the Little Red Reviewer

Foundation read-along, part two

Posted on: January 16, 2012

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Hi Everyone, welcome to the second half of our read-along of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. I invite you to click back to Stainless Steel and visit all the other wonderful discussions. A huge thanks to Carl for hosting and organizing this eye opening read along for a science fiction classic!

Salvador Hardin was the first character in the book that we got to spend any significant time with. What are your thoughts on the grande finale of his plotting, scheming and maneuvering to get the Foundation through to the next Seldon crisis?

I LOVED it. Hardin is a brilliant strategist. Sure, it’s easy to call him manipulative, and he is, but predicting what frightened power hungry people will do really isn’t that difficult. All he’s doing to the four Kingdoms is giving them enough rope to hang themselves with. I’ve never minded characters of ambiguous morality, so Hardin was a pleasure to watch. And when the other planets start understanding that without the technologies of the Foundation they are nothing? their power plants won’t work, their medical devices won’t work. . . wouldn’t it be smarter for them to work with Hardin and the Foundation instead of fighting them tooth and nail?

Remind me never play chess with this dude.

What are your thoughts on the way in which control/manipulation to achieve Foundation ends began to shift with The Traders?

although these were the draggiest chapters for me (I want more Hardin, damnit!), they were the ones that bore the most interesting after-thinking. Just as it had been predicted, planets and their populations began to see through the Foundation religion and rejecting the missionaries. The rules weren’t exactly sure what was going on, but they knew they had been manipulated and they were understandably insulted.

Regarding the shift from religion to trading – a thinly veiled lesson that nothing lasts forever? that we shouldn’t feel shackled to the traditions of the past simply because they worked for our parents? Yes, there is a thousand year plan, but that doesn’t mean every year has to be exactly like the previous year.


One of the interesting things about Seldon’s psychohistory is how much one man can actually affect it. In Foundation we see characters like Hardin and Mallow as key figures for positioning things just right to work towards Seldon’s later predictions. Do you see this as a contradiction to what Seldon said about psychohistory at the beginning of our story or part of an overall plan? Discuss.

Eh, it’s a bit of a contradition, and a bit of a cop out. Yes, one person can affect the future. But lucky for us, Hardin and Mallow are working overtime to ensure that the future gets pushed towards Seldon’s plan. Asimov is skirting his own line of that the blaster can point both ways!

But the continuation and conclusion of this story depends on “Team Asimov” winning, so I’m OK with the little contradictions. And as has been mentioned elsewhere, Asimov wrote these chunks of Foundation as magazine serials, over a period of a few years. He didn’t kick out a trilogy in 30 months, as is so popular these days. I think he was writing more in a general direction, than being worried about all the details being exactly perfect.

Did you see similarities or differences between the way in which Salvador Hardin and Hober Mallow operated and what are your thoughts about this final section of Foundation? Would you have been content as a reader back then with how everything played out?

Mostly similaries. They are both willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want. Hardin, as Mayor, has much more direct control over what goes on. But in that same vein, he is also trapped by other maneuvering politicians and by tradition itself. We watch him nearly get removed from office more than a few times. Mallow on the other hand, is more a free agent. Sure, his decision matter, but he’s not really in control of any over arching situation. He chooses (mostly) to follow the laws of the Foundation, but no one can force him to do anything.

Has your concept/thoughts of what Seldon was trying to do changed at all since the book began?

Hmmmm, it hasn’t changed all that much. Similar to how I feel Asimov was writing in a general direction, I think that’s the same thing Seldon’s plan was all about: going all the time in a correct direction. To take it a little further, Asimov is giving us the tools to think deeper about how we feel about different kinds of manipulation, and Seldon gave a group of people the tools to keep the rest of humanity from falling into a lengthy Dark Ages.

Wow, I am reading WAY too much into this!

Any final thoughts on the story as a whole, its structure, what it did or did not accomplish, how it worked for you, etc?

I definitely enjoyed the first half more than the second half. Hardin was such a fun character to follow, with all his secrets and machinations, that the “Traders” section was kind of a let down for me. I didn’t feel like I got to know Mallow as well, and there were so many other characters to follow. The structure though, was fine. I’m all for the “vignette” style, and as Asimov needed to show us how the Foundation was succeeding of failing over a large swath of time, of course he’d need to jump decades into the future with each little story.

