Matthew Gifford

Azimov’s ghost

Earlier this year, I wrote about Isaac Asimov’s science fiction classic, Foundation. More accurately, I wrote about my dislike for his writing style.

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Foundation enough that I decided to read the next book in the series, Foundation and Empire. Just a few pages in, it became clear that this was going to be another book of one-dimensional, similar-sounding character/narrators having awkward conversations.

Most of the first chapter is a conversation between an old man from the planet Siwenna, Ducem Barr, and a general, Bel Riose. Its purpose is to set the stage for the rest of the story.

The aged Siwennian stared unblinkingly, and Riose continued, “You had better tell me what you know-”
Barr said thoughtfully, “It would be interesting to tell you certain things. It would be a psychohistoric experiment of my own.”
“What kind of experiment?”
“Psychohistoric.” The old man had an unpleasant edge to his smile. Then, crisply, “You’d better have more tea. I’m going to make a bit of a speech.”

Oh, boy. Here we go again.

Barr smiled grimly, and continued, “My father was a Patrician of the Empire and a Senator of Siwenna. His name was Onum Barr.”
Riose interrupted impatiently, “I know the circumstances of his exile very well. You needn’t elaborate upon it.”

I share your impatience, Riose.

The Siwennian ignored him and proceeded without deflection.

Did Asimov’s ghost just give me the middle finger?

I do wonder if Asimov was sending a message to his readers. Was he making a joke about his clunky writing? Was he firing back at critics? Were people critical of his writing back then?

Or am I reading a deeper meaning into something that has none? I do tend to do that.

November 7, 2015

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