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Foundation: (The Mule Finds?)

Can anyone make out what the title is for this?

Worried about the Second Foundation, the Mule puts his imperial expansion on hold, focusing on consolidation while carrying on a seemingly pointless quest to find the Second Foundation.

SPOILERS
Read more... )
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Foundation: Flight From The Mule

This follows immediately on the events of the previous episode. Terminus has fallen and it can only be a matter of time before the trader world of Haven follows it. All appears lost and there is a general air of malaise on Haven.
spoilers Read more... )
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Foundation: The Mule

The Foundation has decayed into a dictatorship, showing many of the same signs of corruption the Empire once showed. The Traders are unhappy with this situation and refuse to pay taxes when they can and are planning armed resistances. The Foundation has never had a civil war and so this will some new kind of Crisis.

Newlyweds Toran and Bayta Darell come from the two sides of the coming conflict and they are quite concerned about how things are going. On hearing about a mysterious periphery warlord named the Mule, they decide (after a conversation with some of their relatives) with the usual Foundation indifference to the suffering inherent in their plans to see if they can provoke the Mule into attacking the Foundation and thus force the survivors to unify against the outside threat. I can see no way in which this plan could go horribly wrong.

It turns out that the Mule is a very hard man to meet, and not because he's busy rolling up the periphery into his own person empire. Nobody on the recently conquered planet of Kalgan has met the Mule face-to-face as far as Toran and Bayta can tell or so it seems until they meet a man on the run from the Mule, a man maintaining a low profile by performing in public. This fellow is none other than Magnifico, the Mule's personal clown, and he has fled from his boss because his boss scares the crap out of him.

There are details to Magnifico's story that don't ring true but of course we won't find out why none of the characters pick up on them until the next installment.

Things quite rapidly go from bad to worse: the Mule's forces destroy a planet (!) and defeat the allied forces of the Traders and the Foundation wherever they encounter each other.

Bayta, Toran and company make their way back to Terminus, where its dictator (whose name I missed) is busy declaring any action that annoys him as treason, issuing shoot on sight orders (happily, not obeyed) and declaring that the invisible hand of Seldon means victory is assured. In fact reports come in that the Mule is losing, which seems to confirm his claims and so does the fact that a researcher named Mis believes another message from Seldon seems to be due and Seldon only appears after a Crisis.

Except Seldon natters on about the civil war between Traders and Foundation that never was, not about a war with some galactic warlord. In fact, Seldon seems to think such warlords should be no trouble for the Foundation. All signs point to the Plan having gone unexpectedly and fatally wrong. The Mayor reacts very badly to this revelation.

As the Mule's forces bombard Terminus, Bayta and Toran flee the planet...

This is the first cliff-hanger in the series. Until now all the episodes have been stand alone.

Mis, by the way, was supposed to have been working on rediscovering psychohistory and decided to spend his time on another project. Since psychohistory does not work on people who understand the models, I suspect all researchers into this field find themselves distracted or otherwise dealt with by the Second Foundation.

Speaking of being too aware of the process for it to work on them, I think it's interesting that Seldon goes to such trouble to keep reminding the Foundation about the forbidden science of psychohistory and the fact that there is a Plan and in that Plan, the Foundation has a Destiny. I presume in models where Terminus did not know what it was for, it was less likely to succeed.

Magnifico is rather pitiful but it's actually going to get much worse in the next episode.

The bit where Bayta launches into an As You Know Speech while her husband begs her to stop is amusing. I assume it's for readers unfamiliar with the series.
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No bus riding so no time to listen to it in.
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Foundation: The General

Ambitious and loyal Imperial General Bel Riose stumbles over the existence of a deadly enemy of the Empire the Empire has no idea exists, the mysterious Foundation. Being loyal and energetic, he immediately begins to use what resources he has on hand -a fleet of ten aging and increasingly decrepit but still impressive ships - to reconquer the Foundation's worlds for the Empire. His request for more resources brings not more ships but the Emperor's evil vizier Brodrick, there to see if perhaps Bel Riose's ambitions are a danger to the State.

