My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is more excellent work from Asimov. This delves a little more deeply into the science of psychohistory, not to mention the science fiction of mutation and society, while still telling an ultimately human story.
The first ten chapters don’t amount to much; the characters are interesting, but not riveting, and I was never brought to care about them in any meaningful sense. The point of these chapters (“Part I” of the book) seems entirely to lay the groundwork for Part II–that is, we see how effective Seldon’s psychohistory is, how accurately and clearly he has predicted human behavior, so we can be led to wonder how it could possibly fail.
The reader will recall, of course, that the first book in the series showed us how men might unwittingly participate in Seldon’s plan, might lead the Foundation to victory out of selfishness or patriotism, but we are constantly reminded that those men did not particularly matter. In Part I of this book, Asimov takes us a step further on that path: the characters, and their actions, truly don’t matter. The would-be conquerors of the Foundation are hoist with their own petard–we are told, through the eminently intellectual analysis that comes at the conclusion of every Foundation tale, that there was no alternative. By this point in the Foundation’s history, a conqueror must attempt it, and whether that conqueror were general or emperor, he must fail.
Though this results in a fairly weak Part I, it sets up very well for Part II–in which we meet the Mule, an aberration in Seldon’s plan. There are clever hints dropped about the inevitable reveal at the end of the book, but having read it before, I knew what would come (though I had forgotten some of the details). From what I recall of the last time, Asimov kept me curious to the end, but an observant reader could draw the same connections as Bayta does in the story–Asimov used the right repetition, the right wordplay, to make that possible. And, as the Mule himself tells us at the end, some of his explanations were quite illogical and fallacious, and those are pretty easy to spot as the end approaches.
All-told, it’s a good book. It isn’t perfect, but then, I’ve been endeavoring to read old favorites with a more critical eye, so I might be harsher than I need to be on it.