Foundation and Empire, Part 1
I’ve realized that I’d like to write in more detail about the books I’m reading, so starting with this review and going forward, I intend on revealing much more about the contents of the book. I’ll make clear when you’re about to stumble onto a spoiler, of course, as I wouldn’t want to detract from your reading.
Published in two parts, this is truly two complete stories in one. The first part “The General” was published in April 1945 in Astounding Science Fiction as “Dead Hand”, with the latter part “The Mule” published that November/December in the same magazine.
These books are really quite different, so I’ll tackle them separately…not to worry though, the more than hundred years between the stories make this less of a concern than you might otherwise think.
The General/Dead Hand
While I enjoyed the first book in the trilogy, the pleasant readability of this second book turns the intellectual concepts of the first into a swashbuckling adventure, befitting the genre of space opera!
Almost immediately you’ve got a looming danger in General Bel Riose mustering forces to crush the Foundation, a complicated figure in Ducem Barr who clearly is his captive but with ulterior motivations and a shadowy past, and finally Lathan Devers a savvy trader with nucleic gadgets from the Foundation and a profit motive in line as a member of the now ascendant trade association.
See…even in just that short description you see action, narrative, and a cast of characters that last the whole first book…how different is that from the Foundation! It’s like you’re reading modern science fiction, with its page turning story line and interesting (albeit straightforward) characters.
So what’s this book about? I think it can be summarized by this interchange:
Barr shrugged, “Attack now or never; with a single ship, or all the force in the Empire; by military force or economic pressure … Do whatever you wish in your fullest exercise of freewill. You will still lose.” He (Bel Riose) said simply, “I’ll take that challenge. It’s a dead hand against a living will.”
There’s something decidedly reminiscent of a Predestination vs. Free Will argument here…but as the story plays out, you’ll see where Asimov lands on that issue. No spoilers!
But here’s the root of the matter, Ducem Barr (and many others in the story) take the psychohistory of Hari Seldon as a sort of pseudo-faith. Faith not in a spiritual sense, but more an overriding confidence in a mathematics that they do not understand. They are confident that the Foundation will win even if they do nothing…and if the greatest general does everything he can.
Since psychohistory is likely the great idea of this whole series of books…it is worth digging into a little deeper and I honestly should have addressed it more in the first review…I was remiss.
Basically, Hari Seldon (greatly predating the timeline of this book but appearing shortly at the beginning of Foundation) formulates a mathematics that through probabilities of people masses in very large numbers, could determine the future thousands of years hence…not for an individual of course, but for the galaxy. So he figures some things out, sets a plan in motion, and up to this point, everything is going his way.
Thus, Hari’s psychohistory is the “Dead Hand” which is at work behind the scenes of the story. The dead Hari Seldon and his undefeatable Foundation vs. Bel Riose and his strident living will to conquer.
As much as I enjoyed the adventure of “The General”, it has nothing on the magnificence which is the next half of the book…“The Mule” is simply incredible, and will be the topic of my next review.