Foundation discovers “Mysteries and Martyrs” and departs even further from the books

Since we only have three episodes to go, I’m doing episode by episode reviews of Foundation, so here is my take on episode 7. Reviews of previous episodes of Foundation as well as two actual Foundation stories may be found here.

For more Foundation discussion, check out the Star’s End and Seldon Crisis podcasts.

Warning! Spoilers under the cut!

Before we get to this week’s episode, I want to point you to this New York Times opinion piece by economist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman about the current adaptations of Foundation and Dune. Now I almost never agree with Paul Krugman on anything, because he is very much in favour of debts and deficits and inflation, whereas I’m vehemently opposed to these things and believe keeping deficits and inflation low is one of the main purposes of any government. Krugman also repeatedly criticises German financial politics – something that US Nobel Prize winners of economics love doing, even though it’s none of their fucking business (also, while I don’t particularly like Wolfgang Schäuble, he did his job as secretary of finance well. Olaf Scholz didn’t, though to be fair, he was hampered by the covid pandemic, which his ministry bungled as well). So in short, I don’t like Krugman and I rarely agree with him.

However, it appears that I agree with Krugman on filmic adaptations of classic science fiction. Because Krugman says that Denis Villeneuve’s take on Dune is exactly the adaptation he’d been hoping to see for decades. Foundation, on the other hand, is not. Let’s have a quote:

“Foundation” might seem unfilmable. It mostly involves people talking, and its narrative inverts the hero-saves-the-universe theme that burns many acres of CGI every year. The story spans centuries; in each episode everything appears to be on the brink, and it seems as if only desperate efforts by the protagonists can save the day. But after each crisis, Seldon’s prerecorded hologram appears to explain to everyone what just happened and why the successful resolution was inevitable given the laws of history.

So how does the Apple TV+ series turn this into a visually compelling tale? It doesn’t. What it does instead is remake “Star Wars” under another name. There are indispensable heroes, mystical powers, even a Death Star. These aren’t necessarily bad things to include in a TV series, but they’re completely antithetical to the spirit of Asimov’s writing. Pretending that this series has anything to do with the “Foundation” novels is fraudulent marketing, and I’ve stopped watching.

I haven’t gotten around to seeing Dune yet and I’m obviously still watching Foundation nor would I be quite so harsh on the TV series as Krugman, though I’m beginning to feel the same. The Foundation TV series is a cool space opera with stunning visuals. However – even with a lot of goodwill – it’s not the story that Krugman and I and many other fans of the books signed up to watch, the story we’ve wanted to see for a very long time. And considering that we have only three episodes to go, I’m not sure if we’re still going to get a version of that story.

“Mysteries and Martyrs” devotes its time between four distinct plot strands. Two involve the Emperors Three, one Salvor Hardin and the Anacreons and one Hari Seldon and Gaal Dornick.

As last week, the least interesting plotline involves Brother Day and the high priestess succession crisis of the generic Triple Goddess religion. Everything I said last week still holds true. I don’t care about these people, I don’t care about their religion and I have no idea what this plotline is supposed to accomplish aside from showing that the Empire is disintegrating, which could be done in more compelling and interesting ways.

Brother Day is understandably furious that Demerzel bowed to the heretical would-be high priestess successor Zephyr Halima (apparently, I have to remember that bloody woman’s name, since she plays a bigger role than I initially assumed). Demerzel informs him that she did not bow to Zephyr Halima, but to the Mother aspect of the Triple Goddess. She also tells Brother Day that she is loyal to the Cleons above all else, that she is programmed to be loyal and that she could never have bowed, if that violated her programming. Of course, we know Demerzel is lying to Brother Day’s face, cause we know the laws she follows (though in the books, Daneel/Demerzel had a more liberal interpretation of the Three Laws of Robotics than his fellow robots) and “Loyalty to the Cleons above all else” is not one of them.

Day is skeptical as well and tells Demerzel that if he is an abomination without a soul, then Demerzel is one as well. He also wonders what Zephyr Halima would say, if she knew what Demerzel really was. Cause if that bloody woman freaks out over clones, how will she react to androids? Most likely, it would involves torches, pitchforks and “Burn the heretic”.

