Sword & Laser September Book Club: 'Foundation' Wrap-Up & Your Feedback!

Uploaded by geekandsundry on Sep 28, 2012

TOM MERRITT: Hari Seldon knows what Veronica thought of
"Foundation," but do you?
VERONICA BELMONT: Actually, Hari Seldon used psychohistory
to predict the future events on more of a macro level than
just individual--
TOM MERRITT: It's a tease, Veronica.
VERONICA BELMONT: But we also reveal secrets of the "Sword
and Laser" set.
It's the "Sword and Laser Book Club."

VERONICA BELMONT: Hey, everyone.
Welcome to the "Sword and Laser Book Club," where books
are discovered, dreams come true, unicorns are born, often
in a horrific manner.
Because they go horn first, and you just do
not want to see that.
I'm Veronica Belmont.
TOM MERRITT: I'm scared.
I'm Tom Merritt.
I thought we were just talking about kicking off "Foundation"
by Isaac Asimov, or wrapping it up, or something.
I don't know what's going on.
Unicorn birth?
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, sometimes.
I mean, it's rare.
TOM MERRITT: You never know what's going to
happen on this show.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yes, but the book club is not just for the
monthly pick.
We also have great thoughts and suggestions from the folks
over in our Goodreads forum.
TOM MERRITT: That's true.
That part is true.
And in fact, starting next time, we're going to move the
calendar segment over to this episode to make it one big
explosion of unicorns.
I mean, book ideas.
VERONICA BELMONT: Unicorn births.
I can't even say it anymore without getting
really grossed out.
If you watch this show, you will eventually
know all the books.
All of the books.
But let's get a little bit spoiler for a minute.
And if you don't want to be spoiled on Asimov's
"Foundation," you can fast forward until you see the
spoiler end sign, or just click the annotation if you're
watching on the youtube.com site.
So release the warning.
So "Foundation," definitely a classic in the
science fiction genre.
One of the greats, Asimov, of course.
People were really looking forward to reading this.
And I was as well.
So people had mixed responses though, I
would definitely say.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, and I think we even had differing
responses on this.
I really enjoyed it.
And I really dig that psychohistory stuff.
VERONICA BELMONT: The psychohistory was pretty cool.
Because it feels like when they first started talking
about, your like psychohistory?
That's not real, is it?
And I was kind of thinking in my mind, like is this
something I've heard of before?
But no, it's not an actual real thing.
A lot of stuff is based on it.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, the roots of it are there.
In fact, I think Isaac Asimov thought by now, we'd be
further along in psychological and sociological research than
we are, unfortunately.
I would like to get to a point where we're able to understand
society to the depth that Hari Seldon does in this book.
Maybe we should explain a little bit about what
psychohistory actually means.
And that's kind of on a macro level, on a large scale, using
history and also the way that humans as a people tend to do
things to kind of plan out future events.
It doesn't work on a smaller scale.
Like they can't predict exactly what one person is
going to say to another person or the specific outcome of a
certain battle.
It's more like the amalgamation of all the events
towards the end.
TOM MERRITT: There's roots of it in chaos theory.
TOM MERRITT: Well, if only economic went
farther down that road.
But yeah, yeah.
Strange attractors, quantum mechanics.
This idea of probabilities and applying them to human
behavior does have a shallow basis now.
But of course in the book, it's become a much more
precise science.
And Hari Seldon is the best practitioner of it.
And it just varies on the edge of being unbelievable.
And of course if you keep reading the "Foundation"
books, as time goes by, it's less and less precise, as you
might expect.
Yes, because this is the only one of the "Foundation" series
that I have read so far.
So I want to continue reading.
But at the same time, I felt like I was reading it on a
very intellectual level, but not necessarily on an
enjoyment level.
Like I was reading it because I was curious what
was going to happen.
And I love the idea of science as a religion.
And I thought that was super fascinating.
So that was what kept me going throughout this book.
It's a fast read.
It's a relatively fast read.
But maybe it's because they are short stories that were
put together to form this novel, I never had a chance to
feel connected to any of the characters.
I often found it confusing and jarring when they switch from
perspective to perspective.
But that obviously comes from mashing up together a bunch of
