Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Foundation by Isaac Asimov Book Report

[This was originally submitted in the fall of 1994 for a high school Modern Fiction class. We were assigned to pick a book from a list of approved authors.  (Isaac Asimov was not originally on that list, but when I requested to read an Asimov book, the teacher allowed it).  We were supposed to write 6 journal entries, written while reading the book, and then finally submit one final formal report at the end on December 21, 1994.  The formal report was supposed to be a re-working of some of the themes we had previously explored in the journal entries, and reads accordingly.]

Journal Entry 1
Isaac Asimove, the author of Foundation, was influenced by many things that helped him to come up with the book.

To start with, the book is science fiction and so a large part of it is based on science.  Isaac Asimov has several degrees in chemistry, including a P.h.D.  He is also a professor of chemistry at Boston University.

Asimov has loved science fiction since he was nine and has been writing science fiction stories since he was eleven, submitting one to be published at eighteen.  Four years later, he got his first story published.

Asimov developed the idea for Foundation in a hurry, since he had an appointment to discuss the plot of a story he had not even thought of.  He opened a book at random to do free association and saw a picture of soldiers.  That gave him the idea to write about a galactic empire and its fall since he had read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire twice.

All of these things influenced Asimov'x writing in Foundations.

Journal Entry 2
One of the many themes in Foundation is that of how a culture can become stagnated.  Like the Roman Empire, and many nations before and after it, Asimov shows the cultural deterioration of the Galactic Empire.

When Lord Dorwin comes to visit from Trantus, he talks about his interest in archaeology.  When trying to solve the question of human origin, he read all the books by master archeologists and weighed their points against each other.  When Hardrin suggested he go to the sites himself, he only laughed.

Nuclear power was also in danger.  It had been lost in the Periphery.  A power plant under went meltdown in Gamma Andromeda because of poor repairs.  There is a complaint about the scarcity of nuclear technicians, but instead of training more, nuclear power is restricted.

The men at Foundation are caught in a trap.  When faced with attack by Anacreon, they rely on the long dead Hari Seldon for an answer instead of finding one themselves.  They didn't seem to realize they could find a solution just as well.

Asimov showed how this lack of responsibility led to the downfall of the Galactic Empire.  His message serves as a warning for the United States today.

Journal Entry 3
Besides showing how the Galactic Empire became stagnated, another theme in Foundation is that problems can always be solved without violence.

When in a disagreement with the Foundation leaders, Yate Fulham said that Salvor Hardin suggested that violence was the only solution to the Anacreon threat.  Hardin retorted that violence "is the last refuge of the incompetent" (p. 48).  Thirty years later, when Sef Sermak demanded violence against Anacreon, Hardin had him read a framed statement on his wall: "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent" (p. 103).  Sermak accuses it of being an old man's philosophy, but Hardin reminded him he had first applied it as a young man.

Hardin sticks to his doctrine as well.  When accused of using violence in his coup, he points out that not one life was lost.  The transfer of power went very smoothly.  When Anacreon tries to set up a base on Foundation , Hardin responds by convincing Anacreon's neighbors not to allow it.  When Anacreon tries to attack Foundation, Hardin appeals to the morals of the Anacreon soldiers.

The fate of those who follow violence is also shown.  Wienis, who killed his brother so he could rule Anacreon, who tried to attack Foundation and tried to kill Hardin through trickery, ends up destroyed.  His son, who supported him, was beaten senseless by angry soldiers.  He was to be imprisoned before he committed suicide.

Through these examples, Asimove shows how there is always an alternative to violence.

Journal Entry 4
In Foundation Asimov shows the simplicity, and therefore the danger, of mob control.  The ability of political leaders to convince the populace of many things leads to their success.  Even Hari Seldon's psycho history is based on mob reactions.

Salvor Hardin used the actions of the common people to control the four kingdoms.  By turning science into a religion, he made Foundation the center of this religion.  When Wienis tried to conquer Foundation, he is defeated when Hardin is able to convince the people it is sacrilegious.

Another example is that of Askone.  It didn't want to trade with Foundation, fearing it would cause them to be under the control of the religion.  Yet despite their efforts, once trade began with Foundation, they were quickly overtaken.

In a conversation with Jorane Sutt, Mallow points out how dangerous this policy is.  He calls it, "An insecure overlordship, based on the hated supremacy of a foreign spiritual power, which once it weakens ever so slightly, can only fall entirely, and leave nothing substantial behind except an immortal fear and hate," (p. 257).  Sutt intends to sue this religion against the Foundation.  To illustrate the situation, Mallow quotes Hardin, "A nuclear blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways."

When Sutt hopes to ruin Mallow, taking him to court not with the intent of convicting him, but with the intent of turning the people against him, Mallow responds by turning the tables.  With the wrath of the people on him, Sutt is ruined.

Throughout the book, mob control plays a big part in the plot.  It is used for good and for evil by various characters.

Journal Entry 5
The setting plays a very important part in Foundation.  It is from this setting that allows most of the action in the book to take place.  The setting in Foundation is somewhat unusual.

The location of Foundation is out in space.  It begins on the capital planet of the Galactic Empire, Trantor.  It then moves to a planet on the edge of the galaxy, Terminus.  After some of the provinces revolt, Terminus finds itself surrounded by powerful kingdoms and is cut off from the Empire, providing much of the story lines.  Also Terminus has almost no metals, making it hard for the planet to defend itself.