However, for now Day has more pressing problems than doubts about Demerzel’s loyalty, because he has to try to win over that pesky Zephyr Halima. So he goes to see her where she is ministering to those of her flock who have attempted to do a gruelling pilgrimage rite called “walking the Spiral”, where they have to walk along a spiralling desert canyon to reach “the womb of the mother” (a.k.a. the centre of the spiral) in extreme heat and sunshine. This rite regularly kills or maims the faithful, e.g. there’s one man who was blinded by the sun. The fact that what is supposedly one of the major religions of the galaxy is perfectly okay with killing its own worshippers is troubling. Because in this episode the Luminists are shown not just to be followers of some weird fictional religion, but dangerous fanatics.

The desert camp where Zephyr Halima (who is not walking the spiral, of course) offers her ministrations to the maimed pilgrims looks like something out of a Bible film. There are ragged makeshift tents made from cloth and what looks like wood, the exhausted and maimed pilgrims lie down on rough cots, the fellow who went blind has a rag tied over his eyes. These people have forcefields, nanotech and jump ships, so why the hell do their camps look like the set of The Ten Commandments? Once again, this makes no sense at all.

Brother Day decides to be frank with Zephyr Halima and tells her, “Okay, cool power play, great speech, you win. So what do you want exactly?” He also proceeds to offer her not just an advanced desalination system for her water-poor moon, but also an orbital satellite defence system. He might have thrown in some decent tents and cots, while he was at it.

However, it turns out that Zephyr Halima is a true believer. She genuinely believes the Emperors Three to be an abomination against her faith and wants the genetic dynasty gone. And that’s of course the one thing she’s not going to get.

Now Hari Seldon and Zephyr Halima are not exactly wrong that an Empire ruled by increasingly error-riddled clones of the same man over centuries is a bad idea and indicative of the generally bad state of the Empire. Nonetheless, Zephyr Halima is just so very unlikeable and so rude about saying to Brother Day’s face that he is an abomination without a soul – after all, none of the Cleons are responsible for the system they were decanted into and each is also terrified of what the other two might do – that you just hate her on the spot, as AV-Club reviewer Nick Wanserski points out. Also, I can’t help but be bothered by the fact that the two most unlikable characters in this episode – Pharah and Zephyr Halima – are both women of colour.

And so I found myself yelling at the screen, “Oh, just have that bloody woman assassinated. You’re a galactic tyrant, after all, so you can do that sort of thing. Actually, I would even understand, if you were to nuke that bloody moon from orbit.” Brother Day, however, has a more stand-offish solution to the problem. He will prove that he is worthy by doing the spiral pilgrimage, the one that tends to kill pilgrims, and get the approval of the Triple Goddess. I really, really hope that Brother Day cheats. Because let’s face it, that’s what he would have done, if Asimov had written the script.

Because the main sin of the whole “Brother Day and the religious fanatics” storyline is not that it is boring – though it is – or that it neither advances the plot – though it doesn’t – nor that it has fuck all to do with the books – though it doesn’t. No, it’s that the whole Luminism plot is completely antithetical to the way religion is portrayed throughout the Foundation series. Because in the Foundation books, religion is literally opium for the masses.

The most prominent religion in Foundation is Scientism, the science disguised as a faux religion that the Foundation uses to keep the Four Kingdoms at bay. And very point of Scientism is that it’s fake, a scam. No one who actually matters believes in Scientism, not even their own high priest. The other religion we encounter in the first Foundation book is the anti-technology religion of Askone in “The Wedge”. And “The Wedge” makes it very clear that the political leaders of Askone don’t actually believe in their own religion either, it’s a way to keep their population under control. However, they’re forced to adhere to the taboos of their own religion, namely that technology is bad, or the fanatic mob would throw them into the nearest gas chamber. And this exactly how the Foundation gets them, via their own hypocrisy.

Foundation is, as Paul Krugman says in the introduction to a recent edition, “a bracingly cynical story”. And Foundation is rarely more cynical than in its portrayal of religion. And so, if Asimov had written Zephyr Halima, she would have responded to Brother Day’s offer with, “Yes, I know it’s all bullshit and I neither know nor care if you have a soul or not, but the people believe all this nonsense and there’s three trillion of them. This is what I want or I will tell my three trillion followers to tear down your Empire.”

Not only would this have made for a better story, it would also have been closer to the story Asimov actually wrote. And as I said in my last review, there is no chance of offending anybody with this cynical portrayal of religion, because Luminism is a completely fake religion and there are no Luminists to offend.