Two minor characters - a Trader named Devers and Ducem Barr, the son of the mad old patrician hermit who was so forthcoming to Mallow - undertake to sabotage Bel Riose and Broderick by delivering a factual but easily misinterpreted message from one man to the other about the situation on the front to Emperor Cleon II himself. The problem is Cleon only speaks to ten of the millions of people who ask to see him every day but with any luck the rustic patrician turncoat and his barbarian companion will be able to navigate through the twisty maze of imperial bureaucracy and the hosts of security forces so they can have a face to face with the most important man in the empire. This goes about as well as one might expect but they do manage to escape with their lives.

As it turns out, they could have stayed home and still enjoyed success. The logic of the empire at this time forces Cleon II to act as though Bel Riose and Broderick are plotting against him, as a talented, skillful general could easily take the throne for his own and waiting for proof would give the general time to act; it is rather sad that in fact Bel Riose is utterly loyal.

It is unfortunate that the one person the rather shouty Bel Riose reminds me of is Rimmer from Red Dwarf.

This is one of the first, if not the first, recapitulations of the career of famed Roman General Belisarius in SF. Bel Riose's career differs from Belisarius's in many ways: he is young when Cleon II turns on him, whereas Belisarius was 62 when he was tried and convicted for corruption (and later pardoned, which for all we know happened to Bel Riose as well). Belisarius enjoys considerable success in his career, even retaking much of the Western Empire but poor Bel Riose falls long before he can reach Terminus.

[It could be Bel Riose's arrest is analogous to what happened with Belisarius after he took Ravenna but it probably isn't. If his career does survive the unpleasantness, it does not do so in a way that inconveniences the Foundation)

One striking difference and one I might not mention if the series was not so male-centric: there is no analog in the Foundation universe for Theodora, Justinian's influential and talented wife.

The phrase "the summer planets" did catch my ear but I am going to assume it's a name based on their pleasant climates, like Greenland or "the Kindly Ones."
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Foundation: The Merchant Princes

The Traders appears to have been dropped entirely from the BBC version. Since these are largely independent stories, that won't affect things too much.

This is set about a century and a half after the founding of the Encyclopedia. Terminus still has its little empire of religion addled Kingdoms but is experiencing some difficulty expanding into new territory because the surrounding principalities aren't run by idiots and they are not keen on becoming more pocket theocracies.

Terminus also has a community of traders and one of those, Mallow, is dispatched by a politician named Sutt (pronounced Soot) to Korell, supposedly to see if suspicions that Korell has somehow gained access to atomic technology and weapons are correct [1]. Sutt is worried that Terminus may be facing a Seldon Crisis and that rival atomic powers might be part of it. He's also got his eye on gaining more power on Terminus.

Mallow is a competent man and he not only manages to avoid an engineered political confrontation (at the cost of handing a seemingly harmless religious nut over to an angry mob) and establish firm trade ties to Korell but he also manages to track down the source of the atomics, which is none other than the Galactic Empire itself, much reduced but still a power to be reckoned with.

Mallow is aided in his intelligence mission into the corrupt and self-destructive Empire by an old man who is so astonishingly willing to tell a total stranger about his family's plan to get even with the ambitious officer who needless massacred millions that Mallow is driven to ask why the old man is so willing to tell a stranger that e.g. his only surviving son has worked his way into the official's inner circle and is even now waiting the moment to strike. The old man says he recognizes Mallow as another enemy of the officer but it seems to be there are at least two other explanations, one of which is funny; either the old man is senile or in fact none of his sons are in the fellow's inner circle and the repeated tale is intended to set off a completely pointless witch hunt amongst the bureaucrat's closest allies.

Mallow returns to Terminus where Sutt and Mallow end up on opposite sides of a struggle over Terminus's fate (except that it has All Been Ordained by Seldon so in fact while Mallow and Sutt may be the playing pieces on the board at the time, the player is the long dead Seldon). Mallow expresses a belief that religion has had its day and that in the future Terminus will binds its enemies with chains of gold (at the cost of being entangled in them themselves), that the effectiveness of trade as a weapon of war will be demonstrated in the coming war with ambitious Korell and that the Empire's technology, while impressive, cannot be used to effectively counter Terminus. Mallow proves he is the protagonist by demonstrating the power of the smug lecture of ultimate fate and also by outmaneuvering Sutt at every turn.

Once again, arresting political opponents to keep them from office is a well established trick on Terminus.

I'm kind of baffled that a story whose moral is "dictators who force their nations into economically destructive wars will inevitably be overthrown by consumers missing their luxuries and masters of industry desiring their old levels of profit" got published in 1944. It's true Korell is particularly vulnerable but it still seems like odd timing.

