Stars End S3E19

“We Must Teach Ourselves to Face the Podcast”

I learned something today.

Did you know that when Elements are named to honor cities the Latin names for the cities are used rather than the common names? The funny thing is that this is true even if the city has no Latin name. This is how we get the name for holmium, which is named after Stockholm or rather after “Holmia” which is the Latin name for Stockholm that the chemist made up.

This is from the essay “Names! Names! Names!” by the good doctor. It’s all about naming elements and, although I haven’t quite finished it yet, I’m pretty sure it covers all hundred or so that were known at the time.

If you’re curious, here are the names of the other elements

The essay appeared in the December 1956 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, the very same issue as our final installment of The Naked Sun. This led John W. Campbell to declare Asimov a “two-headed author.” Isaac’s predilection for non-fiction was starting to show.

Being trained as a chemist, Asimov gives us a ton of Asenion names to enjoy in this final section! There’s GlaDIEah Delmarre, Klorissa Cantero, Jothan Leebig, Corwin Attlebish, and Anselmo Quemot. And who could forget Benzadril Copperbottom? In this final section, which corresponds to chapters 13 to 18 in the book, Baley survives the assassination attempt, gets his portrait done, almost strolls to his death, and solves the case! Of course, we talk about it all. Join us for the setting of The Naked Sun!

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Stars End S3E18

“There is no Podcast Without a Podcaster”

First British Edition Cover

You know what? Solaria is weird.

Looking back over our podcast, it turns out that a lot of Asimov’s work is weird. Solaria may not be Mycogen-weird, but it’s pretty weird.

Last time we were introduced to the extreme isolation of Solarians and the preponderance of robots. Those were weird. And that seeing vs. viewing thing? That was weird too.

This time? Murder attempts where only Asenion robots are present? Weird. Fetuses grown in vats? Weird. Child farming? Weird. A plot to make the entire Galaxy like Solaria? Weird. And there’s lots more!

So, what do we learn this time? Solaria is weird. But don’t take my word for it, listen to the episode and you can see for yourself! Let’s go!

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Stars End S3E17

“A Podcast in a Frenzy Can Do Surprising Things”

The Doubleday cover

Some things can’t be seen.  If you’ve listened to our podcast, you know that we’ve bemoaned the fact that although there was a BBC adaptation of The Caves of Steel, we cannot see it because all known copies of the original tapes have been destroyed.

Did you know that there was also a BBC adaptation of The Naked Sun?  It came out in the third season of Out Of The Unknown and starred Paul Maxwell as Elijah Baley and David Collings as R. Daneel.  We can’t see that either.  You’d think that the BBC would have learned its lesson by 1969, but no such luck.  All known copies of those tapes have been destroyed as well.

And then there’s Joseph’s friend Andy, our special guest in this episode.  He has studiously avoided having a social media presence and so he’s something else that can’t be seen, online anyway.

Paul Maxwell as Elijah Baley

In The Naked Sun, we learn all about things that can’t be seen.  Lije wants to see the crime scene and he wants to see the outside and he especially wants to see Gladia but the Solarians are determined that he only view these things.  Seeing is not the same as viewing.

But sometimes we can hear even if we can’t see.  That episode of Out Of The Unknown?  There’s a reconstruction, so the soundtrack must still exist.  You can hear that if you can find a copy.

“Andy” artist’s rendition.

You can hear Andy here on the podcast, in his World Wide Web premier.

And you can hear about chapters 1 through 6 of The Naked Sun because that’s what we’re talking about this time.  We’ll get to that viewing vs. seeing thing and much more!

So join us! You’ve got to hear this!

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Stars End S3E16

“Podcast and Sin No More”

It was right about this time last year; one of us got up in the middle of the night to share the latest Foundation trailer with you right here on this website.

This year there was a sneak peek of Foundation season 2 at San Diego Comic-Con.  It’s more than a week later and we haven’t seen it anywhere.  If that’s about generating interest, they’re missing the mark.

Luckily, we have our own news!

Available NOW! Our very own Jon Blumenfeld stars as Librarian Homir Munn in “Search by the Foundation, Part 1” on Joel McKinnon’s excellent Seldon Crisis Podcast!

Also, in S3E13, we talked about how Asimov said he made “extensive changes” to “Liar!” when he revised it for I, Robot.  Want to know why?  Want to know how extensive?  We plug our line-by-line comparison!

Also, also way back in S1E01, we talked about Joseph’s Grandfather’s artwork.  There’s now a website where you can see and enjoy that artwork!  Please visit JosephFranke.com and see why there’s such a fuss! 

All this plus: we wrap up our conversation about The Caves of Steel!  Jessie is revealed as a Medievalist!  Another murder rocks the NYPD… wait… is it murder? And in the final denouement, we discover who did it in this who done it!  You don’t want to miss all that!  Let’s go!

Simultaneously published at…

Stars End S3E15

“I’m sure that if non-Asenion podcasts were ever designed or if the mathematical theory were worked out we’d hear of it.”

We’re not an etymology podcast even though we sometimes make up our own words.  Nevertheless, if you follow our blog you’ve recently read about the origins of the words “robot” and “robotics.”  Asimov has been known to make up his own words too.  In fact, he’s credited in the Oxford English Dictionary as the originator of the word “robotics.”  

In this episode, we learn the origin of the word “Asenion” through a miraculous combination of brilliance, scholarship, and real-time detective work which the uninitiated might dismiss as mere Google-fu.  Did the Great and Glorious Az invent the word “Asenion?”  You’ll have to listen to find out!