While Brother Day is grandstanding for Zephyr Halima, Brother Dawn is finally losing his virginity courtesy of Jacenta, the cute gardener he has fallen for, when they have a clandestine tryst in a greenhouse in the Imperial gardens. Brother Dawn even takes off his personal forcefield, which makes having sex difficult, as we saw back in episode 4. I’m still not a huge fan of the obligatory sex scenes inserted into every episode to satisfy the folks who apparently watched Game of Thrones for the sex scenes, but this one was at least nicely done and well shot.

Though it’s notable that once Jacenta strips off her uniform, she’s wearing a typical 21st century department store bra underneath, which is just incongruous. I’m not the only one who noticed this either – Nick Wanserski makes a crack that bra clasps haven’t evolved in twenty thousand years. And considering how awful bra clasps (and bras in general) are now, I really hope that isn’t true. The anachronistic bra is an odd lapse, especially considering how very detailed the costume and set design is otherwise. And Gaal is shown wearing a very futuristic bra/bikini top several times. Most likely, the bra was a last minute addition during shooting, either because the actress was uncomfortable performing without one or because the director felt she should be wearing one.

Jacenta also presents Brother Dawn with a gift, lenses to correct his colour vision. But Brother Dawn cannot wear them, because the other Cleons and the household staff might notice. We also learn that Brother Dawn is different from his clone brothers is other ways as well. Cabbage tastes intolerably bitter to him (which is due to a genetic variation), whereas Brothers Dusk and Day like it. And there are other variations as well. The genes of the Cleons are mutating, though so far it’s not clear, if Brother Dawn is the lone defective Cleon, or whether the whole cloning process is breaking down, which would be a nice metaphor for the breakdown of the Empire.

At any rate, Brother Dawn knows that if he is ever found out, his “brothers” will kill him and replace him with a backup clone kept at hand in a tank for just such occasions. He even shows Jacenta the backup clones, which gives Foundation the excuse (not that it needs one) to show Lee Pace and Cassian Bilton naked, their private parts hidden to cleverly placed art deco panels.

“Well, if there’s a backup clone anyway, then why don’t you just run away from it all”, Jacenta suggests. Brother Dawn notes that he has the most recognisable face in the galaxy and tracking nanos in his bloodstream, but Jacenta is undeterred. After all, Brother Dawn could have his face changed in an underground plastic surgery parlour and his nanos filtered out. Brother Dawn is still wavering, but Jacenta is determined to show him what Trantor looks like outside the palace via a drone that accompanies her home on a graffiti covered commuter train/tram. The graffiti is a nice touch, since it’s yet another sign that the Empire is decaying since no one is bothering to clean up Trantor’s public transport anymore.

Brother Dawn is interrupted by Brother Dusk, because it turns out he was late for dinner. And Cleons are never late. Brother Dawn apologises and says he was caught up in learning about Trantor outside the palace. “We are Trantor”, Brother Dusk replies. And that, dude, is why your Empire is going down.

It would truly have been better for all concerned if Brother Dusk, who has a ruthless streak, had gone to deal with Zephyr Halima and Brother Day, who is somewhat nicer than his predecessor, had stayed on Trantor to deal with the wayward Brother Dawn, especially since I don’t think Brother Day would kill Brother Dawn outright. Brother Dusk likely would.

I do hope that Brother Dawn manages to escape with Jacenta and live happily ever after on some quiet backwater planet, but that’s not going to happen. He’s likely going to be found out and killed, ditto for Jacenta. A pity, because this Brother Dawn might actually make a pretty good Emperor one day.

The Brother Dawn storyline has nothing to do with the books as well, but at least it’s compelling, unlike the Brother Day and the religious fanatics storyline. Paul Levinson, who is more happy with the overall direction of the show than I am, also enjoys the Brother Dawn storyline as a compelling piece of science fiction on its own.

Which brings me to the two story strands which have at least a tenuous connection to the books, namely Salvor’s and Gaal’s story. When we last saw Salvor Hardin, she, Hugo, Lewis Pirenne, Lord Dorwin and two elderly Encyclopedists had been taken hostage by Phara and the Anacreons and set off to some asteroid field in Hugo’s ship, which is now bound to Salvor, so Phara is forced to keep her around. They are looking for the Invictus, a legendary lost Imperial warship.

