When you find yourself in a situation where you’re being hunted by the government on an unfamiliar planet where you don’t know anyone, it can be hard to know who to trust. This is because literally everyone who is near you might be under orders to kill or capture you. Sounds stressful! So – how can you judge whether someone is on your side or if they’re waiting to end you?
This is the situation Hari Seldon found himself in shortly after delivering his paper at a conference on Trantor. The paper introduced Hari’s ingenious new application of mathematics to predicting the future, which he dubbed ‘psychohistory.’ He didn’t like the way “psychosociology” sounded. The Emperor, Cleon, heard about his paper, and thought to himself “The ability to predict the future seems like it could be useful to me. Bring him to me so I can make him do my bidding!” Hari declined and the Emperor and his right-hand man, Demerzel*, are now hunting him down.
*Demerzel sounds like the name of a prescription drug, doesn’t it?
With the help of Hummin, a weird spy-slash-revolutionary-slash-journalist, Hari gets away. Hummin puts him in a room in the University, where apparently the government isn’t allowed (kind of like fighting in churches back in the day? — this is holy ground! You can’t kill me here!) and tells Hari those famous words you always hear before shit gets real: You stay here, don’t move. I’ll be right back. But also be really careful because even though the government isn’t allowed in here, they can still have operatives all over the place and you have no way of knowing who is working for them.
The next morning there’s a knock at the door. It’s a woman Hari has never met before. Says she’s a friend of Hummin’s, sent here to help him. Is Mystery Woman friend or foe? How can Hari tell?
Hari thinks for a minute: can I trust her? Well, let’s think about this. She’s hot, and I would definitely like to have sex with her, so beep boop beep (those are my mental math calculation noises) – she passes! Let’s let her in to my room which has no windows or other forms of escape! After all, hotness = trustworthiness, right!?
So he lets her in, and she doesn’t kill him (yet) which is good, I guess. Then he finds out she’s a professor. WAIT WHAT??!?! But she’s a woman and she looks so bangable! How is this possible? Or, as Hari puts it: “”Sorry,” said Hari, smiling in his turn, “but you can’t expect to look twenty-four and not raise doubts as to your academic status” (p.85). In reality, Dors is only about five years Hari’s junior.
I feel like I’m reading Starship Troopers all over again. Except that book was written in 1959 and Asimov penned Prelude to Foundation in 1988.
Asimov, COME ON, DUDE!
Let’s look at how Asimov introduces and first describes some of his male characters. Here is how he describes Emperor Cleon I when he is first introduced:
“Cleon has been Emperor for just over ten years…he could manage to look stately…though Cleon’s hair was light brown in hologram and reality alike, it was a bit thicker in the holograph. There was a certain asymmetry to his real face, for the left side of his upper lip raised itself a bit higher than the right side…And if he stood up…he would have been seen to be 2 centimeters under the 1.83-meter height that the image portrayed – and perhaps a bit stouter.” (p.3-4)
And here is Hari Seldon’s own description:
“Hari did not make an impressive appearance at this time. Like the Emperor Cleon I, he was thirty-two years old, but he was only 1.73 meters tall. His face was smooth and cheerful, his hair dark brown, almost black, and his clothing had the unmistakable touch of provinciality about it.” (p.6)
And finally, Chetter Hummin:
“He was tall, with broad shoulders and no sign of a paunch, darkish hair witha glint of blond, smooth-shaven, a grave expression, an air of strength though there were no bulging muscles, a face that was a touch rugged – pleasant, but with nothing “pretty” about it.” (p.24)
Now, let’s look at how Asimov introduces Dors Venabili, the first and only female character in the book so far. The first thing we learn about Dors is that she has a “rather gentle” voice (p.81). That’s sweet. Let’s count that as a point towards the ‘probably not here to kill me’ column. Wait, sorry, I meant the ‘probably didn’t bring a gang of men here to kill me, because women can’t be murderers’ column. Good thinking, Hari. Even though she looks like a “personable young woman,” best to check the hallway to see whether “there might be half a dozen hostile young men with her” (p.82). There aren’t any men with her? PHEWF! Danger averted. That was a close one.
Side bar: back in the day, I would have been an assassin, for sure! I would have made all the money! I’m short AND a woman – that’s like a double negative on the threatening scale. NO ONE WOULD SUSPECT ME! Not to mention my ability to sneak in through small spaces. I think I missed my true calling in life, people.
Having established that this woman is non-threatening by virtue of her womanhood, what is the first thing that she does in his room? She walks over to his bed of course! (Asimov, seriously, man?!).
At this point, Hari is comfortable in the knowledge that this woman is on his side, because she is personable, and gentle, and has mentioned Hummin’s name in passing. Having established her as safe, we get our first description of Dors:
“She was not very tall, average height for a woman, he judged. Her hair was reddish-gold, though not very bright, and was arranged in short curls about her head. (He had seen a number of women in Trantor with their hair so arranged. It was apparently a local fashion that would have been laughed at in Helicon.)” (p.82)
So far so good, sticking with the height-and-hair descriptive combo he’s used for the boys. Maybe a bit more detail given and a bit more judgemental, but NBD. Then he goes on:
“She was not amazingly beautiful, but was quite pleasant to look at, this being helped by full lips that seemed to have a slight humorous curl to them. She was slim, well-built, and looked quite young. (Too young, he thought uneasily, to be of use perhaps.)” (p.82-83)
I am now picturing Hari and Asimov like this: