Sword & Laser September Book Club: 'Foundation' Kick-off & Your Feedback!

Uploaded by geekandsundry on Sep 7, 2012


VERONICA BELMONT: Welcome to the Sword and Laser Book Club,
where we discuss our monthly book picks.
I'm Veronica Belmont.
TOM MERRITT: And I'm Tom Merritt.
Like Hari Seldon himself, this time we're kicking off the
"Foundation," but by that, we mean the book by Isaac Asimov,
not a 1,000-year cycle historical experiment.
Yes, this is a dictatorial pick by Mr. Merritt this time,
and a classic, so I assume you must've read it, what, a
million times by now?
Is this, like, old hat to you?
TOM MERRITT: I'm almost embarrassed to say it.
This is my first time reading it.
TOM MERRITT: I spent so much time reading Philip K. Dick
books that I never got around to it, but I was glad that
this was a good excuse to do it.
And a lot of people who have read it before seem pretty
excited to read it again.
I'm actually very excited to read it.
It's been awhile since we've done a true classic.
But we've had lots of thoughts from our Goodreads forum to
get to, including some video commentary and email, So let's
get on with the kicking of offs.
TOM MERRITT: Kick those offs, all over the place.
So "Foundation"--
Isaac Asimov.
It's weird when you think, like, well, it is a standalone
book, in a sense.
It was put out before the other two in the series, and
then the series became more than three.
It almost becomes like a Robin Hobb thing, trying to
describe, like, well, it's part of this series, and it's
a subset of the other series, but it was first put out as
short stories in the '40s.
VERONICA BELMONT: But that's interesting, because isn't the
book itself almost a compilation of short stories,
or separate little stories inside of it?
TOM MERRITT: That's it, yeah-- exactly right.
There were eight short stories, I think.
Four of those were put into the book "Foundation," with a
fifth short story that was written just
for the book version.
And then the other four short stories that came out in the
'40s were split up into the next two books in the
"Foundation" series.
VERONICA BELMONT: So what is, really-- what's the
gist of this book?
What's happening?
Why is it such a classic?
TOM MERRITT: Well, it tells the story of a group of
scientists who seek to preserve knowledge as the
civilizations around them begin to regress.
Hari Seldon is the one who kicks it off.
He developed psychohistory, a concept of
mathematical sociology.
So I think it's the span of everything, the fact that it
has a vista of 1,000 years.
He was reading--
or at least inspired by the decline and fall of the Roman
Empire, when he went to meet Campbell, the famous editor,
to talk about some short stories, and said, "Hey, I've
got a novel idea I thought of while I was walking over here
to talk to you." And that's how "Foundation" was born.
VERONICA BELMONT: My understanding is that there's
a lot of interesting arguments between science
and religion, and--
I don't want to get into too much, because I have looked
into the story a little bit, so I don't want to--
no spoilers here so far, because we are
just kicking it off.
But it is a Hugo winner.
It won the Hugo Award for best all time series in 1966, which
is saying a lot.
TOM MERRITT: And it also talks about social evolution and
adaptation, rather than human and cultural qualities at one
point in time.
So when you think about "Fahrenheit 451" or "1984,"
that's a social commentary piece of science fiction that
is talking about Britain at a particular time, or the United
States in a particular time in history, and then commenting
on that culture.
Isaac Asimov--
and one of the reasons people love him so much is, he said,
"Well, this is what's going to happen to all of humanity
throughout long periods of time," and that's where that
psychohistory kind of concept comes from, is his idea that
eventually we get good enough at sociology, and psychology,
and those disciplines to be able to treat them like we do
physics now.
VERONICA BELMONT: It's predicting, essentially, what
the entire human race is going to do within the course of the
next 1,000 years, to the day, almost.
VERONICA BELMONT: I mean, it is extremely specific, the
stuff that he's--
TOM MERRITT: But it's not unbelievable, because he--
VERONICA BELMONT: Not Isaac Asimov--Hari Seldon.
TOM MERRITT: Hari Seldon, the character in "Foundation"
admits, "Like, well, I can't predict what an individual is
going to do, but if I get enough individuals, I can
predict what a group is going to do, down to pretty precise
VERONICA BELMONT: Well, I mean, we kind of do that today
with economics and certain catastrophic events.