The time period of Foundation is very far into the future.  A specific date is not given, but the Galactic Empire has already been in existence for twelve thousand years, and humans have been in space so long they've forgotten which planet they originated from.  This time allows for space travel, new technology, and allows the author to create a world of his own.

The occupation of many of the characters are scientists.  Their knowledge allows them leverage over the neighboring barbaric kingdoms.  Many of the other characters are politicians.  This allows a political drama to take place.

All of these factors give Foundation some interesting twists that other books might not have.  It allows the characters opportunities otherwise not available, and makes an interesting book.

Journal Entry 6
In addition to the setting of the planet of Foundation, the setting of its neighboring planets is also important.  This setting contributes to the plot of the book as well.

Trantor, the capital of the Galactic Empire, is so greatly covered with metal that its inhabitants can't even see the sky.  This will be later contrasted against Terminus, which has a shortage of metals.  Because it is encased in metal, Trantor can produce little of its own necessities, and has almost everything imported.  Also, being the capital makes everyone who lives on Trantor more aware of current events then the colonies, whose news is censored.

Anacreon is a monarchy.  This leads to some struggles for the throne.  It is also the home of the Nyakbird, a favorite hunting sport.  "Accidents" involved in its hunting allow for a king to be assassinated, and his son threatened.

Although called a republic, Korell is actually a dictatorship.  The commander, Asper, has absolute power and uses it.  More importantly,  the Foundation has no contact with what is left of the Galactic Empire, but Korell does.  Asper has married the daughter of a powerful man in the Galactic Empire, and receives several ships from him with which he tries to conquer Foundation.  The Galactic Empire philosophy of bigger and better, however, gives Foundation the advantage when it comes to portability.

All of these planets and countries the Foundation interacts with, is the basis for most of the plot.  The setting of these planets allows for the interaction.

Teacher's Grade: A+
Teacher's Comments: From his tone or his plot, what does Asimov seem to feel/think about the various forms of government?

Final Paper, Modern Fiction, December 21, 1994

A Long Time from Now, On a Planet Far, Far Away

To say the setting of a book is important would be pointless, as it is a statement everyone knows is true.  The setting is essential to all plots.  However, in some stories it can truly be said that the setting plays a greater role than in others.  Some stories could not exist in a different setting, and Foundation is one of those stories.  Through the time period, the jobs of the characters, and the location, the setting of Foundation plays a significant role.

Time is the most obvious of these three.  The date of the story is not given in our years, but on page 3 we learn that the Galactic Empire has been in existence for twelve thousand and sixty nine years.  Lord Dorwin reveals humans have been in space so long that they forgot which planet they originated on, or are not even sure they originated from a single planet.  He says (in his peculiar affected noble way of talking): "Suahly you must know that it is thought that owiginally the human wace occupied only one planetawy system. ... Of cohse, no one knows exactly which system it is-- lost in the mists of antiquity." (p. 73)

The future allows Asimov to create his own universe, so to speak.  He is able to make up all the nations, all the political systems, all the cultures, and all the technology of the future.  He utilizes this fully, creating various kingdoms which must deal with each other.  Asimov also writes a scene in which Hari Seldon is attacked (in court) by the Commission of Public Safety.  Salvor Hardin expresses his frustration with the government by saying, "the board of Trustees of the Encyclopedia Committee has been given full administrative powers.  I, as Mayor of Terminus City, have just enough power to blow my own nose and perhaps to sneeze if you counter sign an order giving me permission," (p.49).  This leads to him changing the government in a coup.  Throughout the book, the technology also plays an important part, giving Foundation an edge over its more powerful neighbors, and making the Galactic Empire the most dangerous threat to Foundation.

Another important element of setting is the job of the characters.  At the beginning of the book, most of the main characters are scientists.  This turns out to be very important later in the novel, because when the Galactic Empire falls, much of its knowledge is forgotten, except for that preserved by the Foundation.  Foundation's scientific advancement over its neighbors proves to be its only defense.  Later in the book, many of the main characters are politicians.  This is also essential to the plot, as the reader must follow their struggles to get re-elected, and the delicate negotiations they must make with other nations.  Near the end of the book, the main characters are mostly traders.  A whole new perspective is given, since the first priority of a trader is profit, and helping Foundation is done only if it is convenient.  The traders often bend the laws of Foundation, or tradition, to be able to sell their goods.  Since travel is a major part of the traders' lives, through them we get to see other planets and nations besides the Foundation, such as Askone or the Korellian Republic.

A third part of the setting is, of course, the location.  Most of the book takes place on the planet of Terminus.  Terminus has very few metals.  This is very important, because without metals, weapons can not be made.  Foundation is left to rely on its wits when faced with enemy attack rather than fight back.  Also, Terminus is located on the edge of the Galactic Empire.  When the provinces revolted, Foundation was cut off from the rest of the Empire, and so was on their own against the new kingdoms.  It is not till the end of the book, almost two hundred years later, that Foundation discovers the Galactic Empire still exists in the center of galaxy.

There are many other ways the setting of Foundation makes the story possible.  If I had the room, I would talk about the space travel, or perhaps the setting of the various nations Foundation interacts with.  I do not feel this is necessary, as I believe the above paragraphs sufficiently show my point.  Without the setting it has, Foundation simply could not exist.  The setting is certainly very important in this book.

Teacher's comments: Keep focus on your topic, not yourself.  Define topic in thesis and develop it, without explaining/apologizing for not dealing with ideas not covered by thesis.  

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