Meanwhile, we ruminate over the second section of

the Caves of Steel in which Baley throws around some wild theories, learns the sinister,  not-so-sinister, or not-sinister-at-all designs of Spacetown, and sees an object eerily similar to a slide rule.  If you think that sounds like fun, you’re in for a wild ride!  Join us!

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Liar!

If you follow Stars End: A Foundation Podcast you know that we’ve discussed Asimov’s reluctance to rewrite stuff many times. Even more frequently we’ve discussed… let’s call it the Great and Glorious Az’s ability to write female characters. We’ve speculated that, after attending Boys High School in Brooklyn, Seth Low Junior College, and Columbia University, neither of which were co-educational, it’s possible that Asimov simply hadn’t spent time with many women. Aside, of course, from his mother and sister.

The Robot Chronicles

We were therefore intrigued by the following quote from “The Robot Chronicles” as published in Asimov’s Gold: the Final Science Fiction Collection. At this point in the essay, Asimov writes about his individual Robot stories and what made them significant. Here’s what he had to say about “Liar!”

In the very next issue of Astounding, that of May 1941, my third robot story, “Liar!” appeared. The importance of this story was that it introduced Susan Calvin, who became the central character in my early robot stories. This story was originally rather clumsily done, largely because it dealt with the relationship between the sexes at a time when I had not yet had my first date with a young lady. Fortunately, I’m a quick learner, and it is one story in which I made significant changes before allowing it to appear in I, Robot.

You can find the story in any edition of I, Robot or The Complete Robot and you can see the original version in the May 1941 edition of Astounding here.

The original artwork for “Liar!” by Charles Schneeman

If you haven’t read it, “Liar!” tells the story of Herbie, a robot accidentally created with the ability to read minds. As the roboticists at U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men work to find out what caused this ability we get a first-hand look at how Herbie’s ability to read minds interacts with the three laws. We also get to see how Herbie’s subsequent behaviors affect the humans around him.

For those of us on the podcast, it was nice to get some confirmation for the theory we’d proposed on the show. For anyone who considers themself an Asimovologist, the changes to “Liar!” are intriguing for two reasons. The first is to see how Asimov’s treatment of women progressed to address the clumsiness that he perceived. The second asks how much of a rewrite he considers “significant.”

The Individual Edits

So let’s take a look at the changes. The first occurs in the fifteenth paragraph. Here’s the text from Astounding.

“Bogert is right,” said Dr. Calvin. “Ever since the Interplanetary Code was modified to allow robot models to be tested in the plants before being shipped out to space, antirobot propaganda has increased. If any word leaks out about a robot being able to read minds before we can announce complete control of the phenomenon, Tyrone and his demagogs (sic) could make pretty effective capital out of it.”

In the I, Robot version, the underlined part has been changed to, “pretty effective capital could be made out of it.” This change does not seem substantive. The mention of Tyrone was likely Asimov teasing a story that was ultimately never written. We would need evidence before we could say that for sure.

The next change occurs shortly after the first section break. Again and going forward, we start with the Astounding version.

“She paused to readjust the huge ‘No Entrance’ sign upon the door and then approached the robot with a friendly smile.”

Here, Susan Calvin is entering a room to bring books to Herbie. In the revised version the underlined text is omitted, which makes sense. Between this version and the publication of I, Robot, the character of Susan Calvin evolved into a no-nonsense professional thus the friendly smile seems to be a bit out of character. In a larger sense though, a disarming smile might ease interaction with another human but there is no reason to try that with a robot, much less a mind-reading one. The brilliant robopsychologist would have known this so the original neither fits the character nor the story.

Dr. Calvin and Herbie have a conversation about Milton Ashe. Eventually, we get this.

“The psychologist paused in thought and then looked up suddenly. ‘A girl visited him here at the plant half a year ago. She was pretty, I suppose—blond and slinky. And, of course, could scarcely add two and two.’”

In the book, “slinky” becomes “slim,” a more conservative and genteel description that seems more in keeping with Calvin’s personality. “Slinky” implies things about the way the woman holds herself and how she dresses. The combination of “slinky” with the remark about the young lady’s intelligence creates a different and less complimentary image of the character.

A bit later, we see this bit of conversation about Susan Calvin.

“He opened his eyes wide and frowned, “Say, Bogie, have you been noticing anything queer about the dame lately?”

The revised version replaces “dame” with “lady.” Another move toward more respectful language.

Next, we encounter one of the less substantive changes.

“Are you crazy? If you’ll reread Mitchell’s original paper in the Mathematical Journal—

“Mathematical Journal—” becomes “Transactions of the Far—.” The latter sounds more like an actual journal, but it loses the emphasis that the paper appeared in a mathematics publication. That should have been clear from the context, however.

The most substantive change comes when Milton Ashe shows Calvin a sketch of a house he’s planning to buy. All of the underlined text is removed from the later version.

“Susan Calvin gazed across at him with melting eyes. There had been a preliminary self-consciousness when she had first forced her hair into curls and lacquered her fingernails a bright red — a silly everyone-is-snickering-at-me feeling — but it always vanished when she was with him. There was nothing then but the hard metallic voice of Herbie whispering in her ear —. ‘It’s really beautiful,’ she sighed…”

It’s an edit that improves the story. This sentence seems more suited to a cheesy romance comic or a movie like Beach Blanket Bingo than it does to an Asimovian robot story. This sentence seems especially out of character for Susan Calvin as the character had developed over many stories and many years.

