Foundation and Empire (Anglais) Poche – 1 octobre 1991
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SEARCH FOR MAGICIANS
Bel Riose traveled without escort, which is not what court etiquette prescribes for the head of a fleet stationed in a yet-sullen stellar system on the Marches of the Galactic Empire.
But Bel Riose was young and energetic--energetic enough to be sent as near the end of the universe as possible by an unemotional and calculating court--and curious besides. Strange and improbable tales fancifully repeated by hundreds and murkily known to thousands intrigued the last faculty; the possibility of a military venture engaged the other two. The combination was overpowering.
He was out of the dowdy ground-car he had appropriated and at the door of the fading mansion that was his destination. He waited. The photonic eye that spanned the doorway was alive, but when the door opened it was by hand.
Bel Riose smiled at the old man. "I am Riose--"
"I recognize you." The old man remained stiffly and unsurprised in his place. "Your business?"
Riose withdrew a step in a gesture of submission. "One of peace. If you are Ducem Barr, I ask the favor of conversation."
Ducem Barr stepped aside and in the interior of the house the walls glowed into life. The general entered into daylight.
He touched the wall of the study, then stared at his fingertips. "You have this on Siwenna?"
Barr smiled thinly. "Not elsewhere, I believe. I keep this in repair myself as well as I can. I must apologize for your wait at the door. The automatic device registers the presence of a visitor but will no longer open the door."
"Your repairs fall short?" The general's voice was faintly mocking.
"Parts are no longer available. If you will sit, sir. You drink tea?"
"On Siwenna? My good sir, it is socially impossible not to drink it here."
The old patrician retreated noiselessly with a slow bow that was part of the ceremonious legacy left by the aristocracy of the last century's better days.
Riose looked after his host's departing figure, and his studied urbanity grew a bit uncertain at the edges. His education had been purely military; his experience likewise. He had, as the cliche has it, faced death many times; but always death of a very familiar and tangible nature. Consequently, there is no inconsistency in the fact that the idolized lion of the Twentieth Fleet felt chilled in the suddenly musty atmosphere of an ancient room.
The general recognized the small black-ivroid boxes that lined the shelves to be books. Their titles were unfamiliar. He guessed that the large structure at one end of the room was the receiver that transmuted the books into sight-and-sound on demand. He had never seen one in operation; but he had heard of them.
Once he had been told that long before, during the golden ages when the Empire had been co-extensive with the entire Galaxy, nine houses out of every ten had such receivers--and such rows of books.
But there were borders to watch now; books were for old men. And half the stories told about the old days were mythical anyway. More than half.
The tea arrived, and Riose seated himself. Ducem Barr lifted his cup. "To your honor."
"Thank you. To yours."
Ducem Barr said deliberately, "You are said to be young. Thirty-five?"
"Near enough. Thirty-four."
"In that case," said Barr, with soft emphasis, "I could not begin better than by informing you regretfully that I am not in the possession of love charms, potions, or philtres. Nor am I in the least capable of influencing the favors of any young lady as may appeal to you."
"I have no need of artificial aids in that respect, sir." The complacency undeniably present in the general's voice was stirred with amusement. "Do you receive many requests for such commodities?"
"Enough. Unfortunately, an uninformed public tends to confuse scholarship with magicianry, and love life seems to be that factor which requires the largest quantity of magical tinkering."
"And so would seem most natural. But I differ. I connect scholarship with nothing but the means of answering difficult questions."
The Siwennian considered somberly, "You may be as wrong as they!"
"That may turn out or not." The young general set down his cup in its flaring sheath and it refilled. He dropped the offered flavor-capsule into it with a small splash. "Tell me then, patrician, who are the magicians? The real ones."
Barr seemed startled at a title long unused. He said, "There are no magicians."
"But people speak of them. Siwenna crawls with the tales of them. There are cults being built about them. There is some strange connection between it and those groups among your countrymen who dream and drivel of ancient days and what they call liberty and autonomy. Eventually the matter might become a danger to the State."
The old man shook his head. "Why ask me? Do you smell rebellion, with myself at the head?"