Phara leads them to an asteroid field, which is dotted with abandoned Thesbian mining installations. Hugo, who is Thesbian, tells Salvor (and the audience) that these mines were abandoned, because without Imperial technology, the Thesbians had no way to keep them running. That’s also why Hugo became a trader rather than a miner or mine supplier. And right there, we have a glimpse of the actual Foundation stories in that the Four Kingdoms no longer have neither access to nor the knowledge to operate and repair Imperial technology. I really wish we would get more of that.

Phara, being the unpleasant person that she is, makes a crack about Hugo abandoning his people, whereas Hugo points out that all he did was make sure that there was one less hungry mouth to feed on Thesbis. I think Phara and Hugo are supposed to be counterparts here in that they both survived the bombing of their respective homeworld. Only that Hugo moved on and carved out a life for himself, while Phara was consumed by revenge.

They find the stranded Invictus in the middle of the asteroid field. Two Anacreon frigates were destroyed trying to dock at the Invictus, because her weapons are still active after 700 years. But the weapon sensors cannot detect small targets of less than two meters diameter. So everybody has to get into spacesuits and fly through the asteroid field to the Invictus via the built-in thrusters. That leads to a beautifully rendered spaceflight sequence.

Normally, I really hate it when certain fanboys (and they’re almost all male) call any accomplished female character, especially if it’s a woman of colour, a Mary Sue and her skills unrealistic. However, considering that Salvor was born on Terminus and never left the planet, I did find the fact that she knows how to fly a spaceship (with some help by Hugo) and not only knows how to put on a spacesuit, but also knows how to navigate in one a bit unbelievable. Cause Salvor never had any reason to learn any of these things, anymore than I have any reason to know how to put on and use a diving suit.

Still, Salvor makes it to the Invictus as do Lewis Pirenne, Dorwin, the Encyclopedists and Phara and her goon. Only Hugo, the only one among them who actually has any space experience, misses the Invictus and drifts off into space. It is an anticlimactic death for a fairly prominent character – if he really is dead, that is. Because personally, I suspect that Hugo is headed for one of those abandoned mining installations to radio for help.

Lewis Pirenne, who’s something of an idiot, manages to trigger the Invictus‘ guns, which take out one of the Anacreons (hurray) and pin down the whole party. But Lord Dorwin makes it to the airlock and manages to open it, because the Empire apparently hasn’t changed its access codes in 700 years. He’s promptly shot by Phara for his troubles, which not only kills a character who’s so much more likeable than his book counterpart, but who also had an actual plan to call for help via using the Invictus‘ systems to send a recording from his implant to the Empire. But now that Dorwin and Hugo, the two characters with actual space and combat experience and a plan to call reinforcements, are out of the game, it’s up to Salvor and three non-combatant Encyclopedists to stop Phara and her goons.

Now Foundation turns into Event Horizon or the various “spooky ghost ship with dead crew” episodes of Star Trek Discovery (and indeed the whole Invictus sequence felt and looked very much like a lost Star Trek Discovery episode). And so the Invictus is full of frozen crewmembers (most of whom seem to be women) floating in zero G. Other standard tropes of “spooky ghost ship” stories are also present such as dark corridors, randomly flashing lights and various obstacles and perils such as forcefields and badly secured basins full of burbling liquid. Of course, it’s all a bit cliched and particularly the burbling basins of toxic liquid are a bit reminiscent of Galaxy Quest‘s famous chomper scene, but it’s also a lot of fun. Furthermore, unlike most ghost ship episodes, you can actually see what’s going on, which is a big plus.

Lewis Pirenne, being useful for once, figures out that the frequency of the flashing lights is changing and believes that it’s some kind of countdown, probably to a jump. Turns out that the Invictus‘ jump drive is damaged and out of control, which is why the ship keep popping up on opposite ends of the galaxy like some kind of cosmic Flying Dutchman. Inbetween the infrequent sightings, the ship may well have been hurled out of the galaxy altogether. The crew, unable to call for help and slowly running out of supplies and power, starved and froze to death. Phara confirms that some Anacreon scavengers spotted the Invictus jumping into the asteroid field and that the Anacreons have been trying to take control of her ever since. However, they could neither get near the ship nor do they have the knowledge to operate it, hence the raid on Terminus. And now, they only have four hours to get the Invictus back under control or they will be taken to wherever she jumps next. Phara, insane as she is, also reveals her great plan. She wants to jump the Invictus into the heart of Trantor, destroying the capital and the empire.