Most of the remaining edits were made because the “Three Laws of Robotics” weren’t carefully codified until published in “Runaround,” which appeared ten months after “Liar!” It makes sense for the collection to use the language to which the readers had become accustomed. Thus, instead of this,

She faced them and spoke wearily. “You know the fundamental law impressed upon the positronic brain of all robots, of course.”

we get this.

“She faced them and spoke sarcastically, “Surely you know the fundamental First Law of Robotics.”

There’s the additional change from “wearily” to “sarcastically.” That’s more in keeping with Calvin’s character and because the two men she was talking to would unquestionably know the three laws; this isn’t a case of having to remind someone of the three laws; Calvin is making a rhetorical point.

But it’s also an opportunity to remind the reader of what the first law says, so while we initially got this,

“Certainly,” said Bogert. “On no conditions is a human being to be injured in any way, even when such injury is directly ordered by another human.”

After “Runaround,” we get the now-familiar wording.

“The other two nodded together. “Certainly,” said Bogert, irritably, “a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow him to come to harm.”

The insertion of “irritably” follows nicely from the inclusion of “sarcastically.” We get one more edit concerning the three laws. In Astounding, the exchange above is followed by this.

“How nicely put,” sneered Calvin. “But what kind of injury?”

And in I, Robot, “injury” becomes “harm,” which seems to fit better with the revised version of the First Law.

The first use of “robotics” in “Liar!”

An interesting aside: In “The Robot Chronicles” Asimov claims that the term “robotics” first appeared in print in the initial printing of “Runaround.” The Oxford English Dictionary, notes this and gives Asimov credit for inventing the word. The use of “robotics” predates that, however, as it’s used twice in “Liar!” in addition to the time noted above, which exists only in the revised version.

The final edit in “Liar!” aside from one that appears to fix a typo, comes in the following passage at the very end of the story.

“It was minutes after the two scientists left that Dr. Susan Calvin regained part of her mental equilibrium. Slowly, her eyes turned to the living-dead Herbie and the tight smile returned to her face.”

“Tight smile” is aptly changed to “tightness,” as the operant emotion at this point is anger. This again seems to fit Susan Calvin’s character better than the original.

A Holistic Look

It’s more apparent in retrospect than it would have been in 1950 when I, Robot was compiled but “Liar!” is an important story in the Asimov canon. It’s the first time the idea of a robot with mental powers is discussed, an idea that becomes a pillar of Asimov’s later work, and the Oxford English Dictionary recognizes it as the earliest known use of the word “robotics.” more importantly though, “Liar!” is the first appearance of Susan Calvin, one of Asimov’s most consequential and well-known characters. She’s so central to the early robot stories that the framing sequence of I, Robot is written as a conversation between Calvin and a biographer. Through this conversation, she introduces each chapter. I, Robot is Susan Calvin’s story and the introduction tells us that “In 2008, she obtained her Ph.D. and joined United States Robots as a ‘robopsychologist’ becoming the first great practitioner of a new science.”

So, let’s look at the changes holistically. There appear to be three categories.

There seems to be one change to smooth out the prose, where “Mathematical Journal—” becomes “Transactions of the Far—.” This reads better because the partial title seems more believable for an academic journal.

There are several bookkeeping changes, namely the one removing “Tyrone and his demagogues” and all those updating the Three Laws of Robotics. These are exactly the kinds of edits one should expect in a fix-up like I, Robot. In any series of stories, details will never be completely determined initially. The book will feel more cohesive if small changes are made for the sake of consistency.

The changes that remain must be what Asimov was referring to when he wrote, “This story was originally rather clumsily done, largely because it dealt with the relationship between the sexes at a time when I had not yet had my first date with a young lady.

I’m not sure that these edits hit that mark and I’m certain that they fall short of being significant.

Let’s recap these changes. We have:

  • Calvin doesn’t approach Herbie “with a friendly smile.”
  • Calvin describes Ashe’s girlfriend as “slim” rather than “slinky.”
  • Ashe refers to Calvin as a “lady” rather than a “dame.”
  • The removal of the sentence where Calvin feels self-conscious about changing her hair and wearing make-up, but that feeling disappears when she’s with him.

So, are women written better as a result of these edits? When Asimov wrote about “significant” changes, it is reasonable to expect something like a fundamentally different subplot for Susan Calvin. Her subplot still resolves around a cringeworthy mistaken impression. It depends on some unfortunate tropes, like Calvin changing her hair and makeup to attract Ashe and destroying Herbie in a fit of pique. That subplot remains “clumsy,” and Asimov’s treatment of female characters isn’t significantly better. For example, although Ashe’s unnamed girlfriend is no longer “slinky,” she remains unable to add two to two.

But the changes are likely more about Susan Calvin than writing women in general or making the story less clumsy. It’s disappointing to ponder “Liar!” as Calvin’s initial appearance because it means that Asimov had the silly unrequited love subplot in mind and Calvin was created because the subplot required a female character. But over the following nine years Calvin and the characters surrounding her became the centerpiece of Asimov’s robot stories; they turned into the brilliant, serious professionals who drove the plots and resolved the problems. These edits are just enough to make this story fit with the rest of the book but is it a consistent portrayal? Let’s look at the framing sequence. In the run-up to “Liar!” Calvin tells the biographer “I was foolish once, young man. Would you believe that?” “No,” he replied.