Riose shrugged, "Never. Never. Oh, it is not a thought completely ridiculous. Your father was an exile in his day; you yourself a patriot and a chauvinist in yours. It is indelicate in me as a guest to mention it, but my business here requires it. And yet a conspiracy now? I doubt it. Siwenna has had the spirit beat out of it these three generations."
The old man replied with difficulty, "I shall be as indelicate a host as you a guest. I shall remind you that once a viceroy thought as you did of the spiritless Siwennians. By the orders of that viceroy my father became a fugitive pauper, my brothers martyrs, and my sister a suicide. Yet that viceroy died a death sufficiently horrible at the hands of these same slavish Siwennians."
"Ah, yes, and there you touch nearly on something I could wish to say. For three years the mysterious death of that viceroy has been no mystery to me. There was a young soldier of his personal guard whose actions were of interest. You were that soldier, but there is no need of details, I think."
Barr was quiet. "None. What do you propose?"
"That you answer my questions."
"Not under threats. I am old enough for life not to mean particularly overmuch."
"My good sir, these are hard times," said Riose, with meaning, "and you have children and friends. You have a country for which you have mouthed phrases of love and folly in the past. Come, if I should decide to use force, my aim would not be so poor as to strike you."
Barr said coldly, "What do you want?"
Riose held the empty cup as he spoke. "Patrician, listen to me. These are days when the most successful soldiers are those whose function is to lead the dress parades that wind through the imperial palace grounds on feast days and to escort the sparkling pleasure ships that carry His Imperial Splendor to the summer planets. I . . . I am a failure. I am a failure at thirty-four, and I shall stay a failure. Because, you see, I like to fight.
"That's why they sent me here. I'm too troublesome at court. I don't fit in with the etiquette. I offend the dandies and the lord admirals, but I'm too good a leader of ships and men to be disposed of shortly by being marooned in space. So Siwenna is the substitute. It's a frontier world; a rebellious and a barren province. It is far away, far enough away to satisfy all.
"And so I moulder. There are no rebellions to stamp down, and the border viceroys do not revolt lately; at least, not since His Imperial Majesty's late father of glorious memory made an example of Mountel of Paramay."
"A strong Emperor," muttered Barr.
"Yes, and we need more of them. He is my master; remember that. These are his interests I guard."
Barr shrugged unconcernedly. "How does all this relate to the subject?"
"I'll show you in two words. The magicians I've mentioned come from beyond--out there beyond the frontier guards, where the stars are scattered thinly--"
" 'Where the stars are scattered thinly,' " quoted Barr, " 'And the cold of space seeps in.' "
"Is that poetry?" Riose frowned. Verse seemed frivolous at the moment. "In any case, they're from the Periphery--from the only quarter where I am free to fight for the glory of the Emperor."
"And thus serve His Imperial Majesty's interests and satisfy your own love of a good fight."
"Exactly. But I must know what I fight; and there you can help."
"How do you know?"
Riose nibbled casually at a cakelet. "Because for three years I have traced every rumor, every myth, every breath concerning the magicians--and of all the library of information I have gathered, only two isolated facts are unanimously agreed upon, and are hence certainly true. The first is that the magicians come from the edge of the Galaxy opposite Siwenna; the second is that your father once met a magician, alive and actual, and spoke with him."
The aged Siwennian stared unblinkingly, and Riose continued, "You had better tell me what you know--"
Barr said thoughtfully, "It would be interesting to tell you certain things. It would be a psychohistoric experiment of my own."
"What kind of experiment?"
"Psychohistoric." The old man had an unpleasant edge to his smile. Then, crisply, "You'd better have more tea. I'm going to make a bit of a speech."
He leaned far back into the soft cushions of his chair. The wall-lights had softened to a pink-ivory glow, which mellowed even the soldier's hard profile.
Ducem Barr began, "My own knowledge is the result of two accidents: the accidents of being born the son of my father, and of being born the native of my country. It begins over forty years ago, shortly after the great Massacre, when my father was a fugitive in the forests of the South, while I was a gunner in the viceroy's personal fleet. This same viceroy, by the way, who had ordered the Massacre, and who died such a cruel death thereafter."
Barr smiled grimly, and continued, "My father was a patrician of the Empire and a senator of Siwenna. His name was Onum Barr."
Riose interrupted impatiently, "I know the circumstances of his exile very well. You needn't elaborate upon it."