Salvor and the Encyclopedists try to stop her and jump Phara and her goons in the room with the burbling basins. Considering that only Salvor has any combat training, the Encylopedists put up a pretty good fight. One of them falls into the burbling basin, taking down an Anareon goon with him. But in the end, Phara and the now much diminished Anacreons prevail… for now.

The whole Invictus sequence may be cliched, but it is fun. That said, the whole plan doesn’t make a lot of sense. After all, the Invictus has been lost for seven hundred years, so the chance that a contemporary person, even a specialist, would be able to fly her is zero. Ditto for the Invictus responded to Lord Dorwin’s nano-bots. Because technology changes a lot in seven hundred years, unless the Empire has been in decline for centuries, Honestly, Phara’s big plan makes about as much sense as if I had decided to steal the Bremen cog (which sank approx. 740 years ago) and would kidnap a bunch of random modern sailors to operate her and sail her into Berlin to blow up the Kanzleramt and/or Reichstag to get back at the government for some real or imagined slight.

Of course, Phara is completely insane, so she may not be aware of the flaws in her plan. Though I suspect it’s more likely that the writers simply didn’t consider how long seven hundred years really are.

Because one ghost ship plot isn’t enough, “Mysteries and Martyrs” gives us a second one, featuring Gaal Dornick, last seen in episode 5, aboard the mystery ship that by now gains a name, The Raven. When we last saw Gaal aboard The Raven, she had just discovered a somewhat glitchy hologram of the dying Hari Seldon. Gaal runs to his side and tries to help him. Amazingly, the hologram stabilises and can talk to her, though Hari or rather his hologram is very confused to find himself facing Gaal, because he expected Raych.

Now we finally learn what happened the night that Hari Seldon was killed. Hari realised that in order to succeed, the Foundation needed a symbol. And what better symbol than their cruelly martyred leader. Plus, Hari was also diagnosed with some incurable form of dementia and realised that once his cognitive abilities would decline, the Foundationers would no longer admire, but resent him. So he arranged for Raych to murder him and download Hari’s consciousness into a chip embedded in his knife (something we know is possible in this world, since the same tech is used to keep the spare clone emperors up to date on their lives). Raych was then supposed to flee in the escape pod and make his way to The Raven, where he and Hari’s hologram would set course of Hari’s homeworld Helicon. They had explicitly planned to stage the murder, while Gaal was taking her daily evening swim.

Of course, we know that this plan went completely wrong. Gaal ended up in the escape pod with the bloody knife, while Raych never left the colony ship until he took a short walk out of the nearest airlock. And Gaal floated in space for 35 years. Once she used the knife to open the cargo bay doors of The Raven (like you do), Hari’s consciousness was uploaded into the ship and now he’s a talking sentient hologram. I have to admit that I like this updated version of the iconic Hari Seldon hologram from the books. And Jared Harris manages to project just the right amount of know-it-all smugness as hologram Hari. Though the hologram is in the wrong place, because it should be in the time vault on Terminus, telling the Foundationers that everything has happened just as it should.

Hari is also not happy with the deviations from his plan, whereas he seems less troubled by the death of Raych and more bothered by the fact that Gaal is not on Terminus, leading the First Foundation (and yes, Hari explicitly says “First”) through its first Seldon crisis. “But who’s leading the Foundation then?” Hari asks. “I don’t know. Lewis Pirenne, I guess”, Gaal replies, whereupon Hari groans. Poor Lewis Pirenne. Not even his great idol Hari Seldon believes that he’s competent at anything really.

Meanwhile, Gaal is understandably furious that Hari worked out his brilliant plan, a plan that would have separated her and Raych forever, no matter what happened, without even telling her. “You’re not a god”, she tells Heri, “And the Foundation is not a religion.” “No, gods are impervious to knives”, Hari replies.

I’ve gone a bit into Foundation‘s generally negative view of religion above. However, upon rereading the early Foundation stories for the Retro Hugos last year, I also noticed that there is something very cult-like about the Foundation. They follow a mysterious all-knowing prophet who occasionally manifests in the form of a smug hologram to fulfil his secret plan and bring about a future positive state. And the only reason the readers accepts all this is because Asimov convinces us that Hari Seldon and the Foundation are absolutely right and the good guys here. Otherwise, the Foundation looks very much like a bunch of religious fanatics taking orders from a hologram. So yes, they got that bit right.

