The Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Vertigo

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#1
The Second Foundation is a book in two very separate parts; in the first The Mule is still trying to find the second foundation and dispatches a new mission to search for it with two very different people sharing command – one ‘converted’ and one not – and in the second a group of people from the first foundation itself, convinced that the second foundation is interfering with and damaging Seldon’s great plan, set out to find and destroy it. These two stories are really two completely independent novellas brought together into a single book, which is at least consistent with the previous books if a little frustrating for readers who prefer one single story in book.

The first part is fairly consistent in style with the previous books and was good, though it had its flaws; in particular many of the correct assumptions made by the protagonists were really just too conveniently correct and the incorrect ones too conveniently incorrect. What I mean by that is that they didn’t seem very realistic; they simply didn’t have what I would consider to be very solid foundations and were so obviously engineered for the result Asimov needed. Of course the whole process of writing a fictional story is about engineering situations to fit the desired storyline, but that process should be camouflaged and here Asimov, for me at least, completely failed to do so adequately and, consequently, the outcomes were all very predictable.

The second part was in many ways worse in that pretty much all decisions and actions were so simplistic that the story felt like a YA story in the spirit of maybe Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. This was clearly reinforced by one of the main protagonists being a fourteen year old girl who is always saying things like “golly” and “gosh” and who blithely and successfully marches through all the dangers with which she is confronted with an innocence that would be unlikely to succeed in any real world. For example early in the story she decides to run away and simply stows away in the luggage compartment of a starship. Surely even back in the ‘50s it must have been obvious just how unlikely that would be to succeed. As with the first part I found all the outcomes and the final twist to be completely predictable, though this time due to a complete lack of any real complexity.

That aside this was still an enjoyable piece of science fiction but I’m afraid I’d also have to call it fantasy, not in the sense of elves and dwarves but in the sense of having to set your limits of suspension of disbelief exceptionally high. Now I just have to decide whether to continue with the sequels and prequels that Asimov wrote much later and about which I have generally heard very mixed reports.

3/5 stars
 

The Judge

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#2
I read this only a few years ago, immediately following Foundation and Foundation and Empire. My thoughts at the time:

After Foundation last week, I've continued with its immediate successors, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. Women are not only present but important characters in these two books which is a great step forward, but nonetheless they only appear in roles which Asimov would never have given to men, ie carers, male love/sex interests, and a precocious, funny teenager whom men feel the need to protect. Asimov explicitly makes his various different worlds and societies misogynist, but I suspect this wasn't so much his original, well-considered and necessary-for-the-plot intention, so much as an ex post facto way of justifying his own unconscious sexism as evidenced in Foundation. [**]

Anyway, like Foundation itself, the books are actually short stories yoked together into one volume, which makes for a good deal of repetition, particularly egregious in SF. And again like the first book, the ideas are clever, the world-building good, and the psychology used interesting, with some (far from all) of the characters being well-drawn. But the twists in the tail of the two more important stories were pretty obvious, I still have problems with the overall concept, and throughout I definitely wanted the baddies to win, the second Foundation itself to be annihilated, and Hari Seldon's great plan to be comprehensively destroyed. Which somehow I don't think is what was intended.​

Although I didn't specifically mention it in my comments, I recall being annoyed that everything fell out so pat -- "conveniently correct" as you so cleverly call it -- and the decisions etc were so easy, and I'm about as far from being a lover of hard SF as it's possible to get. I didn't continue with the series after that, so I can't help you in deciding whether to persevere!


[**] I'd rather slated Asimov for this in my earlier mini-review of Foundation: "for about two-thirds of the book, it appeared women no longer existed thousands of years in the future. An exaggeration, of course. There were several references to the fact the Foundationists actually had wives as well as children... Anyway, ignoring the inherent sexism – which isn't assuaged when we actually do see two women, one of whom has neither a name nor a voice, the other, depicted as a shrill termagant, also unnamed save as a variant of her husband's title – a psychologically clever book, but one which made a lot of assumptions I couldn't accept."
 

Vertigo

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#3
Interesting @The Judge, I've pretty much given up deploring the sexism and often outright misogyny in so much of the classic SF literature and now only comment when it really offends me badly! Asimov didn't quite manage that for me here. As I'm also working my way through Larry Niven's Ringworld books at the moment I have to say he is every bit as bad, if not worse, in them. But I did cringe at the way Asimov has essentially made no effort to construct a new future sociology. All his family relationships seem to be nothing more than '50s society displaced into the distant future.
 

chornedsnorkack

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#4
I read this only a few years ago, immediately following Foundation and Foundation and Empire. My thoughts at the time:

After Foundation last week, I've continued with its immediate successors, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. Women are not only present but important characters in these two books which is a great step forward, but nonetheless they only appear in roles which Asimov would never have given to men, ie carers, male love/sex interests, and a precocious, funny teenager whom men feel the need to protect. Asimov explicitly makes his various different worlds and societies misogynist, but I suspect this wasn't so much his original, well-considered and necessary-for-the-plot intention, so much as an ex post facto way of justifying his own unconscious sexism as evidenced in Foundation. [**]​

[**] I'd rather slated Asimov for this in my earlier mini-review of Foundation: "for about two-thirds of the book, it appeared women no longer existed thousands of years in the future. An exaggeration, of course. There were several references to the fact the Foundationists actually had wives as well as children... Anyway, ignoring the inherent sexism – which isn't assuaged when we actually do see two women, one of whom has neither a name nor a voice, the other, depicted as a shrill termagant, also unnamed save as a variant of her husband's title – a psychologically clever book, but one which made a lot of assumptions I couldn't accept."
The bigger problem is lack of women where expected.
No problem in "Foundation". The roles are purely men´s roles. Families are irrelevant. Anselm haut Rodric is highborn, but this only is his qualification for the appointed positions of subprefect, military commander and a diplomat. It is not important what specific position Anselm´s father holds, whether he is alive etc, nor the specific name of his wife, and the etiquette does not require him to drag along wife on a diplomatic visit.