Resources

  • Asimov, Isaac. “Liar!” Astounding Science Fiction, May 1941, pp. 43-55.
  • Asimov, Isaac. “Liar!” I, Robot, ©1950, 1977, Bantum Spectra
  • Asimov, Isaac. “The Robot Chronicles,” Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection, ©1995, Harper Collins e-books
  • Liar! (short story), Wikipedia, accessed 30 June 2022

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Adventures in Podcasting

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about the Stars End Podcast here. There is a couple of reasons for that. The first is that it’s a bit of a pain in the neck to copy a post from one WordPress site to another; that’s one of the few things I really don’t like about WordPress. The second is that, as the academic year progressed, I became worried about this site turning into “All Asimov all the time.” That’s better than what did happen though which was months with very little content here. If 2022-2023 turns out anything like 2021-2022 that could happen again. Long story short, I’m reversing that policy. If you want to follow the Stars End Podcast you’ll be able to do that here apart from some occasional exclusives.

So, let’s get caught up.

Last December as we were wrapping up our discussions of the Apple TV+ series we made our first collective guest appearance on another podcast, The Starbase 66 podcast from the Infinite Potato Alliance.

This was especially nice for me as the host, Rick is one of my oldest friends. He also guested on Stars End last month.

Also, you might notice that we have a spiffy new logo. The spirals were created using four logistic functions plotted on the polar coordinate system using Maple, a professional-grade mathematics program. That gives us a stylized representation of the Milky Way Galaxy. The starburst was taken from one of the early images published from the James Webb Space Telescope. It represents the location of Trantor, the capital of Asimov’s Galactic Empire. It’s as close to the black hole at the center of the galaxy as a star can be which is why Trantor is known as “where the stars end.” The background, fleshing out our stylized galaxy is a public domain image of the Horsehead Nebula.

How about all of our episodes? We’ll jump back to the beginning of the podcast in case there are some new listeners here. If you want to get caught up or get started, you can use these links.

  • In season one, Dan <@MrEarlG> and Jon <@jblumenfeld100> and I read through and discussed Asimov’s original Foundation Trilogy in anticipation of Apple TV+’s Foundation series. We also tracked show news when we could find it and had a fun segment called Asimov Trivia.
  • Our season two coincided with season one of Foundation. There’s a prelude, a discussion on each episode, a season overview, and our first-ever Hari Awards!
  • We’re in the middle of season three right now and it will continue until Apple TV+ decides to grace us with more new episodes. We’ve gone back to reading Asimov’s work; so far this season we’ve worked our way through the prequels, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. We’ve just started reading and discussing the robot novels beginning with The Caves of Steel.

Finally, here are our latest two posts on StarsEndPodcast.WordPress.com, the start of our Caves of Steel stuff.

You can look for these here going forward.

Image Credits:

The featured image and the Stars End logo © The Stars End Podcast, 2021

Watching Foundation: “Barbarians at the Gate”

Watching Foundation – S1E04

Getting caught up on these, still: Spoiler Alert! You know what to do!

That’s a crazy opening! C14 tries to commit suicide. I guess it didn’t take long for the mental health of the Cleon’s to become an issue. Maybe they should have let C11 live a bit longer and tried again.

Personal Shields Can Come in Handy.

He doesn’t die, but the young lady gardening runs away from him.

Funeral. For whom? “Faith is a sword forged in the fires of the infinite.” These ladies remind me of the Sisterhood of Karn from Doctor Who.

This is an odd sequence. It looks like some things are launched from the funeral which impact on a gas giant, making it all wibbley wobbly. The funeral must be taking place on one of the moons. Shift to Demerzel watching remotely.

Sexy time for C13. The Cs have a Kinetic field. Maybe Junior didn’t try to commit suicide after all. But he sure scared the crap out of that girl.

Demerzel interrupts sexy time. Brother Day is needed.

“Proxima Opal has passed.” That must be who the funeral was for. There is debate about her successor in the Conclave. It’s basically the political version of technobabble but the Cs aren’t happy about a possible candidate. Something about “Primary Octavo.” Unsurprisingly there’s a religious dimension to the Cs claim to rule.

“Luminism” must be a religion. Primary Octavo states that only individual beings have souls, excluding the Cs. No souls for you! Why not counter with the Cleons having a single soul? That makes the dynastic succession that much stronger. None the less it threatens their rule.

Back to Salvor and the Anacreonians.

The Anacreonians claim they want a navigation module. Salvor finally shows some indication of being smart. But “If you were going to kill me, you’d have done it already” reminds me of a bunch of things, not the least of which is Clara in “Deep Breath” (Doctor Who), which was a lot better.

Salvor and Phara go through the gate. “If she isn’t back within a watch, we’ll raze your city to the ground,” which wouldn’t take that much.

The Anacreonians are acting like terrorists.

Salvor sees the boy, but Phara does not.

Using the Vault to incapacitate Phara was smart.

“The stories about Salvor Hardin? They usually begin here. The warden and the ghost.”

We get a Direct refutation of old Hardin. Abbas says “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” Salvor calls it “an old man’s doctrine.”

Questions about the plan.

Abbas: “If you were better at math, you’d know that repeated luck was more than just luck, Salvor.” Maybe. Except that random events can cluster in a way that seems non-random to our brains.

Back to Trantor. We meet Shadowmaster Olbrecht. C14 wants the name of the girl in the garden. Was he trying to manufacture a meet-cute with a faux suicide attempt?