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14 Responses to "Foundation read-along, part two"

Oddly enough, Part IV was my favorite of the book. I think that’s because I love the Han Solo character types… even though by the end of the third section I had a lot of respect for Hardin, Ponyents intrigued me and I wanted to see more of him.

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Great comments! I like how you note that adhering to the plan still means changing with the times. The goal is to avoid anarchy after all, not keep one group in power. That’s what didn’t work for the Emperor in the first place.

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Good call Chris, you are so right. Simply repeating the same mistakes of the previous regime would not be a good way to go about it.

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I certainly don’t mind the “ambiguous morality” either but I do find it an interesting comparison to much of the usual vintage stuff I read where often the characters are a little more cut and dried. I also think the fact that the ambiguous morality so mirrors what we see, or think we see, in today’s political world makes it a little more eye-opening when it comes to the realization that you find yourself rooting for these characters.

Of course in real life I suppose I would find myself rooting for those same schemers if they were on my side protecting me from some other power that did not have interests that I shared. Both Hardin and Mallow are a pleasure to watch operate, that is for sure. You almost expect to see a fox tail drop out behind them as they are so crafty and clever.

I think its fun that you had an opposite reaction about which chapters you enjoyed more. Although truth be told the margin between Hardin’s chapters and the trader chapters is pretty slim for me. Still I am predisposed to liking the traders as a profession vs. a mayor and that is probably why I give the edge to the trader chapters as being the most interesting and entertaining to me.

Adding to your comments about Asimov and writing I also imagine he was penning several other tales as well as a great deal of nonfiction in between and probably didn’t have the same kind of focus and dedication that writers today have who concentrate on fewer stories and do much more planning to meet the expectations of today’s market. It was a different time and I’m thrilled that there are stories from that time that I find every bit as fun to read as contemporary fiction.

I think one of the beauties of this story is that it is structured in a way that you CAN read a lot into it. Its relevance to today’s political and economic climate also make it interesting to apply it to what we see today. I cannot imagine Asimov would have ever imagined the lasting effect of a story that he at first made up on the fly, but it is a testament to the way in which it was written that we can find so much applicability (borrowing from Tolkien) in the story today despite it being so different from the type of thing that is written now.

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Like Grace, my favorite part was Part IV and V. I liked reading about Hardin and his political maneuvering, but Mallow was my favorite character. I thought this part of the book was super exciting.

Good point that Asimov is giving us different ways to look at manipulation. That gives me something to think about.

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I must admit that I was disappointed initially when Hardin’s chapters were finished! But, I did like Mallow – I wish i’d been thinking Han Solo when reading those bits though!

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Flipping eck – hit the button before I’d finished!! Damn.
I think you make a really good point about the different ways to look at manipulation and it’s interesting to see the way we all find some methods of manipulating people more acceptable than others.
Lynn :D

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When I read this – and this discussion is convincing me I NEED to read it again, SOON – I kept comparing how Asimov was putting together a future history to how Poul Anderson was doing it. I think, because I liked some of Anderson’s characters so much, Asimov came out second best, and now I wish I’d not made that comparison, since the authors and the books are really so very different. The one thing I did do was read all three books back to back and considered them a single huge novel. There is still a long way to go in this tale, and many twists, or at least direction changes, in store. Dang, I really do need to re-read these!

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I agree that this is really the only way to read them Richard, otherwise the effect is just not the same.

I have only read one Poul Anderson, his novella Call Me Joe, but it was excellent and he is on my list for more at some point this year. In fact I think I’m going to read at least the first Ensign Flandry novel later in the year when Jim Black decides to do his re-reads of the novels.

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Start with the Nicolas Van Rijjin books, The Man who Counts and Margin of Profit. If you can find a used copy of The Earthbook of Stormgate, it has both in it.

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I’ll keep an eye out for those on my next used bookstore run. Which needs to be soon, it has been too many months since I’ve graced any of the local used bookstores with the presence of my wallet.

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I have to agree that I liked Hardin a lot more than Mallow. But you made an interesting point about Mallow being more of a free agent and it made me think that because he is that, as well as an “outsider” educated on Terminus, he will have a lot more influence over the other kingdoms now.

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I would not want to play chess with any of them! Strategy is not my strength, which makes me feel that much more awe for what the seem to anticipate.
I like that the format and focus of this book is different than any other book I’ve read. I agree that it makes you reflect on how we feel about different types of manipulation. I know I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

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I wouldn’t like to play ‘snap’ never mind chess!

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