We can kind of predict how people are going to react--
TOM MERRITT: We're not nearly as good as Hari Seldon, but
yeah, yeah, yeah.
VERONICA BELMONT: This is definitely to the next level
in a really, really big way.
TOM MERRITT: Well, and we talk a lot about how science
fiction has inspired scientists, has inspired
astronomer, has inspired physicists.
This book, "Foundation," has inspired economists and
Paul Krugman, who is an economist--
he actually won the Nobel Prize in economic sciences--
credited the "Foundation" with getting him interested in
economics, because he felt like economics was the closest
discipline to be able to achieve what Seldon achieved
in the "Foundation."
VERONICA BELMONT: That's super interesting.
Yeah, I'm excited about this one.
I mean, we've looked at other Asimov stuff in the past-- not
as an official book pick, but I think it'll be really cool
to have this as kind of a basis for a lot
of stuff going forward.
And it's good to look back at the classics, and the tales,
and the collection of stories that have really kind of built
a basis for what a lot of modern science
fiction comes from.
TOM MERRITT: And really, that's an excellent point,
because the "Foundation" book--
VERONICA BELMONT: You could say it's the "Foundation."
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, I almost did that, actually.
It's the beginning of what Asimov ended up creating as a
unified universe.
All of the "I, Robot" stuff happens in the prehistory to
what happens in the "Foundation." Asimov tried to
loosely tie everything together
into the same universe.
So if you've never read Asimov at all-- which at least I've
read other Asimov books--
the "Foundation" is a great introduction, because it says,
"OK, here are the building blocks of the universe you're
going to be inhabiting as you read all of his other works."
VERONICA BELMONT: And some of this stuff is actually kind of
based in reality, in a way.
We have this psychologist, Benjamin Libet--
I hope I'm saying his name right-- noted in EEG readings
of subjects engaged in a task requiring them to press a
button when they felt like it that half a second before the
decision was consciously made, the brain's motor cortex
became active.
Further research has extended that time from seven to 10
seconds before an action.
That has been recently question with a new study to
introduce another variable to distinguish
readiness from decision.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, so this is a controversial topic in the
discipline of psychiatry.
How much do we have free will?
In fact, Robert Shermer, who writes for "Skeptic Magazine,"
recently wrote about the idea of free won't
instead of free will.
In other words, we don't have the ability to control what
our bodies might want to do, but we have the ability to
impede them.
So we have the ability to stop things, decisions from being
made, that maybe otherwise would happen.
VERONICA BELMONT: Another study found a clump of 256
neurons that enabled scientists to predict with 80%
accuracy which choice a subject would make before the
subject knew.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, it's crazy stuff.
And those are real life scientific examples of the
kinds of things that Asimov is writing about with
psychohistory in the "Foundation." If you're like,
"Well, you keep saying psychohistory, psychohistory.
What's psychohistory?" You'll find out very quickly at the
beginning of "Foundation," but it's the idea that you can use
science and historical principles to sort of see
trends in society, and tell where they're going.
And I'm not spoiling too much to say at the beginning of the
book, Hari Seldon comes to the Galactic Empire, and says,
"You're in trouble, but I think I can help you out."
VERONICA BELMONT: "Within a certain timeframe, things are
going to get a little sticky, and I know how I can help
TOM MERRITT: Real darn sticky.
Now just as a warning, if you like "Foundation," you may get
sucked into a lot of books.
I mentioned it's part of a trilogy.
"Foundation" is the first, "Foundation and Empire" and
"Second Foundation" are the other two in that trilogy.
The second two books were made up of those other four stories
that were published in "Astounding Magazine."
VERONICA BELMONT: And there's a prequel, too, isn't there?
TOM MERRITT: Chronologically, it's the third in the series,
though published before "Prelude to Foundation" and
"Forward the Foundation," which are
both considered prequels.
VERONICA BELMONT: OK, so there's two prequels.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, so there's a lot of "Foundation" out
there to read.
VERONICA BELMONT: There's a lot of "Foundation" that has
been built.
TOM MERRITT: And you can have some nice, thick discussions
about what the best order to read them is-- whether you
should go with the prequels first or not, or whether you
should go and read "Empire" series, or the "Robot" series
first, but I still think "Foundation"'s probably the
best place to start.