Salvor is channeling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead with the coins. Does she have some kind of mental powers?

Neutron bombs. 50% of the population on Anacreon died off within a week, 20-30% in the remaining year. But the use of neutron bombs changes a lot of assumptions; most of the infrastructure should be intact.

Salvor seems to intuit things about Phara. She wants to die. She wants everyone to die. Larken Keaen was the greatest hunter of Anacreon, so Phara must be the Grand Huntress of Anacreon.

Hologram Hari? Finally! But no, not that one.

The Outer Kingdoms are starting to fray away from the Empire. “Seldon all but gave you a to-do list and you ignored him!”

It’s even clearer that the “middle throne” is the actual emperor. I can’t believe these guys are a Kiwanis Club. President-Elect, President, and Immediate Past President.

Arguments about the plan. “I may be an outlier, Lewis, but I’m not the one screwing up the plan!” Lol, even though I’m feeling a bit sorry for Lewis.

Kubbra Sait is excellent. Real gravitas. “A weapon is only as good as the man who’s wielding it.” The music is briefly reminiscent of a motif in Doctor Who.

Trantor again. Gardener girl is Akuta Something? C14 is being a dick to her even as she’s being kind.

“If you’re not dead within the hour, have a kilogram of these sent to my quarters.”

Salvor has a vision of Seldon’s library. There’s THAT kid with THE knife. We’ve been seeing images of Raych.

Then they tell us what they’ve already shown in case we didn’t understand it.

Churchill from Doctor Who is a statistician. Thousands working. No results after 30 years? Claims the predictive models of Seldon are “counter factual.” Brother Day is having none of it. Lee Pace is fantastic here as he yells a statistician to death. Probably.

The philosophical divide seems to be couched as “Free will” vs. “predestination” rather than “Great Man” vs. “Bottom Up.” Although maybe that’s the same thing.

C13 gives 12 a rash of crap for his actions in episode 1. An almost complete repudiation. The discomfort Brother Dawn felt with the executions comes home to roost. “I will save our legacy.” Demerzel reinforces C13. “Certainly now the empire will no longer be rent by impulsive action.” He probably doesn’t get the sarcasm.

We see Dorwin. He’s sent to investigate the communications buoy and told to pay a visit to the Foundation. “The Empire will not be kept in the Dark.” Wowd Dowwin doesn’t sownd wight thow.

Meanwhile C14 is spying on Akuta using a drone that looks like a dragonfly. Creepy, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

Phara makes an argument that they really want the navigation module. To relocate from Anacreon. “You can’t negotiate with someone who’s willing to set the board on fire.”

Salvor thinks there’s a bigger picture that she’s missing. Reassessing is a sign of smart. She puts it together that the Vault is connected to Hari.

The Anacreonians are preparing to raze the city such as it is. Like a strong wind couldn’t do that.

“And the beginning of the end, as befitting its name, took place on Terminus.”

And in a Marvelesque precredits scene, a ship approaches Gaal Dornik’s escape pod.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

All Images from Foundation on Apple TV+

You can find our podcast here:

Watching Foundation: “The Mathematician’s Ghost”

Watching Foundation – S1E03

Spoiler Alert! There may be plot complications!

You know how this works. Random thoughts about Episode 3, no post podcast revelations this time.

Cleon 1 with Demerzel 400 years previous. He’s dying and wistful, annoyed that although they’ve started the clone dynasty his ego will not persist. Your continuity is assured Dermerzel tells him. It looks like she gets to hold things together while Cleon 2 grows up.

19 years after the StarBridge bombing. The timing is interesting given that we’re just off the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Are we now looking at an analog of contemporary politics?

Sounds like it is Dusk’s final Day, foreshadowed by Cleon I’s flashback.

“The world is starting to see me at a distance” is a nice turn of phrase.

What is “ascension” exactly?

We parallel the passing of the torch metaphor with the tailor somewhat obviously.

Dusk is still questioning what happened with Anacreon and Thespis and pondering if he has anything left to say. “About anything. About whether any of this is truly within our power to control” juxtaposed against an image of Dusk casually swiping through holograms of planets.

They’re still thinking about Seldon though. Dusk is interested in preserving the “last remnants” of C1’s dream. Boy. This is maudlin.

Dusk is C11, “the Painter” on the pedestal where his bust will go.

The final gift is a visit to the remnant of the StarBridge. The three wax nostalgic about C1 and Dawn claims “we will build something greater in his honor. For you.”

Demerzel looks stricken and weepy. They destroy the final remnant of the StarBridge as they leave. Dusk nods his assent but it’s thematically opposed to what he wants. All that debris entering the atmosphere is going to look spectacular though.

It’s not clear; is that glowing thing a permanent memorial?

Jump Ball?

Dusk visits the gestation chamber, “Even if Seldon wasn’t right there is something unnatural in that.” Then he paints a final piece of the mural. Is it Dawn and Day raising a newly ascendent Trantor?

Demerzel: “You are enough. It’s just that you always leave me.”

“You have grown into our greatness, Brother Dawn, now Day.” “Brother Darkness.” Holy crap. He senses something is wrong with the baby as Demerzel pushes him toward the light.

If it wasn’t obvious already, “ascension” is a euphemism for a ritualistic suicide.

This half of the episode is filled with imagery of Demerzel as a driving force, including carrying 11 to his final rest and transferring his ashes to the baby.

17 years later, Day has the Mural erased. Demerzel looks on but can’t stop it. There’s a real thread here about repudiating the past.