short stories.
They follow the same idea, just not the same story line.
TOM MERRITT: That's the issue of "Foundation" is if you're
not in love with the concept, you're probably not going to
like the book.
Because while the characters are good, they do sort of have
their brief passage on the stage before we move on.
And a couple of characters will appear
in a couple of stories.
But you're not going to follow one, except for Hari Seldon,
in a way, all the way through.
VERONICA BELMONT: Who does come back occasionally.
I was going to say that Corbet agreed with me.
He said, "I found myself enjoying the
world created by Asimov.
However, I just don't connect to it fully
because of the jumps.
The story never lets you spend too much time with any one
character or any one aspect area era in the universe.
I like it, but I'm also not clamoring for more.
Once I finish with "Foundation," I'll move on to
other stories.
I may eventually finish the trilogy"--
well, it's more than a trilogy--
"but it may be between other reads."
Jessica said, "so I finished the book, and I have to say, I
am very disappointed in the lack of women characters."
That was something I actively noticed.
But continue.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, she said, "Has anyone read anything
regarding Asimov's view on women?
There are no women scientists, no female politicians,
traders, priests.
The one woman that does show up is in part four and though
very opinionated, she is quickly quitted by fancy
clothes and jewelry.
She essentially gets shuffled off the stage.
There were some parts I liked about the book.
But my inner women's lib voice wants me to hate it on
VERONICA BELMONT: Well, Phil responded in that thread,
saying he can't quickly find the exact passages, but in
Asimov's autobiography, he admits that his early work had
very few female characters because in real life, he was
quite shy around women.
Didn't have a lot of experience with them.
And he was only 21 when he started writing "Foundation."
So we hadn't really built up that experience level to write
strong female characters yet.
And I thought that was really smart.
Well, not smart, but I thought it was kind of cute.
I was like, oh, OK.
Because I was thinking while I was reading, wow, there's
really no female characters in this at all.
And I was chalking it up to the fact that it is written in
a certain time.
And when we read a lot of science fiction, sometimes we
have to take that with a grain of salt, because it was just
society at that moment.
It's like a picture.
It's like a picture from that era.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, and another reference to Asimov writing
what he knows essentially, Asimov aficionado Alastair
Wilkins said in an io9 discussion that Asimov
explained he utterly failed at his first stab in writing
female characters because he had, at the time, not ever
been on a date with a woman.
So he absolutely did not understand them.
VERONICA BELMONT: I also read somewhere else, and I can't
find it on my notes now, but that he was scared he was just
going to write his mother.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, he said his mother was
the only one he knew.
Which would be worse?
Forcing in female characters without understanding them or
just kind of leaving them out?
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, you don't really know until you
see it one way or the other.
Because some people obviously, like most male authors are
writing from a female perspective, but not having
that female perspective themselves clearly.
TOM MERRITT: And vice versa.
VERONICA BELMONT: It can be done well.
VERONICA BELMONT: And it's not always done well.
But it did make me feel a little bit better, kind of
seeing this more human side of Asimov being like, I just
don't know ladies that much, so I didn't write them into my
first novel.
TOM MERRITT: So one of the things when I was reading
this, I actually started to want to read Gibbon's "Decline
and Fall of the Roman Empire." And we talked in the kick off
about the fact that he was inspired by that.
And we've even had a few people in the forums say that
it made them think about the United States currently,
because it is a super power.
And how long is it going to be before we get to that point
that the galactic empire is in the book?
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, so I guess then the question is
where are we?
I mean, Alan points out in Goodreads, he
said "Amazing book.
I've had it on my computer as a collection of
Asimov books to read.
And thanks to you guys, I was able to dust it off.
I was very interested in the parallels drawn between the
current USA and that of 'Foundation.' Each phase of
our society rolling over and over, from the humble
beginnings to the religious Utopian ideolog--

