*spoilers – if you don’t want to know who dies, don’t read this post*
Forward the Foundation is my favourite book the series so far, after Foundation itself. Despite being the second book in the series chronologically, it is obvious that it was the last book Asimov wrote. I say this because there is a distinct improvement in the portrayal, and representation, of female characters in this book compared to the others I’ve read in the series.
I do find refuge in knowing that I am not alone in calling out Asimov’s misrepresentation of women in his Foundation series. I thought I might be, for when discussing the books and my opinions with my husband, who had also read the series, he didn’t share my views regarding the treatment of women in the books. He was surprised that the treatment of women and the dynamic between Dors and Seldon seemed to be my focus. He also pointed to the fact that Asimov assigned a female character as Seldon’s protector (Dors) as evidence that Asimov was not, in fact, sexist.
You know what? That’s true. Asimov could have easily made Seldon’s bodyguard a man and worked in Dors some other way. But Dors wasn’t a woman, was she? She was a robot. And Bayta and Arcadia were Controlled by male psychohistorians. And Raschelle’s only weakness was her womanhood.
We had different interpretations – which is fine, that happens – but to me the sexism and stereotyping were so blatant and persistent throughout the series, it struck me as odd that I would be the only one to see it. It seemed so apparent to me that I thought that in order to deny its existence one would have to be choosing not to see it; turning a blind-eye, diminishing or dismissing it.
Then I reconsidered: perhaps it is possible that the sexist treatment of women in Asimov’s novels stands out more to women because we, as readers, are more aware of them. Our experiences have shaped us to recognize inequalities (especially those against women) when we see them. I think this can be said about any group who has been discriminated against – members of that group are more aware of the inequalities which create obstacles in their lives, and more likely to call them out. Men have not had the same experiences as women in terms of gender-based stereotypes. Does this make them less aware of the inequalities which surround them? Is this one of those “till it happens to you” situations?
Turning to the interwebs to see what others thought about Asimov’s Foundation series specifically within the context of the treatment of women, I was relieved to find many others shared my interpretation. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy being right? There is a great post here which echoes my sentiments (and has much better writing!), and a pretty good and balanced discussion thread on Goodreads here. If you’re interested.
There is an argument that the books should be treated as products of their time; written in the 1950s, could one really expect the treatment of women to be any different? And to that I say yes. First, other sci-fi authors from the era managed to envision egalitarian or at least gender-equal worlds. Second, considering the author identified as a feminist and was writing a futuristic novel about the evolution of society? HELL YES.
Like I said, Forward does offer some improvements – for example, two of the four parts in the book have female title-characters (Dors Venabili and Wanda Seldon) and Wanda is credited with revolutionizing and saving psychohistory. It is nice to see this kind of progression and improvement in Asimov’s writing. I would hope it comes as a result of the evolution of his own personal views, however after reading multiple accounts of how he was known for sexual harassment in the workplace (click here, here, and here), I’m not going to get my hopes too high. Interesting that Asimov considered himself a feminist…
There are some really interesting stories and ideas presented in Asimov’s Foundation series, if you can get past his issues with female characters. Obviously, psychohistory sounds hella cool. As I’ve mentioned, I believe this to be the future application, and evolution, of actuarial science. Also, the sociology of Trantor is in itself a fascinating study, as is the concept of the causes of the fall of empire and the conditions and processes by which society rebuilds. Then there’s robots, mentalics, the representation of religion and the supernatural…this is some really interesting stuff, you guys!
OKAY. BACK TO THE BOOK – Forward the Foundation.
The book was good. It provides closure to the story lines of some my more beloved characters from Prelude, before they disappear entirely in Foundation. We say goodbye to Daneel (though I’m willing to bet he shows up again later), Dors, Cleon, and Raych (NOOOOO).
I loved Raych from the start. The little gavroche just melted my heart. I’m glad that Asimov made him a prominent character in both Prelude and Forward, providing readers the opportunity to see him grow in to an adult and find out how his story ends. Isn’t closure a wonderful thing?
I would like to know, however, where this whole mind-meld ability of Wanda’s and others comes from. That was never explained…was it a natural evolution in humans? A mutation? If it’s a natural evolution, then it is logical that it would continue to occur throughout the galaxy, and not be isolated to the Second Foundation. In this case, the Second Foundationers should be able to account for the inevitability of the Mule, or another like him, in their psychohistory calculations.
Question: Where are the aliens and other races? Twenty-five million planets and everyone is human?
Only two left!