Oh, it's also clear the Foundation uses atomic weapons from time to time. Since cities and ships can be shielded, this will not have the same consequences atomic war would have on a world like 1940s Earth.

[added later]

This, by the way, is the first Foundation story that has women on stage. There are two, one literally a walk-on (we hear her footsteps and nothing else) and the other a dictator's wife who discusses strategy with her husband.



1: The only two sources Sutt can imagine are either that the Korellians have somehow developed it themselves or that some Foundation traitor is selling it to them. The excluded middle may be intended to indicate Sutt is not the protagonist he believes himself to be.
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Foundation: The Mayors

This is set twenty years after the previous episode. Salvor Hardin is still Mayor of Terminus, having taken power from the Encyclopedists a generation before but now he is himself beset by two challenges to his authority. One is from Sef Sermak's Actionists, an aggressive political party that favours Terminus carry out grand campaign of conquest on its neighbors. The external threat comes from Anacreon, whose Prince Regent Wienis has quite similar ideas as the Actionists, save that Wienis is planning his first conquest to be Terminus and its technicians.

One of Sermak's gripes is that the Four Kingdoms, Anacreon among them, have been technologically shored up by Terminus. As Hardin points out, no one of the Four Kingdoms can take Terminus for their own without the other three stopping them and all of the barbarian kingdoms are dependent on the Terminus-trained technicians to keep the very basic engines of their economies running. This all is covered with religious mummery to keep the barbarians from working out how the technology really works.

Wienis thinks he has a way around the apparent stalemate, by presenting a big enough threat to force the Foundation to hand over a recently discovered battleship whose possession he thinks will guarantee him victory. He is not much concerned with the religious issues raised by attacking the Foundation since he knows full well Scientism is nonsense (It is something of a sore point that his nephew, the future King Lepold I, has fallen for the cult but happily not only is Lepold easily led, he is clearly scheduled to have a fatal hat-fitting accident in the immediate future*)

Note the W in Wienis is pronounced like a V. Bloody Space Teutons.

Most of the story involves various people discussing the situations but it builds to the true purpose of the Foundation, which is to allow someone to smugly lecture another person about how insightful the speaker is and how it was they were able to see angles the other person did not. In this case, the speaker is Hardin and what he gets to point out is that supplying the technology means they control the technology and without that control, it is essentially impossible for Wienis to prevail.

I don't believe I am spoiling anything when I reveal someone kills themselves to escape Hardin's final lecture.

Of course Hardin does not have the last word because the greatest lecturer of all is Hari Seldon and Seldon has arranged matters so that not only will people hang on his every statement but nobody will be able to interrupt him because it has all been recorded in the dead past. Seldon explains to everyone what just happened and although he cannot tell them what the future holds does give some hints. Let us assume he did this to steer the Foundation in the right direction and not because he was ever so pleased with himself that he could not help but let some of his glorious plans slip out.

Some thoughts:

For someone who likes to say "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent," Hardin sure is willing to let other people commit violence and/or utter threats of violence on his behalf. He gets the barbarians to do this to each other to buy some time for Terminus and later on he manipulates other patsies into being Foundation's strong right arm. Perhaps the problem is not turning to it until things have progressed too far; for all of Wienis' bluster, he doesn't just burn Hardin down before he can speak and despite his nephew being one of the stupidest Royal Heirs ever to cause a regent to turn mind towards editing the line of succession, Lepold has not in fact fallen out of a window or been shot while hunting or been strangled by an assassin who confessed to being a Foundation agent before succumbing to the wounds he suffered while being captured.

It would be a little sad if Wienis really was Lepold's loving if somewhat scary uncle and he really was planning on helping his idiot nephew be the best king he could be (that being sort of king who does whatever Wienis suggests) and that the entire air Wienis gives of measuring his nephew for a coffin whenever they speak is merely due to what amounts to a speech impediment.

I notice that Hardin's friend Lee is willing to carry out the same sort of causeless midnight disappearances as the Imperial bureaucrats. One wonders what jobs Lee has carried out for Hardin while Hardin keeps his hands clean.

Say, since when is 52 old, Mr. Asimov?


