Foundation and Empire, Part 2
“The Mule”, the second half of Foundation and Empire, is a masterfully crafted novel. It is a story on the surface, and a story submerged…with a proficient hand maintaining the consistency and cleverness which connects the two of them.
At some point while reading the book, you’ll realize that something else is actually happening…just a suspicion at first…but then more evidence will pile up and then BOOM…something happens that brings the two stories into focus as one. It is exceedingly well done and creates a response of surprise that sent shivers down my spine. Epic!
Ok. Spoiler alert. I don’t think I can meaningfully write without giving away elements. So stop here, read the book, and come back!
The story begins with Toran and Bayta, a galaxy-trotting newlywed couple with loose ties to a rebel underground. On the behest of said underground, they take a trip to Kalgan, luxury planet recently fallen to the Mule, in order to track him down…a ridiculously perfect example of individuals trying to intercede on the behalf of the Seldon Plan (when that shouldn’t be possible since individuals don’t really factor in). Once there, they take pity on a refugee from The Mule, a gangly clown named Magnifico Giganticus, who turns out to be a truly enjoyable character. He speaks with such eloquence, his affection for Bayta is believable, and you fully empathize with his plight.
And that maybe is one of the most interesting things about the clown: for an Asimovian character, he’s quite well-developed. The clown evolves, he makes mistakes, the story changes him overtime and not just in the superficial way.
Consider Han as a counterpoint, he’s a bland military man that takes orders and is itching for a fight. Pretty much the only thing that changes for him is the number of stars on his uniform. Not a big detractor for me, but nonetheless highlights the uniqueness of the clown.
Jumping forward a bit, Toran and Bayta are captured and are somehow present at the opening of the time vault, where Seldon wrongly predicts a revolt of Independent Traders and Randu indicates that they called it off because of the appearance of the Mule. Reinforcing, again, that the Plan was unable to predict an aberration of his magnitude and calling into question that whole freewill vs. predestination thing. Terminus falls, they narrowly escape (!) and with the advice of the trader Randu and their new friend Ebling Mis (a budding psychologist of the psychohistory variety) head to Neotrantor to find the Second Foundation.
The Riveting Ending
In the remaining 50 pages of the book, a wonderful upheaval of the surface storyline brings to conclusion this part of the Foundation trilogy. Honestly, I like to just read these pages over and over…there is a blend of many different genres at work: thriller, horror, and of course science-fiction. The pace becomes rapid, almost frenzied, with familiar characters making decisions that do not lineup with who they are, for instance:
“I have the queerest feeling…ever since we arrived on Neotrantor. It’s an urge, a driving urge that’s pushing and pushing inside. Toran, I can do it; I know I can do it. Things are becoming clear in my mind - they have never been so clear.” - Ebling
Ebling begins to fall apart, Toran becomes apathetic (when he was oh so bold before), and Bayta becomes distracted and paranoid to such a degree she almost blasts someone!
“Something in the clown’s fluent explanations bothered him. Something was wrong. Yet he was bewildered and, in spite of himself, his anger ebbed.” - Toran
Of course, these are all clues by Asimov to show a glitch in the matrix, so to speak. The characters are acting wrongly, because something is wrong…and once you realize it, a shiver goes down your spine in comprehension of the whole submerged storyline.
Shortly thereafter, there is a weird appearance by Han, trying to dissuade them:
“And you could not stop it - any more than you could stop a planet’s rush with your shoulders.” - Han
But, of course, he is wrong! For Bayta, alone, does stop it…at least for a little while. How? Through this perceptive insight:
“Torie, Such things don’t happen in real life. You and I are insignificant people; We don’t fall from one vortex of politics into another continuously for the space of a year unless we carry the vortex with us. Unless we carry the source of infection with us! Now do you see?” - Bayta
Her cleverness causes her to recognize The Mule in their midst and take violent action to prevent him from gaining the upper hand over the Second Foundation. I may be wrong, but I think her actions highlight the necessity of individual action to maintain the Plan. Asimov is not promoting blind faith in a pseudo-religious mathematics with his psychohistory…though it can be argued that the blind faith of the masses is a powerful force for maintaining the Plan as well.
What a great book!