However, Hari still can’t get past the fact that Gaal walked into his cabin, when she was supposed to be swimming, whereupon Gaal tells him that she had a premonition. Just as she has had other premonitions before, e.g. when she was about to be arrested or just before the Skybridge was blown up. “I think I can foresee the future”, Gaal tells a shocked Hari Seldon, “And not through math, but for real.”

Now there are people with psychic abilities in the Foundation universe, most notably the Mule and the Second Foundation. However, in the books Gaal is not one of them, largely because book Gaal is a cypher, a character who merely exists to give us his POV on Hari Seldon. Also, people with psychic abilities are rare in the Foundation universe and don’t show up in the series at all until halfway through the second book. They also cannot be predicted, indeed the whole point of The Mule was that Seldon could not predict the rise of the Mule, because he was the result of a random mutation that gave him irresistable psychic powers.

The series, however, gives us not one but two people with psychic abilities in the first season, namely Gaal Dornick and Salvor Hardin, neither of whom of psychic abilities in the books. This is a major departure from the books, because in the books there is nothing special about either Gaal Dornick or Salvor Hardin, they are just two smart people who are in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time). And indeed, the whole point of psychohistory and Foundation is that no one special is needed to fulfil the Seldon Plan. The Plan runs on rails – occasionally derailments like the Mule notwithstanding. Even if Salvor Hardin had never been born, someone else would have been in his/her place. This is what makes Foundation very much the anti-thesis of the “great man theory of history”. Foundation gives us plenty of great men and women, only for Seldon or rather his hologram to reveal that the victory that was just won would have happened anyway, no matter who was in charge. This recent post at the Hugo Book Club Blog also goes into why it’s problematic that Foundation, which is explicitly not about chosen ones saving the galaxy, now suddenly embraced the trope of the super-special chosen one for the TV series.

I suspect that Gaal, being psychic, will eventually wind up founding or at least leading the Second Foundation. Introducing the Second Foundation this early in the narrative would be a good idea, especially since they will go on to play a bigger role in later stories. Also, it would explain why the showrunners decided to keep Gaal around, even though she served her narrative purpose in episode 1 and Gaal never reappears in the books nor is ever mentioned again after “The Psychohistorians”. Because it seems that Gaal is destined to for the role that was played by Raych’s daughter Wanda (who for obvious reasons does not exist in the show) in Forward the Foundation, namely that of the psychic who founds the Second Foundation and locates others of her kind.

All in all, Foundation is absolutely gorgeous to look at and entertaining enough to watch. Nonetheless, I find the show also very frustrating, because I only get glimpses of the story I came here to watch, the story I’ve been hoping to see on screen for more than thirty years now, amidst a lot of stuff which seems to have wandered in from completely different shows.

Yes, a literal adaptation of Foundation would not have been possible due to the talkiness and lack of the action of the original stories. And I have no problem with the fact that Salvor Hardin and Gaal Dornick are both women of colour now nor do I mind the occasional fight scene or ghost ship exploration to spruce up the storyline a bit for modern audiences. But is it too much to ask to actually get the basic bits of the original stories? Is it too much to ask that we get to see Scientism and the Foundation tricking the Four Kingdoms with their superior technology disguised as a fake religion? Is it too much to ask to see Salvor being the clever bastard who dislikes violence and wins by smarts and cunning that he/she is in the original stories rather than action girl Salvor whose main response to any threat seems to be to punch it?

Because in spite of all the talkiness, one-dimensional characters and lack of action, the original stories are compelling for their clever solutions to the problems facing the Foundation. There’s a reason that millions of people have read and enjoyed and have even been influenced by those stories over the past almost eighty years. Because the ideas at the core of Foundation are so compelling that we don’t mind the talkiness and flat characters. And I have no issues with the fact that the show gives Salvor, Gaal and especially cardboard cutouts like Lewis Pirenne and Lord Dorwin more characterisation than they ever had in the originals – in fact, I welcome it. I don’t even mind that the show invented the whole genetic dynasty bit out of whole cloth, because it works and is genuinely interesting. But why don’t the showrunners give us the bones and the spirit of the original stories, even dressed up with all sorts of add-ons? It almost seems as if either the showrunners or Apple+ don’t trust the original stories or don’t trust the audience to get them. And so they try to turn Foundation into some kind of Game of Thrones knock-off in space that it isn’t.