The Siwennian ignored him and proceeded without deflection. "During his exile a wanderer came upon him; a merchant from the edge of the Galaxy; a young man who spoke a strange accent, knew nothing of recent Imperial history, and who was protected by an individual force-shield."
"An individual force-shield?" Riose glared. "You speak extravagance. What generator could be powerful enough to condense a shield to the size of a single man? By the Great Galaxy, did he carry five thousand myria-tons of nuclear power-source about with him on a little wheeled gocart?"
Barr said quietly, "This is the magician of whom you hear whispers, stories and myths. The name 'magician' is not lightly earned. He carried no generator large enough to be seen, but not the heaviest weapon you can carry in your hand would have as much as creased the shield he bore."
"Is this all the story there is? Are the magicians born of maunderings of an old man broken by suffering and exile?"
"The story of the magicians antedated even my father, sir. And the proof is more concrete. After leaving my father, this merchant that men call a magician visited a tech-man at the city to which my father had guided him, and there he left a shield-generator of the type he wore. That generator was retrieved by my father after his return from exile upon the execution of the bloody viceroy. It took a long time to find--
"The generator hangs on the wall behind you, sir. It does not work. It never worked but for the first two days; but if you'll look at it, you will see that no one in the Empire ever designed it."
Bel Riose reached for the belt of linked metal that clung to the curved wall. It came away with a little sucking noise as the tiny adhesion-field broke at the touch of his hand. The ellipsoid at the apex of the belt held his attention. It was the size of a walnut.
"This--" he said.
"Was the generator?" nodded Barr. "But it was the generator. The secret of its workings are beyond discovery now. Sub-electronic investigations have shown it to be fused into a single lump of metal and not all the most careful study of the diffraction patterns have sufficed to distinguish the discrete parts that had existed before fusion."
"Then your 'proof' still lingers on the frothy border of words backed by no concrete evidence."
Barr shrugged. "You have demanded my knowledge of me and threatened its extortion by force. If you choose to meet it with skepticism, what is that to me? Do you want me to stop?"
"Go on!" said the general, harshly.
"I continued my father's researches after he died, and then the second accident I mentioned came to help me, for Siwenna was well known to Hari Seldon."
"And who is Hari Seldon?"
"Hari Seldon was a scientist of the reign of the Emperor, Daluben IV. He was a psychohistorian; the last and greatest of them all. He once visited Siwenna, when Siwenna was a great commercial center, rich in the arts and sciences."
"Hmph," muttered Riose, sourly, "where is the stagnant planet that does not claim to have been a land of overflowing wealth in older days?"
"The days I speak of are the days of two centuries ago, when the Emperor yet ruled to the uttermost star; when Siwenna was a world of the interior and not a semi-barbarian border province. In those days, Hari Seldon foresaw the decline of Imperial power and the eventual barbarization of the entire Galaxy."
Riose laughed suddenly. "He foresaw that? Then he foresaw wrong, my good scientist. I suppose you call yourself that. Why, the Empire is more powerful now than it has been in a millennium. Your old eyes are blinded by the cold bleakness of the border. Come to the inner worlds someday; come to the warmth and the wealth of the center."
The old man shook his head somberly. "Circulation ceases first at the outer edges. It will take a while yet for the decay to reach the heart. That is, the apparent, obvious-to-all decay, as distinct from the inner decay that is an old story of some fifteen centuries."
From the Hardcover edition.
Présentation de l'éditeur
Led by its founding father, the great psychohistorian Hari Seldon, and taking advantage of its superior science and technology, the Foundation has survived the greed and barbarism of its neighboring warrior-planets. Yet now it must face the Empire—still the mightiest force in the Galaxy even in its death throes. When an ambitious general determined to restore the Empire’s glory turns the vast Imperial fleet toward the Foundation, the only hope for the small planet of scholars and scientists lies in the prophecies of Hari Seldon.
But not even Hari Seldon could have predicted the birth of the extraordinary creature called The Mule—a mutant intelligence with a power greater than a dozen battle fleets…a power that can turn the strongest-willed human into an obedient slave.
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I didn't give it 5 points because it's a little bit out of date, and some "ultra-futuristic" technologies described are already available nowadays, or just too old to be seen as the ultimate technology within 10.000 years... after all, it was written in the 1940's.
