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.