Monday, August 28, 2006

The Drawback of Nerdy-Dom

Foundation and Empire
Isaac Asimov

I take in far too much sci-fi. Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Star Crunch... no, wait, that's a "food" product... Earth-2, SeaQuest (I remember when it didn't suck!), and a little bit of Battlestar Galactica before I moved out of the dorms and lost access to cable. A stack of books ranging from vintage Asimov and Bradbury (the man was a king, and a sick bastard to boot) and outdated "Annuals" that compiled short stories mainly concerned with radioactive fallout, to Snow Crash, which will undoubtedly be forever remembered as a classic. I also read too many mysteries (Lawrence Block's Enough Rope rocks my socks, and is funny as hell), again ranging from Agatha Christie to the more suspense-laden, movie-ready works of Joseph Garber (ok, those are more spy fiction, but the intent here is the same). I love this stuff, but the problem is...

I'm too good at it.

I have to resort to enjoying some books, like this one, just for the story and dvelopment, rather than the fun of figuring out what's going on. In Foundation, it was impossible to figure out what was going to happen to our brave new world of scientists because Hari Seldon predicted it all then destroyed his notes. In this episode, we get more personal with a core group of characters--good--, we don't skip over entire generations--also good--, and the book is over in a year or so instead of three goddamned centuries--bloody fantastic. But it also means that we have enough time to learn more of what each of these characters knows, so we have the time to actually mull it over before Asimov jumps 180 years to his next Seldon Crisis. This book is all one Seldon Crisis, and get this--here's the money shot--it's not even the big crisis of the book.

I'm not telling you anything you won't get from the back cover. At least, I haven't yet. I can even tell you that the Mule is the Big Deal of the book, that he's a mutant with some creepy secret power, and that his involvement--because he's an individual with the power to affect billions of people--royally hoses Seldon's plan for the Foundation.

What the back of the book doesn't tell you is that if you, like me, have read too much sci-fi and mystery, and have naturally become suspicious of certain characters, there's a chance you'll have the Mule figured out long before the revelatory final chapter. I had him pegged long before any of the characters even came close. While it was disappointing to me to have it be that easy, there are some things to consider: 1) doesn't it feel good to figure it out? 2) the characters have not read as much sci-fi as I have, though one does insist on making ironic statements about "real life," 3) There is a very strong argument for this sort of situation being predictable because Asimov was among the first to do it, and I'm reading it over 50 years later, after EVERYBODY else has done it.

What he lacks in suspense, he's made up for by updating society. A lot. Not only does a female character get a name, she's the lynchpin of the whole book. In a lot of really big ways that I can't describe here without blowing it all. Suffice to say that her involvement saves the entire galaxy. That wasn't too big a giveaway, I hope. And to be truly liberated, she even shares cigars with the men in one scene.

The kicker for me was seeing the Foundation become exactly what they were created to replace, but I guess Seldon did set out to rebuild the Empire. Eventually, democracy would have to segue back to a militaristic monarchy for that to occur.

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posted by reyn at 7:06 AM


Blogger Elizabeth said...

I love this stuff, but the problem is…

I’m too good at it.

Har har, you snarky snob, you : ). Well, cheers from a one person who’s also read too much to another!

Suffice to say that her involvement saves the entire galaxy.

You mean she’s some kind of “earth” -- or in this case, I guess “galactical” -- mother goddess incarnated? Just wondering.

You say you like mysteries. Ever read Dorothy Sayers?

8/28/2006 9:13 PM  
Blogger reyn said...

Come on--you mean you're not disappointed when Dan Brown characters, experts in their fields, don't get it until several chapters *after* you, who knows nothing about their work?

The woman is just a woman. In fact, it may be that alone that saves the galaxy, but I think it's more because she's a very caring, sympathetic woman.

No Dorothy Sayers. Yet.

8/29/2006 6:20 AM  

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