Monday, January 16, 2012

Foundation discussion continues

Foundation part 2 discussion is here. See the links to everyone's thoughts at Stainless Steel Droppings and sign up for the group read of Foundation and Empire. The starting questions provided by Carl are at the end of this post. This post contains many spoilers for Foundation but not for the other books in the series.

The whole goal of psychohistory is to reduce the "time of barbarism." The people from Foundation believe this will be achieved by keeping the Foundation intact, technology functioning, and expanding to take over the universe.  These aren't things that Hari Seldon told them to do. He told them to write an encyclopedia, and then admitted that the project was a ruse. So are they still writing the encyclopedia? It seems so. Are they doing the right things according to psychohistory? No one knows. It seems so, but in Hari Seldon's second appearance, he told them not to bother spreading their religion, and they went ahead and did just that. Hari didn't make a third appearance, so we don't know if this last was a Seldon crisis or if they are on track.

It makes sense that the power would shift from being religious to being economic & religious and then just economic. This seems to follow Earth's history. The Foundation planets look like they are already be coming out of the barbarism. They have plenty of durable goods and spaceships to get around. They only fight non-Foundation planets. It was hard to tell how many planets were in the Foundation. Half? More? It seemed like the non-Foundation planets were in the minority.

Mallow's plan of leaving technology that people become dependent on is a common practice. It reminded me again of development work. It's very easy to give a refrigerator to a clinic for vaccines, but in order for the vaccine to stay cold there has to be electricity, someone able to fix it when it breaks down, the availability of parts, money to buy parts and pay the technician, transportation to get the technician and parts to the broken machine, and on and on. I also liked the changes to the Foundation's technology over time. Because they had few resources, they made things smaller using limited metal. Their new innovations surpassed the original, older designs.

I did like the ending of the Salvador Hardin section, but it seemed to be an awful lot of planning and effort when psychohistory is supposed to function without these things. Mostly psychohistory seems to be a way to lull your opponent. You say you're not doing anything because you don't want to mess up the timeline, when in fact, you've got all kinds of plans and schemes in motion. Hardin and Mallow both functioned this way. Seldon is their religion and like all religions is being used for personal ends. So far these people have been able to convince us that following their interests is the same as following the Foundation's interests, but it could all be a lie.

I was struck by how vain and bitchy the one female character was, and I don't believe that she or anyone else would be so taken in by those new clothes. In the last post I was surprised by how quickly the Seldon religion was absorbed by the planet's population. Here again it seems that the fashions that were given to the planet were very quickly adopted. Just because something is new doesn't mean it's going to be in demand. Both religion and fashion are firmly placed in precedent. The things that are desirable as "innovation" are only slightly different than the current standard. Even if the President's wife or whatever his title is shows up in the new alien style, it doesn't mean it's going to catch on. I found it far more realistic that changes in the factories could be done quickly and lead to problems later on. The kitchen gadgets could be adopted faster than the fashion styles, but it would still take longer than it does in this book. It just seemed strange that a book that deals with millennia feels the need to accelerate the other slow ways that society changes.

This second half was even more difficult to do in audio. With all new settings and characters, it was hard to find something to hold on to through the reading.

Overall, I didn't remember much about this book, and I'm sure it will soon leave my memory again. Since each short section is heavy on plot and light on characters, Foundation is more of a thought exercise than a fun read.

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?

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

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.

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?

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

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

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