Sunday, November 9, 2014

Foundation and Empire

After his later work (but earlier in the story time line) Prelude to Foundation, I have now just finished Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire (as the original Foundation continues to elude me at the local book fair).

Foundation and Empire is a Science Fiction book that was written in 1952, and boy does it show. Nothing feels as old as old Science Fiction, but in this case it is really the everyday things that I find off-putting.

A psychologist, a renegade trader, a historian and a clown travel through the galaxy in the same space ship. Guess: who has to make the sammiches all the time? Here is a hint: the historian is the only woman on board. I guess you get the picture.

But of course, to complete this picture Asimov also had to include a scene that scarily demonstrates how the true misogynist will never respect a woman no matter what she does. You know the drill. Woman doesn't want to have sex? She's a prude. Okay, now woman wants to have sex? She's a slut. Woman is assertive and outspoken at work? She's a harpy. Okay, now woman is polite and accommodating at work? Well, that just shows that women can't be leaders, and all higher level positions should be reserved for men. Can't win except by not being a woman.

In the present novel, woman is supposed to make sammiches. But when she makes the sammiches, like a good woman ought to do? This is the thanks she gets from her husband and another main character: "Where's Bayta?" - "Setting the table in the diner and picking out a menu - or some such frippery."

And again, that female protagonist is an academic, but here are a few excerpts from her husband introducing her to his father:
His eyes were on Bayta now, and didn't leave. He spoke to her more softly, 'I have the [picture] of you right here - and it's good, but I can see the fellow who took it was an amateur.' [...]

She sat down, crossing her knees, and returned the appreciative stare of this large, ruddy man.

'I know what you are trying to estimate, and I'll help you; Age, twenty-four, height, five-four, weight, one-ten, educational speciality, history.' She noted that he always crooked his stand so as to hide the missing arm.

But now Fran leaned close and said, 'Since you mention it - weight, one-twenty.'

He laughed loudly at her flush. The he said to the company in general, 'You can always tell a woman's weight by her upper arm - with due experience, of course.'
Charming. It is like a new car being discussed by the friends of the buyer, only the car wouldn't be embarrassed by what one says about it.

Also, this is the year tenthousandsomething (or was it twenty?), and everybody smokes. All the time.

Finally, Asimov wants to fill his universe thousands of years in the future with some super-futuristic technology? Easy. He just treats space ships flying across half the galaxy like caravans driving across the USA and calls everything "atomic", be it an engine, a weapon, a shield or a small gadget fitting into the palm of the hand.

Well, he got better. As indicated, Prelude to Foundation was written much later, and it does not come across as quite that dusty. Also, it is better at taking women seriously.

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