“We ignore the dead at our peril.”

Cut to the colonists arriving on Terminus. The Vault is already there. Young Salvor spends a lot of time staring at it. Evidently, they don’t have Apple TV+ on Terminus. They barely have walls. Lots of hints that Salvor is wise. “She’s aware.” Show, don’t tell.

There’s got to be a better way to test the field around the Vault than to torture a bird.

Warden again. Versus mayor? I don’t like it.

Something is up with the field. And we see Granite Hari foreshadowing Hologram Hari.

The Encyclopedists’ conversations are odd. There’s little point in writing about base 10 and not base 12 and there’s little point in writing about the sundial as opposed to the water clock. I assume that they’re planning for the fall of civilization rather than writing the encyclopedia at this point, but isn’t the point of the encyclopedia to WikiHow all this stuff so everybody after the fall has that information?

See? Smug.

And why does Louis Pirenne look so damn smug here?

Also, this whole thing is dumb. Where will the survivors be? Freaking everywhere! What if the survivors are on a planet with no water? What if the planet circles more than one sun? That way lies madness. If the survivors are thrown back into complete barbarism they’re not going to have libraries anyway! And probably they’ll just be thrown back to the point where they think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

And you CAN preserve every innovation because you’re writing a damn book! You have hundreds of years!

The field is expanding. Now with nose bleeds!

But Salvor is special in case you missed episode 1.

Hugo is supposed to be pretty likable, and either gives beer to children or tricks them into unloading his ship.

A sky full of spilled coins is a lovely image. But they’re using a telescope to look into space during the day. Tell me how that works or I’m going to assume that you screwed up the lighting.

There’s a kid and he’s running with a knife. That can’t be good. Teach your children not to run with scissors before you worry about water clocks.

Also, that looks like the knife that Rayce used to “kill” Hari. Significant? Maybe?

Hologram Hari appears in the Vault, No, not that one.

Anacreonian ships are appearing. And that thing seems more or less like an ordinary telescope. How does it work?

“Grow up Lewis!” Lol. Like in the books, he has more faith in the Empire than is warranted.

Jon’s observation: Salvor wants to know how much violence the colony can muster. In the book, Salvor is famous for “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

Jacunta pulls out the prime radiant and shows it to Salvor. Like maybe she can understand it with absolutely no training. MATH ISN’T MAGIC! And having an individual as part of the plan undermines the idea of psychohistory or convinces me that this character they want to present as smart isn’t.

For a person who’s supposed to be famously quotable, “Different is not the same as special” is a bit of a sophomore slump.

“The Empire feared Hari because he could forecast the future. But in reality, all he was doing was examining the past.” No.

There’s that kid with the knife again. How is he connected to Maybel?

Also, “Vulcan” is better than “Vulcanian” but I prefer “Anacreonian” to “Anacreon.”

“The ghosts of the dead… surround us. And they are hungry for what’s ours.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

All Images from Foundation on Apple TV+

Watching Foundation: The Premiere

Spoiler warning, obviously.

If you followed my “Watching Loki” posts, you know what this is. Comments, thoughts and predictions as I watch the episode or maybe as I watch it again. Stuff I think is interesting. Not a review or even an essay, although I’ll give my immediate impression at the end. I’m doing these this time as I’m preparing for the Stars End Podcast but they won’t appear here until a couple of days after the newest episode is dropped. So, without further ado, here are the first two episodes.

S1E1 The Emperor’s Peace

Visually stunning. The opening reminded Joanne of the time travel scenes in ST4 but with much better graphics.

Partway through the figures, look as if they are made of sand and are eroding. That’s a nice visual indication of what is to come.

Wow, this looks good. But Star’s End isn’t at the edge of the Galaxy. Also, it doesn’t have an apostrophe.

Now, this looks like Star Wars with the land speeder.

There’s a creature called a Bishop’s Claw. As the kids approach “the Vault” I realize this is Terminus and we’re in for some non-linear storytelling.

Hmmm. “Kier.” “Gia.” “Poly.”

So, we meet Salvor Hardin before any other main character. Poly calls her “Warden.” I don’t know what that means. But the vibe here is strangely religious for Terminus and the Vault is altogether too mystical.

That is one impressive library.

“We have to remember the past and the ones who caused it all… A mathematician. A martyr. A murderer. And the most important player of all, Hari Seldon.”

There’s a sweet moment between Hari and Raych. Odd maybe, given what’s coming.

86,960,947 is prime.

86,960,957 is prime.

86,960,971 is prime.

86,960,987 is prime.

Gaal has to leave Synnax. “On Trantor, I’ll be safe.” More religion.

On the jump ship. Gaal meets Jerril who seems helpful. He mentions prayer stones.

There are odd scarred humans(?) attending to the passengers.

We see Gaal’s obvious genius when she talks about the grab generators. “I won a math contest.”

Interesting visual for preparing for the jump and the jump itself. Gaal wakes up in the middle. That’s not supposed to happen according to Jerril. Only spacers can endure that without being driven insane.

The space elevator is impressive and nicely takes the place of Gaal’s trip to the tower and hanging to see Trantor from Space. But here she seems more of a refugee than a tourist.

The projection of Brother Day has the same sand-like texture from the opening. That links the Empire to the erosion we saw earlier.

Caskets. From a “kerfuffle” between Anacreon and Thespis.

14 hours to descend and Gaal sees Trantor from space. Exposition 20:38.

