Tag Archives: Foundation Trilogy

Isaac Asimov: Great Uncle of Themed Entertainment? Part 2

21 Aug

In Part 1 of this post, I made a provocative assertion about Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy being related to Themed Entertainment and then did absolutely nothing to back that up. I guess I’ve got some catching up to do.


This post will continue to categorically ruin any initial joy and surprise that you may derive from reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy for the first time. If you didn’t heed my warning last time, then be aware that I’m really giving up the goods this time.


Another Mule that has been known to affect emotional state

Another Mule that has been known to affect emotional state

Presumably, you have exhausted some wild orgy of violent fantasies about what terrific power would allow an individual to single-handedly, and against all odds, execute a conquest of unfathomable scope. As it turns out, The Mule’s extraordinary success hinges on his capability to adjust the emotional balance of human beings. As one of his recent converts quips, “It sounds like a little trick, but it’s quite unbeatable.” The Mule himself elaborates further, “Men’s minds are dials, with pointers that indicate the prevailing emotions. … I learned that I could reach into those minds and turn the pointer to the point I wished.” As the story progresses, we witness the dramatic military effects of what happens when The Mule can cause unwavering loyalty in his generals, or more interestingly, overwhelming despair in a targeted population. You may be thinking that this power which I have hyped is a hyperbolic literary hack, a shadowy deus ex machina which seems to have exerted its fearsome will on the voters of the Hugo Awards. However, Asimov imbues this absolute power with some caveats wherein which lie some clever and telling nuances.

It's good to be The Mule

It’s good to be The Mule

First, when the aforementioned convert is accused of having lost all power of objective thought, he replies, “Only my emotions are fixed. My reason is at it always was. It may be influenced in a certain direction by my conditioned emotions, but it is not forced. And there are some things I can see more clearly now that I am freed of my earlier emotional trend.” The admission of this duality of emotion and reason is an irresistible concept for me, because it suggests that The Mule’s power does not require total subjugation of an individual’s mental function. It is only necessary to affect or redirect the underlying emotions, and allow the individual to reason and function in an otherwise normal fashion. Put another way, our personal emotional truths are an inextricable part of the set of assumptions that we apply to everyday reasoning and function. While certain environments, such as school or the workplace, might suggest that we ought to conduct ourselves in a precise and logical fashion, The Mule understands that ultimately our actions are influenced, and in some cases dictated by our feelings.

The second nuance of The Mule’s power is the idea that the experience of a hunch, insight, or intuition, which we tend to experience as a flash of greater power, can be treated as an emotion, and thus be induced or controlled by The Mule. The implication is that those breakthrough moments where everything seems to come together and make sense don’t necessarily need to percolate from some deep, inner place, but can actually be triggered from outside oneself. I think the rest of the book concerns itself with some minor plot point concerning the evolving likelihood of millennia of dark ages, but by this time, I had set the book down, lost in my own reverie of insight.

It occurred to me that The Mule’s power is both what we strive for as storytellers, and what we seek every time we open a book, enter a theatre, or otherwise immerse ourselves in someone else’s creation. When we open ourselves to a story, it’s because we crave that tweak or that twinge, that insight and indignation, a shock or just a hush of reflection. And we’re voracious about it, because it makes us feel, and feeling is what reminds us that we haven’t quite had the life choked out of us by the doldrums of the everyday, quite yet. We are changed on the other end of it, and we might be changed in different ways each time it’s told to us. And we take that change with us back to our lives and the people in them.

Pink Floyd Busts Out The Visi-Sonor . . . Again!

Pink Floyd jamming on the Visi-Sonor

The craft of storytelling implies a sense of neutrality wherein no medium can be considered superior to any other in an absolute sense, although the choice of medium and related artistic decisions should always support the spirit of the story. Personally, I have a strong interest in themed entertainment, and I feel that immersive experiences provide a number of new tools and modes for creative narrative expression. While The Mule could exercise his emotional control more or less at will without any external implements, he sometimes chose to focus his efforts through the use an instrument called a Visi-Sonor, which emits musical tones, but also stimulates the optic center of the brain directly, causing vivid hallucinations. I think it’s significant that Asimov chose to augment The Mule’s inherent gift of incredible power by suggesting that it could actually be enhanced when employed in conjunction with an immersive aesthetic sensibility. A strong story told with honesty and passion affects our emotions which affects our actions which affects our lives. That is power. And Asimov, a storyteller in his own right, wanted us to understand that. Buried in a plot-point in the second half of the second book of a trilogy, he tells us that one person CAN change the world, or the galaxy, or whatever term we choose to apply to those regions occupied by thinking, feeling beings. The beautiful truth though is that each of us can claim that power, and I consider it a great privilege to exercise it thoughtfully.


