The one and only thing I disliked about Asimov: the mule

Garashta

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Anyone else agrees?
Foundation is a terrific story, clever no matter what angle you look from. And everything is made in such a way as to be realistic and scientifical. Untill we meet the "mule". To me, it seemed something that would come from less "serious" fiction, something like "x-man" or another less inteligent franchise. That did not smell like Asimov.
The idea of something that could never be foreseen and that would endanger the foundation is interesting, but employing a mutant to do it was very cheap.
Remember I said that that did not ring like Asimov? Rejoice then: this mule thing always annoyed me, so I researched and discovered that this concept was an idea from the book editor, one that wasn't originally in asimov's plans (or mind). Maybe he was even "suggested" to put it on the book.
Therefore, asimov remains perfect to me.
 

j d worthington

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I'm curious where you found out about this. Not that such a thing would be terribly surprising -- they happen all the time, especially in genre fiction -- but this is the first I've ever heard of it, and I'd like to know more.

As for the Mule... actually, I've always quite liked the character, and the implications of the concept. I also would not call the Foundation series of the time "serious" fiction; it was, essentially, a form of adventure fiction written to entertain, in a field Asimov loved. This is not to denigrate it (I am intensely fond of the original series) but I think it is a bit of a stretch to call it serious fiction -- which is not to say it doesn't have serious elements (not at all the same thing).
 

J-Sun

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The idea of something that could never be foreseen and that would endanger the foundation is interesting
The article I link to in this thread might interest you. It raises the issue of the Mule and touches on the same point you raise - fiction needs suspense and suspense comes from fallibility and the Foundation was in danger of being too infallible and whatever threatened it had to be from outside the realms of the known and expected. The natural thing would be to bring in aliens but Asimov wouldn't do that due to Campbell's attitudes on aliens (which are actually a little more flexible than is generally expressed, but still could make things difficult). So a mutant is the next closest thing. And, as expressed, I found the Mule a fascinating character. It'd have been really easy to make him a simple monster or infallible superhero in his own right but he's interestingly contradictory.

I'm curious where you found out about this. Not that such a thing would be terribly surprising -- they happen all the time, especially in genre fiction -- but this is the first I've ever heard of it, and I'd like to know more.
I wish I could remember/say more myself - I think Garashta is mistaken when he says it's a "book editor" (unless he's using it in the insider sense that editors called their magazines "books"). It does ring a bell, though. I'm not sure if it was Campbell or Pohl (or if it might not have been Asimov's own idea after all) but something about it rings a bell. I just can't find anything in my books about it at the moment. I know that Asimov generally gives Campbell about half the credit for everything he wrote in the 40s and they did "thrash out ideas between" themselves a lot. :) And he does mention being stuck in a place that a conversation with Pohl got him out of but he gives no details in the one place I can currently find it in but it would fit.
 

Darkday

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And he does mention being stuck in a place that a conversation with Pohl got him out of but he gives no details in the one place I can currently find it in but it would fit.
I think I know what you have in mind, but this was not about "The Mule". It was about "Bridle and Saddle" and happened in 1942 (see "In Memory Yet Green", p. 319).

Regarding "The Mule": On p. 415 in IMYG, Asimov writes that it was Campbell's idea to upset the Seldon Plan, but there's no more than that. I think if the concept of the Mule came from Campbell, Asimov would have mentioned it here. He always gave Campbell credit when credit was due, as J-Sun already pointed out.
 

J-Sun

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Regarding "The Mule": On p. 415 in IMYG, Asimov writes that it was Campbell's idea to upset the Seldon Plan, but there's no more than that. I think if the concept of the Mule came from Campbell, Asimov would have mentioned it here. He always gave Campbell credit when credit was due
Ah, thanks for that. That must be what we're all talking about and it sounds right - the series is swimming along and Campbell wants to upset the apple cart (and get more stories! :)) and Asimov comes up with the Mule as the means.
 

kythe

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I think the Mule fit into the story. As the story develops, you realize the human mind does have untapped potential for a certain kind of nonverbal communication. The Second Foundation has enough education in the mind sciences to make this a reality, presumably with the help of technology.


But since these telepathic abilities may be latent in all humans, its possible human development is headed that way anyway, in an evolutionary sense. The Mule is someone who had a genetic anomaly which brought this ability out naturally. He is a first, but perhaps in the distant future won't be the only person to develop telepathic tendencies due to the course of evolution.


Therefore, a character like the Mule isn't necessarily far fetched or out of place in the context of the story.
 

Parson

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I've always thought the Mule was just about the best part of the story. You are just about convinced that Harry Seldon and his Math was God, but then comes the totally random; a perfect storm of the chaos theory.

I wonder if such a straight forward story would sell to major publisher today? My sense is that most would see it as too simple, with too clear a view of a hero.
 

