Monday, April 23, 2012

On the Coffee Table: Foundation and Empire

Title: Foundation and Empire
Author: Isaac Asimov

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Foundation and Empire was the second book of Asimov's original Foundation trilogy.  The novel was published in 1952 but the two stories contained within - The General and The Mule - were originally published in 1945 in Astounding Magazine.  Back in January, I reviewed the first book of the trilogy here.

As I wrote in that post, I first read the series in high school, 20+ years ago.  While I enjoyed the books then, I must admit that I don't remember individual characters and plot details as well as I do for other stories I read in my youth, or even other Asimov stories, such as Caves of Steel, part of his Robots series.  Part of that has to do with structure.  Each story within the series takes place in its own era with few characters turning up in future installments.  It's more the idea of the Foundation series that is memorable - the concept that the future is mathematically predictable and, as a result, inevitable no matter what the characters do.  Or so they believe.

That said, I've always remembered The Mule as the gem of the whole series.  Magnifico is the series's most unusual character and his story is masterfully told.  There's a big plot twist at the end.  I won't give it away except to say that Asimov very cleverly gives the reader many hints along the way while the characters in the story remain oblivious.  Also, his descriptions of Magnifico's musical performances are exquisite.

Question: what is the statute of limitations on plot spoilers?

Bayta Darell is another interesting character in The Mule, essentially the story's female lead.  There are very few female characters in the Foundation series and Bayta is notable for the fact that Asimov quite explicitly presents her as a woman undaunted in a male-dominated society.  Asimov considered himself a feminist even before the Women's Lib movement and at least twice in the story, Bayta is described through the eyes of astonished chauvenistic observers.
Looking for A-Z?  Scroll down two posts or try the link here.

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