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This book and the rest in the series take place far in the future (allegedly 50,000 years) at a time when people live throughout the Galaxy. A mathematician Hari Seldon has developed a new branch of mathematics known as psychohistory. Using the law of mass action, it can roughly predict the future on a large scale. Hari Seldon predicts the demise of the Galactic Empire and creates a plan to save the knowledge of the human race in a huge encyclopedia and also to shorten the barbaric period expected to follow the demise from 30,000 years to 1,000 years. A select people are chosen to write the Encyclopedia and to unknowingly carry out the plan to re-create the Galactic Empire. What unfolds in this book and in the books that follow is the future history of the demise and re-emergence of a Galactic Empire, written as a series of adventures, in a similar fashion to the Star Wars series.
Even though this is arguably the greatest set of Science Fiction novels ever written, I do not recommend it to those who are only mildly interested in Science Fiction. Character development is not the focus of these novels and the large amount of technical/scientific details, schemes and plots can become both confusing and heavy for the unitiated Science Fiction reader. If you read this one you will feel the need to read the others which may take a long time. If you are new to Science Fiction start with something lighter and when you are hooked you can continue with this series. Also, in my opinion the second and third books were better than the first.
Anyway, Asimov at his best was a creator; he had amazing ideas of the universe, how it worked, and how to structure stories that manipulated the readers expectations.
The Foundation series is like a spider web that continues to become more intricate and complex with each chapter. The intricacy of the plotting is amazing, although honestly it's not self-evident in the first few stories of the first novel, given that they were published independantly, as serialized short stories told one at a time.
Only with the second book did this change.
The basic premise: The rise and fall of the roman empire, told on a galactic scale from a historian living in the 2nd empire a thousand years later.
The setup: One man creates a science, called Psychohistory, a fictional precursor to Chaos Math (a real statistical science today). This psychohistorian, Hari Seldon, predicted that the vast Galactic Empire is about to crumble, dropping humanity back into the dark ages. This dark ages was due to last 30,000 years (I believe), and while it is too late to prevent this horrible breakdown of society, Seldon believes he can use this new math to shorten the time period between empires.
To do so, he establishes two "Foundations" made up of scientists, one at the outer edge of the galaxy, and the other at "Star's End". In advance, Seldon plots out the future (using the math of psychohistory), and sets in motion a series of "domino" events. The Foundation faces crises and problems, forcing change in both strategy and focus for the next several hundred years. But Asmimov continues to modulate the story throughout each of the books, and building upon the previously-understood structure.
In fact, once you think you've read enough permutations on the same idea, Asimov starts tearing the structure down, introducing variables into the story that further complicate matters.
A caveat about the most often-touted complaint about Asimov: His writing style (or lack thereof):
In 1951, when these stories were first published, Asimov was not a great writer - as in, a writer of literature. His descriptions, characterizations and storytelling technique all left a lot to be desired. His technique got better with the passing years, such that any of his fiction written after 1970 or so reads easily.
But that is not the point, here. Asimov didn't create great characters (save for his robot stories) - he came up with mind-bending ideas and subsequent permutations.
The litmus test of whether or not Asimov is for you: Read 'The Last Question'. It's a 12-page short story. Not brilliantly written, but a fantastic story with amazing ideas contained inside. When you get to the last sentence of it, you will probably be blown away. If you are, Foundation is for you.
Read them - and commit to all of them, because they get better as they go, generally speaking. The first three were written in 1950 - 53. But the fans demanded that he someday continue the story, so he continued with a fourth book in 1983, and the last in 1986. Some complain that the last book is overlong - and I agree - but the last sentence of the last book is...amazing.
Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation (contains the best story - Search By The Mule)
Foundation's Edge (best overall book)
Foundation and Earth
Afterward, Asimov went back and wrote prequel novels (Prelude to Foundation, Foundation's End) taking place prior to and concurrently with events from the first book. He later admitted that he wrote prequels because the main story had gotten so complicated, he felt he'd taken the story as far as it could go.
The prequels aren't too bad, but they are completely non-essential.