Cat's Cradle

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I agree with everyone who liked the Mule! IMO the story line really needed some upsetting...haven't read this in ages, but the 'reveal' scene where the folks were gathered together awaiting the HS hologram, and then the Plan as discussed by HS was seen to be going awry is one of the all-time classic SF moments, I think (oy, forgive my faulty memory for details...this whole thread has inspired me to put the Foundation books right at the top of my re-reading list! :) ).
 

Natimus15

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I really liked the mule, although I can definitely see where you are coming from. The idea that a genetic mutant is the one thing that can throw of Seldon's laws seems absurd to us. One must remember, however, that when Asimov was writing the Foundation series, genetic science was a novel field. Scientists did not yet understand it's intricacies. Of course, in our time the concept seems silly. But back then, it could have definitely been believable (as far as sci-fi goes)
 

Bick

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It may not have been the one thing that could throw the Laws off-whack, just one of them. Seldon understood the danger and it didn't come completely out of left field, afterall
that's why he created the second foundation, to ensure that such spurious events could be countered and managed. The mule was effectively a powerful and uncontrolled second foundationer in his abilities, afterall.
I rather liked him and what he brought to the series. My understanding was that Campbell encouraged Asimov to mix up the Foundation apple cart, but that the Mule was Isaac's own invention. I can't recall where I read that, but its my memory of things nonetheless.
 

Herodot

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The Mule is a lift from Herodotus: "When this response [i.e. his family would last as long as a mule was not the monarch of the Persians] reached Croesus, it afforded him far more pleasure than anything else the oracle had told him, because he was sure that a mule would never replace a man as the Persian king, and that in consequence he and his descendants would rule for ever." In one of his G&S pastiches Asimov observes (on writing sci-fi): "Take an empire that was Roman and you'll find that it's at home in all the starry Milky Way".
 

picklematrix

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Im liked the mule, but disliked a few other aspects of the story. The twist occurred to me before the reveal, but that's no biggie.
Asimov is one of those old-school scifi authors whose work doesn't quiet connect with me. He was a visionary for sure, and a talented author, just not one I can truly get into.
I think the editors suggestion was a fairly good one.
 

farntfar

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The idea of something that could never be foreseen and that would endanger the foundation is interesting, but employing a mutant to do it was very cheap.
so I researched and discovered that this concept was an idea from the book editor, one that wasn't originally in asimov's plans

Two quotes from your original post..
An idea from a book editor , that wasn't originally in Asimov's plans sounds eerily like a mutant that wasn't in Seldon's.
Are you, Garasta, the embodiment of a reality that is stranger than fiction?. :eek::)

Also remember that the Mule was the ideal first justification for the second foundation: to sort out such implausable and unforeseen events.
 

HanaBi

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The article I link to in this thread might interest you. It raises the issue of the Mule and touches on the same point you raise - fiction needs suspense and suspense comes from fallibility and the Foundation was in danger of being too infallible and whatever threatened it had to be from outside the realms of the known and expected. The natural thing would be to bring in aliens but Asimov wouldn't do that due to Campbell's attitudes on aliens (which are actually a little more flexible than is generally expressed, but still could make things difficult). So a mutant is the next closest thing. And, as expressed, I found the Mule a fascinating character. It'd have been really easy to make him a simple monster or infallible superhero in his own right but he's interestingly contradictory.
This rings do true regarding the Foundation series - despite all the impending dangers Hrry Seldon soon resolved them, thus taking away a lot of suspense & intrigue. But by throwing in a curve ball in the Mule, something that was completely unforeseen in Seldon's Psycho-history, it gave the entire story arc a much needed boost, especially with someone (or some thing) as perplexing and yet so beguiling as the Mule!

Which reminds me. I really must re-read the Foundation (and Empire) books again. It has been too long!
 

dannymcg

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When I first read about The Mule I was a spotty little schoolboy who didn't get the concept of sterility, my mental image saw him as a mutant who looked like this
39254258-portrait-of-a-mule-headed-man-.jpg
 

dannymcg

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I reread the foundation series about 20 years later and it made much more sense

(It would have been a lot funnier if he had been a donkey man!)
 

chornedsnorkack

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To look in retrospect, the whole approach of Mule´s campaign simply makes little sense for Mule. (It does make sense for building up suspense - but that´s bad excuse to do stuff for which there are inadequate story-internal reasons.)
 

picklematrix

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To look in retrospect, the whole approach of Mule´s campaign simply makes little sense for Mule. (It does make sense for building up suspense - but that´s bad excuse to do stuff for which there are inadequate story-internal reasons.)
I find it strange that something as scientific as mutation cannot be accounted for by psychohistory, meaning that the mules function in the story makes less sense the more I think about it.

Asimov kinda needed something to throw a wrench in the works though. Otherwise there would not have been much in the way of tension or stakes in the story at all.
 

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