* Well, clearly to everyone except Lepold himself. He really should be played by a young Hugh Laurie.
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It would account for between a sixth and a quarter of the human population of the Milky Way and something like one in thirty of stars of the Milky Way, if I have not bolloxed up this quick back of the envelope calculation.
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Foundation: The Psychohistorians & The Encyclopedists

The Psychohistorians

In which conveniently naive young mathematician Gaal Dornick arrives on the great urban world of Trantor and in so doing provides an excuse for extensive explanations about Trantor and the Galactic Empire; as the excerpts from the Encyclopedia Galactica shows, Asimov did not actually need any excuses to drop into infodump mode so it's particularly polite of him to have had one.

Short version: no matter how healthy the Empire looks, it's rotten to the core (as the secret police and quasi-legal trials indicate) and quite doomed. Happily, psychohistorian Hari Seldon has a plan, step one of which is to set up a community on Terminus, a distant metal poor world, to work on the Encyclopedia Galactica; this will preserve all human knowledge to dare (the quotation from the EG foreshadows success at this project). Unhappily, he is a manipulative bastard and not the one who is going to pay the price for his grand plans.

Oh, another advantage of having Dornick as the protagonist is that it means what Hari and his pals have set up can be revealed as a grand surprise without any need to show how they managed to arrange matters to work out as they did.

It's made quite clear that women are relegated to second class, lumped in with children and certainly not allowed to commit research. I strongly suspect this is young Asimov being unimaginative but this post-dates the first appearance of Susan Calvin and so it could be Asimov commenting on the Empire's inability to recognize its resources.

Having just listened to the Shatner reading of this section, it seems the BBC decided to edit out some sections. A description of one hall Dornick sees makes it clear at least some of Trantor's vast volume is taken up with grand and impressive spectacles perhaps intended to impress visitors to what is after all very vulnerable world.


The Encyclopedists

Fifty years have passed and the provinces nearest Terminus have split away to become kingdoms, one of which may have designs on Terminus thanks to its strategic position. A second one, Anacreon, definitely has ambitions to take Terminus over. The Board of Trustees is hoping that their alliance to the Empire that was incapable of keeping the Kingdoms within the Empire will protect them from said kingdoms; it's clear this is excessively optimistic on their part. Plan B is "hope for a miracle", which I guess you could say they get in the form of a message from Hari Seldon of the form "neener, neener, you've wasted your lives on a pointless project. Now I will tell you what is really going on for all you know".

It's made clear that the Fall of the Empire has been particularly fast in the provinces; the Kingdoms no longer have atomic power and the Empire itself does not seem much better off. How exactly worlds without atomic power manage starships is not clear.

Terminus really is very metal poor which makes me wonder how happy terrestrial biology is there. The Anacreonians talk about farming the place but even iron has to be imported. It does not sound all that habitable. It is the opposite of Trantor in many ways, not a coincidence, and yet this leaves it in a situation that can be compared to Trantor's; Terminus is utterly dependent on maintaining its off-world ties if it hopes to have any prosperity at all.

I think it gets less true as the series progresses but there are times where this felt as though Shakespeare had decided to write Hamlet or MacBeth entirely from the point of view of some minor characters standing in the wings. There's a lot of talking in this and very little action; I cannot see how this can be faithfully adapted to the silver screen.

The Empire is inspired by Rome but it's different in many ways. Among others, it is the only game in town when the story begins; Rome in contrast always had external enemies. When Asimov decided to make the Empire all of the world instead of all of the Known World, he makes the galaxy a much duller place. Maybe more on this in another post.

There's another difference: there's really nothing to compare to Christianity and by the time of Romulus Augustulus the Empire's state religion had been Christianity for nearly a century. If Asimov had really been pushing the parallels between Rome and the Empire, the events of Pebble in the Sky would have produced a messianic figure, perhaps in the form of a simple tailor. Which actually makes me wonder if the Mule can trace his ancestry back to Earth. Also, no Terran diaspora.

A universal state also raises the question of where the barbarians are to come from and the answer, which would have been painfully obvious to a Jew watching events in Europe in the 1930s, is of course, "from within".
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Isaac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy as adapted in eight hour-long episodes by the BBC in 1973.

You know, I had an LP that had Seldon getting into trouble on Trantor. I wonder if it was an LP of the "Psychohistory and Encyclopedia" episode?

In any case, this is the cast list: Read more... )

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