The other very memorable character is the Mule. He represents the variable that makes predicting "History" mathematically a tricky business at least, not to mention impossible. He is a nasty totalitarian character who strangely in Asimov's hands manages to elicit some sympathy. Asimov is playing with the idea of predicting human behavior scientifically (or controlling it scientifically,) but this character is also a humanistic meditation on how masses of people get overwhelmed by evil social forces like fascism and soviet communism. You can see that Asimov lived through the era of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Stalin and that these cult of personality tyrants and the submission of masses of people to their destructive and sadistic wills profoundly affected his view of human nature. Foundation and Empire seems to be an attempt to come to terms with that experience, and so has something to say about the specifics of twentieth century history, as well as about historical philosophy.
The Foundation Trilogy is a wonderful piece of work, but the Kindle edition butchers it! Someone has decided to water down Asimov's prose, eliminating some of the more enjoyable passages of the book. Here are some examples, found by comparison with an old Bantam Doubleday hardcover edition.
Several pages into chapter 3, Salvor Hardin is arguing with the Encyclopedists about the decline of the Empire.
Original: "If you ask me,", he cried, "THE GALAXY IS GOING TO POT!"
Kindle: "If you ask me,", he cried, "THE GALACTIC EMPIRE IS DYING!"
In chapter 5, Hardin is again meeting with the Encyclopedists and discussing the threat received from Anacreon.
Original: The message from Anacreon ... boils down easily and straightforwardly to the unqualified statement ... "You give us what we want in a week, or we beat the hell out of you and take it anyway."
Kindle: The message from Anacreon ... boils down easily and straightforwardly to the unqualified statement ... "You give us what we want in a week, or we take it by force."
I'm going to be asking for a refund.
Let's say it's around 1940 or so; you're studying chemistry in grad school but your true love is history; you've read Edward Gibbon's _The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_, but writing a historical novel set in the _past_ would require just too much research; you get the bright idea of writing a historical tale set in the _future_, about the decline and fall of a _Galactic_ Empire, and you suggest as much to John W. Campbell, Jr.
Campbell's response: he gets excited and suggests that you introduce some pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo about "psychohistory". Do you:
(a) drop the idea and write something else?
(b) write the story just as Campbell describes it?
(c) use a little imagination, make Campbell's idea a bit more intellectually presentable, and crank out, not just a single story, but a Hugo-award-winning series?
If you picked (c), congratulations; you're Isaac Asimov.
The Hugo didn't come until 1965, when the Foundation series won for best all-time series (defeating even Tolkien's _Lord of the Rings_ books). By then Asimov had long ago tired of the series; you can tell by the first part of the third book. (But the _second_ part of the third book is probably the best part of the original three volumes.)
And heck, even in order to keep it going _that_ long, he had to introduce a radical departure from the Seldon Plan, in which the Mule initiates not just another Seldon Crisis but a new element altogether, one that wasn't accounted for in the Plan. (And in even later installments, it becomes pretty clear that Asimov isn't exactly thrilled by either the Plan or the Empire it's supposed to bring about.)
But in the first volume, all of it is still fresh. Here we meet Hari Seldon for the first time, get slightly acquainted with his mathematical science of psychohistory, and learn what he's done to keep the decline of the Galactic Empire from leading humanity into 30,000 years of barbarism. He can't avert the decline, but he's got a way to reduce the period of barbarism to a mere millennium.
He's set up two Foundations at opposite ends of the galaxy. And he's carefully set the ball rolling so that every so often there will be some sort of sociopolitical crisis, to which there's only one possible resolution. All the Foundation has to do is wait until the crisis narrows everything down to just one option, and then figure out what the heck that option _is_ . . .
Well, I think you can see that the pattern leaves some room for the exercise of intelligence, but not a lot for individual initiative. No wonder Asimov let the Plan start going awry; the story might have lasted a thousand years, but the dramatic possibilities wouldn't.
Anyway, it's a great, great series. This is where it begins in realtime, although the later novel _Prelude to Foundation_ is "first" according to the chronology of the Foundation universe. (And the Empire novels -- _Pebble in the Sky_, _The Stars, Like Dust_, and _The Currents of Space_ -- take place even earlier. So do most of the robot stories.)
If you haven't read it yet and you think you might be an SF fan, you'll want to get around to it pretty soon. Start here, and enjoy.