A gaping problem in "Bridle and Saddle", though.
We meet the first women in Foundation - the voice of the secretary, and the widowed duchesses.
And we see the first family of Foundation.
The problem is that it is a family of men only.
Have you noticed this?
 

The Judge

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#5
The bigger problem is lack of women where expected.

And we see the first family of Foundation.
The problem is that it is a family of men only.
Have you noticed this?
I didn't make a specific note of it at the time, which suggests I didn't notice it, or if I did, it didn't worry me or I didn't think it wasn't worth mentioning alongside the greater issue.

I've forgotten all the plot and story line now. When you say the family is of men only, do you mean that sons have been born without females being involved, or the sons were adopted? Or is it that simply that no women were mentioned? The latter would certainly tie up with the inherent sexism of the stories. Why should he create a mother/sister/aunt if he's not going to give her anything to do? Why mention them if they're now dead or only in the background?

No problem in "Foundation". The roles are purely men´s roles.
Um... to me that is the problem. The roles are only "men's roles" because he's decided they should be filled only by men (or, more likely, he's not thought about it at all and he simply couldn't imagine women in those positions), not because the roles themselves required male anatomy in order to be performed.
 

chornedsnorkack

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#6
I didn't make a specific note of it at the time, which suggests I didn't notice it, or if I did, it didn't worry me or I didn't think it wasn't worth mentioning alongside the greater issue.

I've forgotten all the plot and story line now. When you say the family is of men only, do you mean that sons have been born without females being involved, or the sons were adopted? Or is it that simply that no women were mentioned? The latter would certainly tie up with the inherent sexism of the stories. Why should he create a mother/sister/aunt if he's not going to give her anything to do? Why mention them if they're now dead or only in the background?
No women are mentioned.
Anacreon royal family.
Composition:
Grandfather, first king of Anacreon. No name given.
Elder son, second king of Anacreon. No name given.
Son of elder son, third king of Anacreon. Named Lepold.
His uncle, younger son of first king. Named Wienis.
Wienis´s "arrogant sons", number not given. One of them named Lefkin.
This requires three women as missing links:
Grandmother of Lepold and Lefkin, mother of Wienis;
mother of Lefkin, wife of Wienis;
mother of Lepold.
None of them is mentioned.
For first two, it makes sense.
Wienis is in his late 40s (was a teenager 30 years ago), his elder brother even older. Nothing odd about his mother being naturally dead.
Wienis´ sons besides Lefkin are sufficiently irrelevant that their number need not be specified. It is not important to comment on his wife/their mother.
But the third is important.
We hear about Lepold´s father because it is odd, and needs explaining, that the leadership of Anacreon is not one adult man King or that a 15 year old boy does not have a living father.
It also is odd if a 15 year old boy does not have a living mother.
The death of Lepold´s father actually gets more than a passing reference. It gets repeated mentions of dangers of nyak hunt, and suspicions, including at Wienis.
As for the case of Lepold´s mother being alive: it is explicable that she is not Regent of the kingdom (and villainess opponent of Foundation). Two obvious reasonings: one, that ruling even as a regent is a job for men only. The other, that the brother of the King is a member of Royal Family by birth, while the widow of King is a member of her birth family, and in Royal Family only by marriage.
But even if Lepold´s mother does not govern the state, as a Queen Mother in good standing she should be important for her teen son. We see Lepold reflecting on his situation, distrustful and resentful of his uncle and his "arrogant cousins".
Were his mother alive, he should think about her at that point. And if she´s dead, the fact would need mentioning.
Um... to me that is the problem. The roles are only "men's roles" because he's decided they should be filled only by men (or, more likely, he's not thought about it at all and he simply couldn't imagine women in those positions), not because the roles themselves required male anatomy in order to be performed.
And my problem is that Asimov fails to mention women where they ought to be relevant by the logic of the roles he is assuming.
 

The Judge

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#7
It also is odd if a 15 year old boy does not have a living mother.
Women die in childbirth or soon after here in the west with all our technology and when we're focussed on saving their lives; many others die when their children are still toddlers. In a society which has no use for women beyond using them as brood mares, many more will die before a child is 10, let alone 15. I don't see anything "odd" about it.

Were his mother alive, he should think about her at that point. And if she´s dead, the fact would need mentioning.
If she died when he was a baby, he'd know nothing about her, so why should he think of her? Or if she were taken from him to be shoved in the equivalent of a convent when he was a toddler, he might have blocked her from his mind so again, why would he think of her? The fact he had a mother once doesn't "need" mentioning any more than his wet-nurse or nursery maids or servants "need" mentioning.
 

picklematrix

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#8
Ive been reading asimov on breaks at work. Its somewhat entertaining, but his prose is quite weak.
I like the idea of short stories adding together to create a longer narrative. Tbh i think thats what makes asimov work. If i had to read to many if his words in one story, it would dry up very quickly.
Dialogue is sometimes good also.
 

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