TOM MERRITT: Ideology?
VERONICA BELMONT: Ideology"-- ideollylly, I
can't talk some days--
"to our current consumerism.
Simply prophetic.
I can't wait for next month's book choice or to read the
next 'Foundation' book."
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, you got a lot to read there.
What is there, seven books?
Seven books now?
I mean now.
I mean, that's how many there are now.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, he's not writing any more.
But yeah, where are we in that we're clearly not at the
Utopian society yet.
I think we're deeply--
TOM MERRITT: Well, everyone would like to say
we're at the decline.
We're at the fall.
But I think people often think that way earlier than it
actually happens, because people just happen to be
But we're somewhere in the middle.
VERONICA BELMONT: But overall, I feel driven to read more of
these books just because I want to know what happens.
I loved the idea of science as a religion, as I said, and how
interesting it is when you think of it on that level.
Like the stuff that can almost not be explained happening
like their tiny little miniature nuclear reactors
that they can wear and make a field of protective shielding
around one person.
And that stuff is unbelieve--
I mean, it's science fiction to us.
So of course, it's not true fiction yet, because we don't
have that technology.
TOM MERRITT: But it's just close enough.
VERONICA BELMONT: But you can see how it could be a--
it's like "The Gods Must Be Crazy," that movie.
It's so out of the realm of our conception that it's
almost magical.
It's almost godlike in its power.
To the societies who've lost the ability
to do that, it becomes--
VERONICA BELMONT: And I said conception.
I meant perception.
So don't correct me.
TOM MERRITT: But you're right.
To the societies who have fallen out of that, that would
become magical.
In fact, some of the Roman innovations were thought of as
witchery in the Middle Ages.
So there's definitely that parallel there.
Although didn't some of it strike you as a little
antiquated even?
Like the whole mini atomics?
We were like, no, we wouldn't do atomics.
We'd do like hydrogen power or fuel cells or
something like that.
It'd still be impressive to that non-priestly caste.
VERONICA BELMONT: It's past future technology.
And I thought that was cool how they
kind of spun it around.
So yeah, overall, I liked it.
But I didn't love it.
I appreciated it from a scientific and intellectual
TOM MERRITT: And I think that's right.
I think that's what Asimov was going for actually.
It was interesting to me, having read a lot of his later
works, but not this one, to read something
when he was so young.
Because it was still great, and I still dug
my teeth into it.
But he got better at character.
He does have very strong female characters later on in
his writing.
He got better as a writer.
This is raw Asimov mind just kind of
falling out on the page.
VERONICA BELMONT: It's definitely not
It's definitely an idea driven kind of book for sure.

But let us know what you think about the book in the comments
of the YouTube page and what you thought of it. and if you
would continue reading the series or not or if we're full
of crap for all the things we just said.
I'm interested to know that too.
TOM MERRITT: Whatever you think.
It's all just opinion.
VERONICA BELMONT: It's all just opinion.
Let us now.
But before we go today, let's see what other people are
staying in email and on Goodreads.
Gene sent us an email and says--

Thank you, Gene.

