So many questions

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I finished Prelude to Foundation last night and I have SO MANY QUESTIONS!

  • Is Daneel the Mule? No, that doesn’t make sense – the Mule has precious feelings and Daneel does not. Is the Mule related to Daneel? Offspring?
  • Can robots have offspring?
  • Who is Daneel in the Foundation books, then? Does he make it to those books or is he discovered and killed?
  • If he is killed, how many robots remain in the post-collapse galaxy?
  • Daneel talks about a Plan B to save the galaxy outside of psychohistory – is Star’s End his plan B, or is that Seldon’s Plan B?
  • If Star’s End is Seldon’s Plan B, then is creating a species who can tamper with human emotions Daneel’s Plan B?
  • If that is his Plan B, why doesn’t he tell Hari about it so that he can consider it in his psychohistory calculations?

It could be that all of these questions are answered in Forward the Foundation, or in one of the other two books in the series: Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth. Holy crap I have three books left to read? Dune didn’t take this long.

Moving on to other topics. I found the rest of the book since my last post to be less blatantly sexist. Dors does a good job of defending herself and being a strong female character, calling out gender-based stereotypes and prejudices when she comes across them. Raschelle was also an example of strong female leadership. Asimov wrote these women to be strong, so good on him for that.

It is too bad, then, that Raschelle’s only perceived weakness, which allows her to be defeated in the end, is her womanhood. It is also too bad that in the end Dors, an consistently strong and intelligent female character, turns out not to be a woman at all, but a robot. I wish Asimov would have left Dors a woman.

I could have done without the last couple of chapters as well, where Hari, desperate as he is for companionship and love, more or less forces himself and his affection on to Dors. How many times does this woman have to turn you down, Hari?

She tells him that he should find other historians to work with him. He says he wants her. He knows she’s a robot who has to follow the Laws of Robotics, so she has to make sure psychohistory happens, so he tells her that if she leaves he won’t work. She stays.

She tells him she is incapable of love, and that the only time she engages in physical intimacy is when she feels that to not do so would hurt the person coming on to her. She has never asked to be, nor wanted to be, kissed. Hari decides he doesn’t care because he wants her and that’s that (that’s almost a direct quote). So he tells her to kiss him, and she doesn’t want to hurt him, so she does. Now Dors is his historian/lover robot.

Well, Hari wouldn’t be the first to have a robot for a lover, I guess…

So far my sense is that I should have read iRobot instead.

Okay enough talking -gotta go to work!

I guess I wasn’t done yet… (“It’s okay you can trust me” cont’d)

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Looks like I published my last post too early because I have more to say!

Later, during breakfast, Hari has a happy moment:

…looking at the woman on the other side of the table and feeling that she might make this exile of his seem a little less like exile. He thought of the other woman he had known a few years ago, but blocked it offer with a determined effort…” (p.88)

This effectively sets up a binary view of Dors and “the other woman” in the readers’ minds. Her character is now primarily defined by her contrast to Hari’s previous lover. Everything she does from here on out in the novel will be within the context of being Hari’s romantic interest.

I’m not surprised by this, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

At least Asimov writes Dors as an intelligent and educated character. Even then, however, Dors’ field of study – history – is almost immediately established as inferior and less useful than that of Hari’s – mathematics. Furthermore, its value is then only in what it can offer in servitude to Hari’s psyschohistory.

The subtext here is that although Dors is educated, her field is lofty and superfluous. It has no real societal value or potential for meaningful contribution. That is, until Hari and his psychohistory come along, suddenly giving purpose to Dors’ academic field; in essence, to her work and education. What a knight-in-shining armour, rescuing her from a life of obscurity and inconsequential study and giving her work merit and significance, am I right? Barf.

Then there’s this lovely exchange, when Hari asks to use her department’s library:

“Would I be able to get permission to use the history library?”

Now it was she who hesitated. “I think that can be arranged. If you work on mathematics programming, you’ll probably be viewed as a quasi-member of the faculty and I could ask for you to be given permission. Only -“

“Only?”

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you’re a mathematician and you say you know nothing about history. Would you know how to make use of a history library?”

Seldon smiled. “I suppose you use computers very much like those in a mathematics library.”

“We do, but the programming for each speciality has quirks of its own. You don’t know the standard reference book-films, the quick methods of winnowing and skipping. You may be able to find a hyperbolic interval in the dark…”

“You mean hyperbolic integral,” interrupted Seldon softly.

Dors ignored him (p.91)

When Dors thinks Hari might not know something, she has to take special care to protect Hari’s feelings. She first explains she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, then presents her concern about his lack of specialized knowledge using his own words: ‘I’m not saying you don’t anything about history, you said you don’t know anything about history.’ Even then she doesn’t say outright that he doesn’t know how to work the computers, but instead asks him whether he would be able to. This invites him not only to demonstrate his intelligence (“I know things!”) but also for her to explain why it’s only the nuances he wouldn’t know, and that’s through no fault of his own (“each speciality has quirks of its own”).

Then, when she mistakes “hyperbolic integral” for “hyperbolic interval” Hari interrupts her and corrects her without any pretext or explanation or care for her feelings. Just BAM! You’re wrong and I’m smarter than you.

When Hari was at a disadvantage, Dors took care not to hurt his ego and strategically set up the conversation so that he doesn’t come out feeling stupid. Contrastingly, when Dors makes a mistake with a mathematical term, even though Hari knows mathematics is not her area of specialization, he’s right in there with his correction. “Softly” my ass.

I do like that Dors ignores him and keeps going, though. You go, girl.

SO THEN When Dors offers to help him learn by inviting him to join a course she gives on library use, Hari asks for private lessons with a “suggestive tone.” Giggity giggity goo!

She turns him down, but again does so in a way that protects his feelings and ego:

She did not miss it [his suggestive tone]. “I dare say I could [give you private lessons], but I think you’d be better off with more formal instruction…You will be competing with the other students all through and that will help you learn. Private tutoring will be far less efficient, I assure you” (p.92)

She diffuses the rejection by framing it to be in his interest, rather than as an actual rejection of his advance. This makes the rejection easier for Hari to accept, because it provides him with an ‘out’ which enables him to walk away, pride intact, which is not as embarrassing as an out-right rejection. Dors even appeals to Hari’s competitiveness, offering him an opportunity to take up a challenge, turning this conversation from one where Hari has to accept rejection to one where he is accepting a challenge.

Wow. I see Dors has played Protect-the-Male-Ego before. Well played, Dors, well played indeed.

joan well played

It’s okay, you can trust me, I’m hot and female.

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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:

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