussion

The time has arrived for the concluding discussion of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Empire, the second novel in his Foundation trilogy.  The 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 the discussion below is full of spoilers.  All comments are welcome, even if you are not participating in the group read.  Also, if you would like to join us for the next group read of the last novel in the series please visit Carl’s blog to sign up.

1.  While it didn’t break new ground, Asimov did have a female character who played a major role in this second half of the book.  What are your thoughts on how Asimov portrayed Bayta?

I was surprised that Asimov had such a strong female character in the story.  Given the time he wrote this, I would have expected the female lead to be more passive and not intelligent.  Sometimes I didn’t like Toran’s treatment of Bayta, but they were a married couple, and married life is anything but perfect.  And they seemed to like each other.   I know, I am stereotyping.  In fact, Bayta was stronger than her husband and Ebling Mis in the end.  However, I didn’t realize until the end that was due to the fact that the Mule didn’t put her under his spell so she still had freedom of her thoughts. 

2.  Now that you know the Mule’s identity, were you surprised or had  you figured it out along the way?  If you did figure it out, how did that affect your reading of the book?

I wondered right from the beginning when Magnifico was introduced.  The main thing that tipped me off was that the Mule was known as a mutant, and Magnifico was odd.  I thought Asimov was playing with the readers.  And the fact that all the action followed them wherever they went and they were always able to escape the Mule.  Another big clue for me was Maginifico’s concerts and how they impacted the people.  Asimov made it clear that the music was controlling the masses.  Fortunately it didn’t ruin my reading experience since I kept trying to figure out how he would be revealed and who would figure it out. 

3.  In previous posts we discussed the role individuals seemed to have in the unfolding of Seldon’s plan.  How do you feel about the issue now that we’ve seen an individual derail Seldon’s plans?

Finally Seldon’s plans see a wrinkle and not everything goes as planned.  I’ve been waiting for this the entire time.  I liked how Asimov added some chaos to the plan and that the reason behind it was a mutant.  The individual still is not as important to the whole scheme of things as long as their evolution goes to plan.  However, not everything can always go to plan, hence the mutant.  If Asimov wrote that Seldon was able to predict a mutant I think I would have been let down completely.  That would have seemed too convenient for my taste.  But to introduce a mutant, I thought, was a brilliant way to derail the flow of the plans and to add another layer to the story. 

4.  Did it surprise you in the end that the Mule was allowed to get away?  Did Asimov make you feel any pity or empathy for the Mule, either as the clown and/or when you discovered he was the Mule?

It’s funny, but when the identity of the Mule was finally revealed I didn’t feel like he was a bad man.  Maybe he has me under his spell.  Yes he is trying to take over the entire galaxy but as dictators go, so far he seems like a nice one.  As I am writing this I am trying to think of the people he harmed and the only ones that come to my mind are the guys who treated Bayta poorly.  And I wasn’t too sad to see these men harmed considering what they were plotting.  I could be forgetting others that he harmed.  Throughout the readings, none of the individuals have been the classic good guy so I think this has tempered my feelings towards the Mule.  If all the leaders of the Foundation were “good” I may dislike him more.

I was more surprised that the Mule let Bayta and Toran go.  I can’t put my finger on his actual plans, besides conquering the galaxy.  Can he really use his mind control on everyone in a galaxy?  Or will his powers start to crack and will people who have been under his control totally flip out that their freedom of thought was stripped completely?

Now saying all this, would I want to live under the Mule’s rule?  No.  Mind control does not sound like something that would not only annoy me (if I would even be aware of), but it seems like it would stifle human progress.  But I could be wrong. 

5.  How do you feel this story compared to all the other stories that have made up the two Foundation novels we’ve read?

This part of the series was exciting for me.  Searching for the Mule and the Second Foundation added a lot more suspense.  Also, I enjoyed that Asimov spent more time with these characters.  I felt that the writing and plot development was enhanced and that the story is all coming together. 

6.  What final thoughts do you have about Foundation and Empire?

So far I am loving the series.  Again he left me hanging at the end, which would normally annoy me.  However, when going in I knew that this was a series of three novels so I expected it.  I miss some of the characters from the first book, but I felt that the character development in the second novel was stronger and made for a more enjoyable reading experience.  Also I am surprised that the action has not fizzled out.  Instead, he keeps adding more mystery and is keeping me actively engaged in the story.

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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18 Responses to Foundation and Empire Final Group Discussion

  1. The Hook says:

    Very engaging post, my friend!

  2. niasunset says:

    I will come back for all of them… Thank you dear TBM, with my love, nia

  3. Grace says:

    Mule was such an interesting villain. The bad part is, I don’t think I minded his rule, and I have no objections to him winning as long as he can learn when letting people think for themselves won’t destabilize his new empire. He took power with remarkably little bloodshed, and as you pointed out, he didn’t really hurt anybody other than some imperial idiots who deserved it.

    • TBM says:

      It is odd that we don’t really have real bad guys and real good guys. The Mule is yet another example. Here he is taking over the world using mind control and yet he doesn’t come across as evil to me. I wish I knew more about Asimov’s motivations behind his characters. I’m trying to figure out if he is making a grand statement about humanity or if he is just telling a story. He lived in such a politically charged time with the end of the war and the Cold War.

  4. Shelley says:

    I liked that Bayta and Toran were at least portrayed more or less as partners. I liked them both, and I thought it was so interesting when we find out that she has not been under his control, and it explained so much of Toran’s behavior that confused me.
    For some reason I have a soft spot for mutants in stories. It must be some sort of X-Men/Heroes thing! I think that automatically made me feel more empathy for The Mule than I probably should have. The introduction of a mutant was a great way to mix things up that I hadn’t even thought of.
    The Mule said that it took a lot out of him to use his powers, so I too wonder what his plans are and what he is actually capable of.

    • TBM says:

      It is hard not to feel for an individual who has suffered, especially someone who had a difficult life right from the start. The X-Men comparison is spot on.

      I was fascinated that Bayta was not under his control. I didn’t know that Toran and Mis were, but once I found that out, I was like oh that totally makes sense.

      Actually I had forgotten that the Mule said that it wore him out to use his powers. That is a good point to remember as I read the last book.

  5. Oh dear, this is not a good thing. Me finding out more luscious information about Isaac Asimov – I can’t possible read his tome of a book (or wait, can I?) – not good.

  6. Carl V. says:

    I did think it was a really nice touch on Asimov’s part to have the Mule leave Bayta her freedom and it does make her an even stronger character that she was able to see past the surface stuff and care for him without his manipulation.

    Toran is a little gruff and rude at times but Bayta is also portrayed as this strong person and I suspect their rough and tumble moments are a little more a product of the time period and are meant to be in love not abusive. I forgot to mention that I also was pleased to see Asimov shirk a few gender roles by having Toran prepare a meal at one point early in the story.

    I thought the Mule was a very interesting character. I can’t say that I liked his version of dictatorship any more than any other because in large part he made emotionless automatons of everyone and personality-less people are not an attractive option, but I did think it was an interesting shift to have him not necessarily be a complete ogre out for power. His ends may have been somewhat tolerable but his means were not.

    The characterization is much stronger in this one because of the time Asimov allows for us to be with various people and I do think that makes this a very strong book, at least in the second half.

    • TBM says:

      Overall I was very impressed with his depiction of Toran and Bayta. They seemed like a more modern couple than one that was written in the 50s. It made me like Asimov even more. And having Bayta be the one to pull the trigger, that was pretty cool.

      I’m trying to figure out if Asimov is telling us his views on leadership during his time or making a reference to ancient Rome. I can see a relationship with communist countries to a certain degree. Not a lot of freedom of thought or actions.

  7. Sarah says:

    I didn’t see the Mule as a bad guy either. To me he is doing the same thing the Foundation did in the first book. It’s just a different form of manipulation.

  8. Lynn says:

    I know that the mule is very manipulative but I couldn’t find it in me to really dislike him, and I really liked him as the clown! I thought baryta and torn were really good to read, a bit old fashioned at points but given the age of the book I thought Asimov really did try with them he even had toran going out shopping, how shocking! I enjoyed this book eve more than the first so I’m keen to start no.3. The other thing that struck me was that although seldom couldn’t predict the mule, he had actually predicted that he wouldn’t be able to foresee everything which is brilliant really! Thanks, Lynn 🙂

    • TBM says:

      I really enjoyed the first book, but I have to agree, the second one rocks. I like how the stories in both books flow together even though the characters change and the places. He sticks to his grand scheme. Not that I know what Seldon’s Grand Scheme is, but I’m really enjoying the ride.

      Seldon was smart enough to have a backup plan. I’m curious to find out if his insurance policy is enough.

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