Well, that is where we are starting, so good thing.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, it's a good thing, huh?
By the way, before we move on from the book discussion, I
just wanted to prove, if we can go to the wide shot, that
this is not a green screen.
VERONICA BELMONT: Oh, people think this is a green--
well, OK--
I was almost going to throw it, but I decided not to.
I'm like, "That's a bad idea."
TOM MERRITT: Because people are like, "You didn't go over
there and touch it."
VERONICA BELMONT: Wait, we can prove it, because I can--
I'm tied down right now, so I can't actually do that.
They've tied me to this chair.
TOM MERRITT: See, now we've just engendered all kinds of
conspiracy theories.
I wish I had something to throw.
Is there anything I can throw?
TOM MERRITT: Well, we'll figure out something to throw.
We'll show you guys later.
Wait, but in the interim--
I did that accidentally.
But that just proved depth, depth.
There's depth there.
TOM MERRITT: A little bit about-- yeah, a
little amount of depth.
I hope your goblet wasn't destroyed.
What are we going to drink out of now?
TOM MERRITT: Oh, I'll get another drink.
Next time on the Book Club, we're going to wrap up what we
all thought about "Foundation," but before we
go, let's see what other folks are saying in our good
readings forum.
VERONICA BELMONT: I feel really bad that I hopefully
didn't break your goblet, but anyway.
TOM MERRITT: It's metal.
Don't worry.
VERONICA BELMONT: But what if it's bent now?
I'll have to tamper it down.
I'll go to Felicia's mom--
blacksmithing guy.
Yeah, we'll make it a flog, where
Felicia fixes our goblets.
So Rich posted on Goodreads, "What is the least fantasy
novel you've ever read that was still considered fantasy?
I'm talking about fantasy that falls into different
territories, but couldn't be considered anything but
fantasy in the long run.
Like for example, the "Dark Tower" series.
There are no elves or fairies, any or anything else of the
sort, but it's still fantasy, right?" Gosh, we've done a lot
of "Dark Tower" references--
TOM MERRITT: Thanks for rubbing it in my face that
they're not making that movie.
Neil Gaiman, "American Gods"--
I can't remember who posted that in here, but
that's a good one.
"100 Years of Solitude"--
Michael posted that one in here.
VERONICA BELMONT: I was thinking maybe "Watership
Down," because even though it's about bunnies, and the
bunnies talk to the other bunnies in the story--
they're not, like, talking to people.
We don't know that the rabbits aren't talking to themselves
like that anyway.
It may not be fantastical.
It might be factual.
TOM MERRITT: "The Lions of al-Rassan," Michael says.
It's the Reconquista, with the names changed--
no supernatural elements in here that you wouldn't find in
a historical novel.
TOM MERRITT: Good stuff in this thread, through.
I like it.
Also, Pouria posted an interesting question--
"I've been trying to find fantasy books set in the
modern day"-- almost the
opposite of the last question--
"Mostly I've been pointed towards urban fantasy, which
is a lot of vampire books and hollow earth stuff.
What I'm looking for is simply books set in the modern day,
with elements of magic spells, magic swords, and so on, elves
running around, set in modern day, modern transport, weapons
mixed into it.
Any suggestions?"
VERONICA BELMONT: I would have said--
or had I contributed to this thread, I would've said Tad
Williams, "War of the Flowers" is one.
There's definitely fairies and real world stuff going on in
there as well.
Let's see.
Paul recommended--
oh no, I'm sorry--
Kate recommended Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age series,
"Blood and Iron," and "Whiskey and Water," which take place
in New York and fairy.
There's a lot of fairy/New York combos, I
guess you could say.
TOM MERRITT: Neil Gaiman, again, comes up here, for the
same thing, for "American Gods." "The Magicians,"
actually, is recommended by [INAUDIBLE].
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, the Dresden Files.
TOM MERRITT: Another great one--
Jim Butcher's stuff, yeah.
VERONICA BELMONT: I mean, you're definitely going to get
a lot of that urban fantasy kind of elements with this,
because that is basically almost a description of the
genre, which is something fantastical happening in an
urban setting.
And even though it's not necessarily always an urban
setting, it's almost always a modern setting.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, it's not even about the urban so much
as the modern.