Isaac Asimov: Great Uncle of Themed Entertainment? Part 1

19 Aug
They gave best all-time series to WHO?

They gave Best All-Time series to WHO?!

I have been making my way through Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. Admittedly, as of this post, I have only read two out of the three books, but that’s not going to stop me from drawing some crazy connection between immersive storytelling and his vision of the future.


NOTE: this article assumes that you haven’t read these books, or that you’re due for a quick backgrounder if you have. If you are one of the former, and you don’t want to ruin your experience of reading the winner of the one-time Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series,” then you should turn back now.


No disputing Asimov's chops . . . as a writer

No disputing Asimov’s chops . . . as a writer

Isaac Asimov thinks big. Real big. The Foundation Trilogy takes place in the distant future. There are 25 million inhabited planets, and the galactic population is in the quadrillions. I’m not even sure how many zeroes that is, but it’s a lot. In other words, there really isn’t a useful point of reference or comparison for the scope that he envisions. The basic gist of the Trilogy is that amazingly this entire universe is governed under the structure of a single Empire. A new discipline called “psychohistory” has been developed that applies mathematical principles to project the likelihood of future events, largely based on the way large groups of people behave. So psychohistory isn’t going to tell you what your great-great-granddaughter will eat for breakfast 80 years from now, but it will probably do a good job of outlining the macroeconomic trends and political context of the world she lives in. In theory, psychohistory can be used to develop projections that span tens of thousands of years. Remember, Asimov thinks big.

Controversially, Hari Seldon, the most famed psychohistorian, proclaims that the aforementioned Empire will actually collapse sometime in the next 100 years, and will be followed by 30,000 years of  barbarism, until it will ultimately be replaced by a Second Empire. However, he posits that certain actions can be taken now that will reduce the expected duration of the Dark Ages to as short as 1,000 years. The people in power get upset, and they essentially exile him and his team to the outer bounds of the universe, where they create an entity known as The Foundation. From this protected point, he enacts what is to be known as “The Seldon Plan.” The balance of Foundation, the first book in the trilogy, consists of vignettes that illustrate how his plan has anticipated certain “crises” that occur long after his death, and how he has set things in motion such that the likelihood of withstanding these crises is actually quite high. In fact, a pre-recorded hologram of Seldon plays at pre-determined times where he basically congratulates the people of the future for surviving the most recent crisis and advises them to buckle up for the next one. No, I’m not leading up to some elaborate tie-in to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

Are you talking to me?

Are you talking to me?

Reading stories about how Hari Seldon is always right is only entertaining up to a point. In Foundation and Empire, the second book, things start to get interesting. The Seldon Plan is virtually guaranteed to succeed, provided that there are no massively disruptive developments in technology or politics. And as mentioned, due to its extremely large scale, it is virtually impossible for a single person to influence the Plan’s outcome. However, something DOES occur that the Plan did not contemplate, and it is in the form of a single person, known only as The Mule, who happens to be a genetic mutant. Mutations, being inherently specifically unpredictable, cannot be accounted for by the Plan. However, it remains a possibility, however remote, that a mutation could result in something of cosmic significance, even if embodied by an individual. And that’s what happens. The Empire is effectively in shambles, and the Dark Ages have begun, but The Mule begins to aggregate power at an alarming rate. He is effectively unstoppable, even bringing the Foundation itself to its knees with relatively little effort. What terrible, irresistible power can a single individual possess that can operate unchecked on a virtually unlimited scale? It’s a great thought experiment to leave you with, because the answer to that question is where things get interesting.

To be continued.


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