Satire in Asimov's Foundation Trilogy.

A character list from the 1950s-era works
Foundation', 'Foundation and Empire', & 'Second Foundation'.
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This page gives the details on my notion that Isaac Asimov was indulging in extensive political and character satire in his famous Galactic SF epic. (This may be a new critical interpretation; if not, please email me and let me know.) A list of satirically intended characters from the Foundation books follows, with a brief description of the satiric aspect of that caracter portrayal, from a sardonic and appreciative viewpoint. These descriptions are mine, but I ask anyone who doubts the justice of them to just read the books, they will bear me out;   To obtain and refer to these fine books, by all means buy via my Amazon search links. (Once again, I ask anyone who disagrees to please email me with their thoughts or findings.)

The word, 'satire,' as I use it, denotes a cultivated and critical point of view.   Obviously all these characters are funny, some extremely so, hence the reference to Scott Adams' 'Dilbert' comic strip. But many of them are also playing a role, or acting within impersonation of some sort. And Asimov saw another sort of impersonation, that of repression, in those like Brodrig or Sutt, whose corny or aloof acts were a cover for inward evil that civilization would not allow free expression of. Acting out a corny role makes one a target for amusement, acting out a false one invites targeting for critical satire.

My citations of where in the books of the trilogy to look, may need clarifying a little:

   - So here's the full spectrum of Isaac Asimov's collection of dorks. - Enjoy!

Name/title/monikerDescription, w/satire in mindcited chapter(s)
The "Commission's Advocate" courtroom demagogue F. I 6
Lewis Pirenne
      Chairman of the Board of Trustees
prissy administrative academician F. II
Anselm haut Rodric
      Sub-prefect of Pleuma, & Envoy Extraordinary of His Highness of Anacreon...
dull-witted & truculent feudal nobility F. II 2
Lord Dorwin
      Chancellor of the Empire
overly elegant 'Decline-&-Fall-of-the-British Empire' aristocrat...
..."consummate donkey"/"accomplished diplomat"
F. II (3-)4(-5)
Sef Sermak
      member of Terminus City Council, head of 'Actionist' party
idealistic young fire-eater F. III 1,4(-5)
      Prince Regent of Anacreon
'sincere', but royally loony, operational head of an absolute monarchy F. III 2-3,6,8
Lepold I
      King of Anacreon
immature king of a backward nation;  very unpromising for a worthwhile reign F. III 3
'Grand Master' of Askone
      His Veneration
superstitious fanatic reactionary F. IV 2(-3-)4
      member of council of Askone
medieval 'social climber', overbearing... and overreached F. IV 4-5(-6)
Asper Argo
      Commdor of the Korellian Republic
best described in quoted phrases to indicate insincere high-mindedness:
'Man of the people', 'enlightened ruler', 'the Well-Beloved'.
F. V (4-)5,6,16
Jord Parma (alias)
      'Priest of the Spirit'
agent provocateur, in the persona of ranting potential religious martyr F. V 4,14
Commdora of Korell bride of state, convinced that her marriage (& much else) is below her F. V 6,16
"tech-man, senior grade"
      power-station manager
privileged ceremonial technocrat, hereditary (-!!) F. V 11,12
Jorane Sutt
      Secretary to the Mayor
Machiavellian. Superficially enlightened racist.
Too unpleasant a portrayal to be really satiric, but mentionable in this company.
F. V (1-2),13,18
Ammel Brodrig
      Privy Secretary of the Council
lickspittle courtier, fop, 'vaccuum-headed peacock' F.E. I 4,6,7,[& esp.]8
     'official in charge at the moment'
     'Home Commissioner of the Outer Provinces'
a pair of corrupt, corruptible, and pompously verbal bearaucrats F.E. I 9
Lathan Devers
      Independent Trader
in Part I, 5, acts like a rough-hewn cynical un-hero of the spaceways F.E. I 5[& 6-10]
      "bull Trader"
semi-sensible, theatrically inclined, jingoistic 'rebel'.
(Perhaps a new twist on jingoism, since one is used to its being loyalistic)
F.E. I, 1,16
The Mule (alias) seemingly a parody on the once-fashionable ideal of the "Nietzchean Superman":
wins at impossible odds (F.E. II 11), has reported immense physical strength and will-power, is reportedly "a storm that sweeps the worlds aside" (II 13), not a (common) human being (II, 14), etc.
- In reality deformed and both physically and psychologically weak.
F.E. II, 11-14,16-19,24-26
Hari Seldon
      Founder of the two Foundations, mastermind
at one point, has the satiric role of a respected authority figure giving a 'fireside chat' speech whose content is completely wrong, to the disappointment of those who trust in him.
(The 'fireside chat' aspect of the Time Vault appearances that Asimov used until he graduated to other dramatic devices (the one I refer to is the last), have an obvious resemblance to those of President Franklin Delano Rooseveldt, but are (unlike most political roles in the Foundation Trilogy) treated with complete reverence.
F.E. II 18
Indbur the Third
      'Mayor'/tyrant of Terminus
inappropriate hereditary ruler, absolute beauraucrat, pompous incompetent in power
(slightly resembling the 'Dilbert' cartoon's pointy-haired boss.)
F.E. II 12,15
Han Pritcher
'controlled' (i.e. brainwashed), mentally stunted servant to a dominative mutant (-we don't see many of those hereabout, do we?) F.E. II 12,14,15,20,24 & S.F. I 1,2,4,5
Pelleas Anthor 'ranting conspirator', immature, emotionally over-the-top, prone to the 'lie thats ashamed of itself', obviously enamored of spy stuff.
Double agent, analogous to 'Jord Parma'.
S.F. II 1,18 (notably)
      Lord of Kalgan, First Citizen
Fascist 'strongman'.   Complete with weaknesses. S.F. II 12-14,17,19

[Listing composed August 19, 1999, by Russell Hess. - Descriptions revised June 11 2002. ]

...In postscript, it's worth mention that there's less and less satire or character caricature in the trilogy as it proceeds, to the point that it almost vanishes as an element in 'Second Foundation' - or, is subsumed by Asimov's developingly pompous and elaborated mature presentation style.

And Asimov, whether by expressing it in his own terms, or as almost a suggester of it, in the 'search for the Second Foundation', presents something of the feel of McCarthyism, exactly coincident in time with its first manifestations:    the showoffish 'drama', the fanaticism, the irrational paranoias, etc.

It was the early 50s, and nothing was quite the way it had been when the first episodes of the trilogy were written. In sum, the whole of the third book of the Foundation Trilogy might be seen as ... not satire but exploitation, of the overseriousness that was prevalent in the 50s, of the America that was unquestionably the first nation in the world at the time... looking for new worlds to conquer, and (like Walter Kelly's Pogo) finding that the enemy was .... well, that's enough of that.

- Footnote on book sections cited -

         The three books of the Foundation Trilogy
as listed by capital Roman numerals, are:

  1. The Psychohistorians
  2. The Encyclopedists
  3. The Mayors
  4. The Traders
  5. The Merchant Princes

'Foundation and Empire':
  1. (?) The Emperor
  2. The Mule

'Second Foundation':
  1. (-blest if I remember)
  2. (-huh? what? oh well, I'll look it up)

  ( - At time of composition, I haven't gotten these last details, the section titles, quite straight. I'll be looking them up, and correcting this. In the meantime... this isn't an Encyclopedia.    - Sorry! )

- Page created January 2, 2002 (=Isaac Asimov's birthday), and revised June 11-13 2002, by Russell Hess, Webmaster ( of 'UpSky2' & 'UpSky'.

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