VERONICA BELMONT: Is that OK with you guys, that I'm
borrowing your format?
Do you have any advice for me?
TOM MERRITT: I think it's great.
The more things out there encouraging people to read,
getting people to talk to each other about books, the better.
Is that OK?
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, but seriously if you venture into
science fiction and fantasy, I'll come to your house, and I
will hunt you down, and I will destroy you.
TOM MERRITT: She doesn't mean it.
VERONICA BELMONT: But no, more the merrier.
VERONICA BELMONT: The more the merrier.
TOM MERRITT: Next up, Yancy, gets gold stars for sending us
a video book review.
Take it away, Yancy.
YANCY: Hi, my name's Yancy.
And I'm going to be reviewing China Mieville's "Kraken."
Billy Harrow is a cephalopod specialist with the London
Natural History Museum.
He takes a tour group to see the prize of the show, and
eight-meter-long pickled giant squid.
When the tour group gets there, the squid and tank have
Billy is under investigation for the disappearance of the
squid by the London Police, the sect related crime unit.
It becomes apparent that the lost squid portends
the end of the world.
The squid is worshipped by the
congregation of the god Kraken.
But other cults have their own competing interests in the
coming Armageddon.
At first, it seems that finding the squid
will save the world.
But halfway through the book, things become a lot more
complicated and even more interesting.
This book has a complex and absorbing story and some
amazing characters.
Dane is a testament to devout faith.
Collingswood is hilarious as an irreverent, but determined
police officer.
And Goss and Subby are genuinely terrifying villains.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic book.
You should go and buy it and read it.
TOM MERRITT: That was great.
Thank you so much for sending that, Yancy.
Also, I have that same--
well, I have the dress version I think of that
shirt, but in green.
TOM MERRITT: Is that right?
Good choice.
Matthew started a Goodreads thread about our pub.
He wrote "listening to the podcast on the way into work
this morning, I had the thought cross my mind that I
would love to see a real "Sword
and Laser" pub somewhere.
A lot of dark wood.
Lots of leather chairs and small reading lamps for
Science fiction would only be in small bursts, perhaps a bit
of--" lightning.
Or in lighting.
Or lightning.
TOM MERRITT: Lightning would be awesome, actually.
VERONICA BELMONT: "Or a neat gadget here or there.
A single sword on the wall somewhere.
What would yours be like?"
TOM MERRITT: Well, what do you mean?
We're in it right now.
This is our real space pub.
TOM MERRITT: I guess he means if it was built
on land, not orbiting.
VERONICA BELMONT: Oh, other people could
actually come to it?
TOM MERRITT: That would be awesome, if I could just walk
down the street.
VERONICA BELMONT: And if we had real booze.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, we could go hang out at the pub.
That's cool.
Please make that.
VERONICA BELMONT: Other people had some suggestions about
what that pub would look like as well.
Skip said, "I would picture it like Old Harry's in Hanover
Square in downtown New York City.
Harry's started in the basement of the Old India
House and expanded over the years so that once you left
the large bar in the main room to go eat in the small rooms
off of it, you would occasionally have to duck and
watch your step, as the floor and ceiling levels were all
over the place."
TOM MERRITT: There's an old pub in Jack London Square in
Oakland that's kind of like that, because it's tilting
with the soil over time.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, he says the "Sword and Laser" pub
would be like that.
A large warm main room with smaller rooms attached, and
hallways that lead to whichever sci-fi/fantasy
setting you were coming from or going into.
TOM MERRITT: Ah, I like that.
VERONICA BELMONT: Like different realms.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, yeah.
VERONICA BELMONT: That'd be pretty neat.
TOM MERRITT: Instances.
VERONICA BELMONT: Different instances.
TOM MERRITT: Then Valerie wrote, "I've been watching the
show on YouTube, and one of the little things I love about
the show is the books on display
behind Tom and Veronica.
I think I may have to start jotting down the titles.
I've seen some I know, some I recognize from previous shows,
and some I haven't read.
The books seem to change each time I watch.
How do you choose the books you have on display in the
Well, it started when we got the set here.
I actually just brought in a bunch of my own books.
VERONICA BELMONT: What can I get for ya?
TOM MERRITT: For instance, this one right here.
Thank you.
Ah, some fizzy water.
That was previously smoking.
This is mine.
Patrick Rothfuss, "Name of the Wind," first edition.
We got a bunch.
For instance, a "Redshirts" by John Scalzi.
TOM MERRITT: And we interiewed John.
The publisher sent us that.
So we put those up there.
A bunch of them were brought in by Matthew on our crew,
like the Frank Herbert and the Edgar Rice Burroughs, that
recent interview, Daniel Suarez.
So yeah, they're kind of from all over the place.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, sometimes we just get here,
and there's new books here, and we don't know
where they came from.
TOM MERRITT: Seriously.
They just come in the mail.
And Matthew's really good about rearranging things.
A bunch of people are always dressing it,
making it look good.
There's cool stuff back there.
There's always something new.
Can you clean that up?
That's good.
Well, folks, that about does it for us today.
But don't forget the main "Sword and Laser" show, where
we interview the best authors in the biz and submit your
questions to them.
Last week, we had fun interviewing LeVar Burton.
And next week is our author's guide show to Cherie Priest.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yay, I'm excited about that one.
You don't want to miss those episodes.
So subscribe to our YouTube channel.
It's the green button up there in the corner at
You can also send us email to feedback@swordandlaser.com.
And, of course, join in all the fun over on Goodreads at
Search for the "Sword and Laser" or follow the link from
the show notes.
They're under there somewhere.
TOM MERRITT: We'll see you next time, everybody.
See you next time.