Why not just give us what we came here to watch, namely Foundation? Audiences are smart. They will get it. After all, the books have been beloved for generations and won the Hugo for the Best SFF Series of all time, beating among others Lord of the Rings. And with the great production values and updated for modern sensibilites, the basic story would still be as compelling as it always was.

Of course, it’s still possible that Salvor will think up Scientism and trick the Anacreons into accepting that Foundation technology is magic that can only be controlled by holy priests. It’s still possible that we will see Hari Seldon’s hologram smugly telling the assembled Foundationers, “Well done, but then I predicted that it would happen exactly like this.” But with only three episodes to go, it’s looking increasingly unlikely.

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8 Responses to Foundation discovers “Mysteries and Martyrs” and departs even further from the books

  1. Cassandra says:

    I can add little to this detailed except to say that I’ve been reading your reviews with great pleasure.

    My memories of the Foundation stories which I read as a teen far too many years ago are fuzzy but I certainly remember the contempt for religion as a useful delusion. I would like to see Brother Day cheat too.

    I also want someone to just brain/cut her air tube/push her in the bubbling vat whatever and get Phara off the screen. She’s violent and fanatical we get it but it seems like this plot line is endless.

    • Cora says:

      I totally agree. Phara is just an unpleasant person and I wouldn’t mind at all if Salvor were to shove her into the bubbling vat of liquid, but sadly it seems that she’s sticking around. I vastly prefer her book counterpart, a pompous self-appointed aristocrat named Anselm haut Roderik. He was just an idiot, but not a violent fanatic.

      Glad you’re enjoying my reviews BTW.

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  4. Joe Sarsero says:

    Wonderful, detailed reviews, Cora. Excellent work.

    You state: “It almost seems as if either the showrunners or Apple+ don’t trust the original stories or don’t trust the audience to get them.”

    Now, I’ve read all seven Foundation novels twice in recent years and have read almost all of Asimov’s fiction catalogue and autobiographies. I have naively assumed that the show writers would also have done the same.

    Have you listened to the official Foundation podcast featuring Goyer in every episode? They occasionally include other show writers. Most claim that that they had not written science-fiction before or even read classic sci-fi. I now have the dreadful feeling that many of them have not even read all the Foundation books.

    This show is Foundation in name only.

    • Cora says:

      One of the showrunners, either Goyer or Friedman, said in an interview somewhere that he had been given the Foundation books by his father, so he at least owns them. And Lee Pace, who plays the Brother Day version of Emperor Cleon, also said in a recent interview that he had read the books long before he was ever cast in the show, but then the actors will have input on the script beyond their specific lines.

      Also, someone on the writing staff must have read the books, if only because otherwise it’s unlikely that the show would have used fairly obscure characters like Lewis Pirenne or Lord Dorwin. A pity they jettisoned almost everything else.

      But whether the writers have read the books or not, the show they are making is so far removed from the books by now that it truly is Foundation in name only.

      Anyway, I’m glad that you’re enjoying the reviews.

  5. Michael Helm says:

    “Because technology changes a lot in seven hundred years….”
    That nothing changes is, unbelievable as it may seem to us, quite consistent with the way this civilization seems to function. And it is consistent with the Asimov view in the books too: a few big deals (like FTL travel) & then pretty much mid 20th century lifestyle. I could never understand whether it was by choice or accident – my guess is it is a story writing technique, to keep the story recognizable and relatable by his readers.

    Like, you can clone humans, but you don’t have a digital record or static readout of the original DNA code (& whatever else you really need)? That’s probably standard practice already in any DNA transcription lab. Right now.

    • Cora says:

      SF stories that basically featured the lifestyle of the 1950s, but in space, were extremely common during the golden and silver age to the point that Joanna Russ dubbed them Galactic Suburbia stories. There were some attempts to extrapolate the social impact of technological development, but things like the Civil Rights movement or Second Wave Feminism seem to completely have blindsided many SFF writers. Plus, they also had to deal with writing fiction palatable to conservative editors and audiences. As a result, vintage science fiction (or any kind of science fiction, really) is usually very bad at actually predicting anything. When I read more than 30 SFF stories and novels from 1944 two years ago, the only remotely accurate prediction was a robotic lawnmower who shows up as a throwaway gag in Clifford D. Simak’s “City”. Meanwhile, there were stories which did not manage to predict the outcome of WWII… in 1944.

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