We see the mural and Brother Day who is called Empire. That’s a nice device personifying the Empire so directly. Asimov did that especially well in the Mule story with both the Empire and Foundation.

And we see the empire as evil assholes quite dramatically. They’re paranoid of “Raven” Seldon and are harsh sensors. No ambiguity here. No shades of gray.

Brother Dawn learns a hunting song but it’s actually about “a boy’s first time with a woman.”

Day is again shown to execute people for tiny transgressions.

We see Demerzel. Nice visual Day, Dawn, and Dusk taking a bite in unison.

Gaal wants to see the Seer church on Trantor.

86,963,537 is prime.

86,963,549 is prime.

86,963,563 is prime.

86,963,567 is prime.

86,963,573 is prime.

It’s not praying. When Gaal’s nervous she “counts primes.”

Gaal meets Hari. The mathematics starts to bother me here. “Kalle’s Ninth Proof of folding.” Gaal solved Abraxas evidently how she won her “math contest.” That has religious overtones (see below). And no one thought to use the ninth proof in five hundred years.

Kalle writes poetically so “serious scholars don’t read her.” But “reading between the lines” she’s talking about “rings of integers in non-Archimedean local fields.” I think that kind of hangs together based on a quick Google search but it’s far from something that normal folks could glean by “reading between the lines.”

There are shades here of Hardy and Ramanujan. The show has given us two unspeakably brilliant mathematicians and it’s important that one of them is a young lady of color. And they certainly sound like mathematicians here… “there’s a non-zero chance… but it’s not a number worth discussing.”

We get a quick definition of Psychohistory true to the books. Might be word for word. But we lose the sense that mathematics is hard work.

The prime radiant is cool, but it reinforces the “math is magic” theme.

“You know math is never just numbers. In the wrong hands, it’s a weapon in the right hands, deliverance.” “Stealing is a mercy.”

The Ancreonians give Day a weapon while the Thepians give a book of ablution honoring the peace. Exposition on the disagreement.

Subtle messages in the gifts. 36:47. Day and Dusk are training Brother Dawn.

Gaal goes to the Seer church. “The heretic and I will talk.” The religion on Synnax is extreme and all-consuming. The floor is covered with water.

Gaal in water. A dream or a memory of the removal of her prayer stones. Also is it foreshadowing of the end of episode 2? The water is clearly a symbol of the Synnax religion. Gaal’s face turns out of the water as she has the prayer stones removed.

Those hoods they put on prisoners are brutal.

Courtroom scene. And Sig!

It “can only be proved to another mathematician conversant in ordinal analysis.”

Damn Harris is great! And intense!

This loses a lot of the mathematics from the book. And Seldon “thanks the gods.”

Jerril tries to bribe Gaal and gives her the Prime Radiant. The Empire threatens to kill her. There’s water surrounding them as he tempts her to disavow the mathematics.

Spectacular shot.

She was awake on the jump ship. She’s special.

The prime radiant again reinforces the idea that mathematics is magic.

Back to the trial. Encyclopedia Galactica. Saving our story.

It’s a nice moment when Gaal gets to speak truth to power.

It bothers me that one of the terrorists looks middle eastern. The other one doesn’t but still.

The orbital tower is falling snapped off the top. On earth, the geosynchronous orbit is 22,300 miles. Stretched out that’s most of the way around the planet. (C = 24,900 miles).

Nice attention to detail; the fake sky is pixelated as the tower smashes through it.

I really think they understated the amount of damage this devastation would cause. Compare it to the size of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. This should be an extinction-level event.

“The tether wrapped around the planet like a Garrote.” Yup.

86,963,777 is prime.

86,963,791 is prime.

100 million deaths. Has Raych lost faith?

Lee Pace has a surprising amount of gravitas. More than as Ronan which was overdone. It’s a lot subtler here. I would not have expected this watching Please Don’t Eat The Daisies.

Gaal bluffs Day. If you kill him the fall accelerates.

Seldon: “I see the value in difference, in the new.”

There’s something called a slow ship. A fundamental difference from the world in the stories.

“You lied.” “I hypothesized.” that’s pure Wrath of Khan stuff right there.

The seas on Synnax were rising. So Gaal Dorrnik here is a cross between Greta Thunberg and Srinivasa Ramanujan; a mathematical prodigy who wants to save her planet from destruction. The water doesn’t merely represent her home planet’s religion; there’s a lot of levels here. On Synnax the rising water signals , one presumes, the growing threat of global warming AND the rampant anti-intellectualism that’s hastening the crisis.

Episode:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

S1E02: “Preparing to Live”

On a dwarf planet: a brutal take down of a biohacking facility. And some torture to extract information.

Day (wanting to blame the Foundation): “Say they did it every hour on the hour until it becomes the air that we breathe.” These guys are the Bush administration.

800 odd days? Or 54 months?

Gail and Raych are like crazed weasels.

Then we have the Kobayashi Maru in a simulated cave. We get to see a bishop’s claw looks like first hand.

There were robot wars.

These assholes really are the Bush administration. More brutality. There is circumstantial evidence against the Anacreonian and Thepians. But that about it.

Brother Dusk is declining.

Gaal deposits an embryo, then talks to an engineer who refuses.

Dusk visits the Synnax priest. Wants to know if Gaal is a seer who can predict the future. Demerzel is injured on the way out. So not slow playing the Robot thing.

“The most advanced Math is like a sixth sense.” No, not necessarily.

Seldon seems to be using Tony Stark’s computer system.