I think that's what Pouria is going for, is, like, "I want
to be, like, this is my world that I recognize, but there's
elves, and swords, and magic."
VERONICA BELMONT: I think that's kind
of what we all want.
I think that's why we read this stuff.
Or parts of San Francisco.
Ann started an interesting thread about being forced to
read stuff you ended up loving.
She writes, "Despite Veronica's countless praise,
I'm not sure if I would have picked up 'Assassin's
Apprentice' if it hadn't been the book pick for this month.
And I loved it.
This is the first time in quite a while that I really,
really, really want to read the next book of the series,
because I want to know how the story continues.
It made me wonder, what books are you pretty sure you
wouldn't have read if someone hadn't made you, but that you
TOM MERRITT: I know exactly what you mean.
It's not about being forced at gunpoint, but you've been
encouraged to read something.
That's what's Swords and Lasers is all about.
And I have to say Scott Lynch, "the Lies of Locke Lamora"--
no disrespect to Scott Lynch-- he's a great author--
I don't think I would have chosen to read that based on
what I knew of it at the time, but I'm so glad I did.
I absolutely love that world.
I love those characters.
VERONICA BELMONT: I seem to have more of a situation where
I am made to read something, and then I'm like, "Nope,
nope, wouldn't have read that.
Nope, my initial instinct was correct on that." I think
maybe I've just read enough stuff at this point that I
know what I typically like, although that sounds very
I mean, most people think they know what they like.
Just that stubborn.
Yeah, I judge a book by its cover--
No, I mean, yeah, I'm having a hard time thinking of
something that I've really--
that really kind of won me over in the end.
TOM MERRITT: What about "Leviathan Wakes"?
VERONICA BELMONT: "Leviathan Wakes" I did like, but I was
kind of considering to read it anyway.
TOM MERRITT: So you were on the fence on that one.
But we pushed you over the fence, and
you didn't hurt yourself.
VERONICA BELMONT: Gosh, I'm having a hard-- yeah, I'll
have to think about a little bit.
TOM MERRITT: Well, this isn't a question, but speaking of
James SA Corey, I wanted to point out that Sean started a
thread about "Caliban's War," the sequel to "Leviathan
Wakes," which was our June pick.
He said that he's reading it, and he wanted to discuss it
with other folks.
We generally don't like to make second or third books in
the series our official picks, because it's hard to throw
people into the middle of a series, but I love it when
people start independently these threads, because I just
finished "Caliban's War" myself, and I really enjoyed.
I liked it a lot.
In fact, the character from the United Nations that they
create, I think is my favorite character of both books.
VERONICA BELMONT: You mentioned that.
You mentioned that.
That's very cool.
Yeah, I would love to get around reading that as well.
I've actually started picking up the--
I'm reading the "Codex Alera" by Jim Butcher, which is his
more fantasy, non-urban fantasy story.
I'm on book three of that right now.
Yes, but not modern.
Rural fantasy, but yeah-- it's got elements of--
it's got some urban elements.
I wouldn't call it pastoral fantasy.
TOM MERRITT: Suburban fantasy.
VERONICA BELMONT: Suburban fantasy,
that's a genre for you.
We could make that happen, no problem.
That's pretty funny.
All right, so yeah, there's a lot of good books that
continue on, and by no means, do you have to stop reading a
series just because we've moved on to a new book pick or
a new series.
I mean, the whole point-- we want you to discover cool
stuff that you love reading.
TOM MERRITT: I'm reading David Brin's "Existence" right now.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, just off for myself, for fun and all.
Well, 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 talked to Gary Whitta, writer of "the Book of
Eli," and next week, we are super excited to have Levar
Burton on the show, one of our favorite people.
TOM MERRITT: If we can capture a slice of "Reading Rainbow"'s
spirit, I'll be--

wow, it's like I'm watching the show.
VERONICA BELMONT: I'm serenading you.
TOM MERRITT: You don't want to miss that, so subscribe.
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That's it, everybody.
We'll see you next time.
VERONICA BELMONT: (SINGING) I can be anything, friends to
know, and ways to grow.
A Reading Rainbow.
Reading Rainbow.
TOM MERRITT: I'm embarrassed I don't know these lyrics.