Lots of aphorisms “Shame grows in darkness.”

Seldon never thought he’d be on the ship and he’s uncomfortable with the growing familiarity amongst the colonists.

Gaal says the mathematics is not complete. Rayce is upset.

Encyclopedia Meeting. Gaal is asking questions. This base 10 thing is a bunch of nonsense. It’s not the same thing as a different language. I get the point that they’re trying to make but damn it, that’s different. The writers must have scanned “The Crest of the Peacock” and didn’t understand it.

They’re shoehorning in as much math as they can. They either need to get a better consultant or to listen to the good consultant they already have.

Demerzel repairs herself. We see she’s a robot.

Demerzel: “The rest of my kind didn’t die. They were destroyed by your kind.”

Dusk criticizes Cleon I (who has been stuffed) for arrogance. Not sure what the point of Taxidermy Cleon is, it’s odd.

“The Empire going to kill you,” says Dusk to the Anacreonian and Thepian ambassadors. But there’s plenty of reason to think Seldon is behind the Terrorist Attack

The Laundry. Yawn. Hari gets to make a speech.

“A theorem so abstract it might as well have been a prayer.” Damn it. Mathematics isn’t magic.

This handshaking thing is kind of trite.

Raych is out of sorts. Hari is trying to be gregarious and showing Raych to be a thief angers him.

Raych cries talking to Gaal in the holodeck.

Who’s really behind the star bridge? They don’t know. “The best face we can project outward now is one of strength.”

More brutality. Really over the top and disturbing and directed at people who aren’t responsible. These guys really are the Bush Administration.

Still, the little kid shows some humanity. Unfortunately, Demerzel tells him he’ll grow out of it.

A composite number means what? Raych “kills” Hari and takes something from behind Hari’s ear. Gaal is left in space counting primes (in water yet again) and the episode ends? What the hell?

———-

Some thoughts from after we recorded the podcast. I think most people felt confused after this episode. In retrospect, I’m liking this episode more because it’s been so much fun to ponder what was going on in a Total Recall kind of way.

So, here’s a narrative that I think makes sense.

The key moment is when Gaal realizes that the math is incomplete. But here’s the thing: the math didn’t “have holes in it” because Hari didn’t finish. It was incomplete because he and Gaal are in the colony. We know from the books that predictions about the Foundation won’t work correctly if there are Psychohistorians on Terminus. They have to go.

So Hari realizes that he has to be murdered (or fake his death… something). He makes plans with Raych to do it. Then his personality shift, the wandering around the ship, reminiscing about his “son,” missing his favorite shirt, and awkwardly saying goodbye to people including the laundry workers all make sense as the actions of a condemned man or a man who’s planning suicide.

Raych’s behavior now makes sense too. Gaal gets the wet pneumatic tube treatment but she’ll still be gone. It explains his weepiness on the Holodeck during the sunset; he knows they’re not going to have those kids together. This also explains why Raych is suddenly so peevish with Hari.

The psychohistorians are now gone and the Foundation can develop as intended. This may not be right but it holds together, explains all the stuff that feels weird, and is consistent with the books. Where do we see Gaal again? I bet she’ll be central to founding the Second Foundation. Maybe Hari too. Eventually we’ll learn that this was the ultimate plan all along.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Some Stuff From Wikipedia:

Abraxas (Biblical Greek: ἀβραξάς, romanized: abraxas, variant form ἀβρασάξ romanized: Abrasax) is a word of mystic meaning in the system of the Gnostic Basilides, being there applied to the “Great Archon” (megas archōn), the princeps of the 365 spheres (ouranoi).[1] The word is found in Gnostic texts such as the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, and also appears in the Greek Magical Papyri. It was engraved on certain antique gemstones, called on that account Abraxas stones, which were used as amulets or charms.[2] As the initial spelling on stones was Abrasax (Αβρασαξ), the spelling of Abraxas seen today probably originates in the confusion made between the Greek letters sigma (Σ) and xi (Ξ) in the Latin transliteration.

Gnosticism (from Ancient Greek: γνωστικός, romanized: gnōstikós, Koine Greek: [ɣnostiˈkos], ‘having knowledge’) is a collection of religious ideas and systems which originated in the late 1st century AD among Jewish and early Christian sects.[1] These various groups emphasized personal spiritual knowledge (gnosis) above the orthodox teachings, traditions, and authority of traditional religious institutions. Viewing material existence as flawed or evil, Gnostic cosmogony generally presents a distinction between a supreme, hidden God and a malevolent lesser divinity (sometimes associated with the Yahweh of the Old Testament)[2] who is responsible for creating the material universe.[3] Gnostics considered the principal element of salvation to be direct knowledge of the supreme divinity in the form of mystical or esoteric insight. Many Gnostic texts deal not in concepts of sin and repentance, but with illusion and enlightenment.[3]

Anacreon (/əˈnækriən/; Greek: Ἀνακρέων ὁ Τήϊος; c. 582 – c. 485 BC)[1] was a Greeklyric poet, notable for his drinking songs and erotic poems. Later Greeks included him in the canonical list of Nine Lyric Poets. Anacreon wrote all of his poetry in the ancient Ionicdialect. Like all early lyric poetry, it was composed to be sung or recited to the accompaniment of music, usually the lyre. Anacreon’s poetry touched on universal themes of love, infatuation, disappointment, revelry, parties, festivals and the observations of everyday people and life.

All Images from Foundation on Apple TV+