Great Hugo Reread 1946: Isaac Asimov’s The Mule

I will be posting the Great Hugo Reread every Saturday from here out.

First time/Reread: Definitely a reread.
Acquired: Already owned this one, though I lost my other Foundation books.

Other Nominees:
A.E. van Vogt- The World of Null-A (Awesome)
C.S. Lewis- That Hideous Strength (Never read it, heard good things)
Fritz Lieber- Destiny Times Three (Great author, never even heard of the book before)
Edward Hamilton aka Brett Stirling- Red Sun of Danger (Huh?)

Background:
This was actually a Retro Hugo, not a proper Hugo. Retro Hugos are (retroactively) awarded for years in which there was a Worldcon, but no Hugos awarded. It must be awarded exactly 50, 75, or 100 years later. Retro Hugos are going to be a little bit weird compared to regular Hugos, since it will probably end up being the best remembered books nominated, whereas regular Hugo Awards will be the ones that stand out the most at the time.
Anyhap, a lot of you might not have heard of the Mule, and assume that it’s just another random one of Asimov’s 500+ books. Nope, you have heard of this one. It’s Foundation and Empire, or at least the second part of it. It details the struggle between the Mule and the Foundation. The reason just part of the book was nominated was because it was serialized, like so many other scifi novels during that time period. (Long story, there are others who can tell the history of science fiction WAY better than I can).
For those of you who haven’t encountered the Foundation Trilogy/ Series before: READ IT. The trilogy is widely considered to be one of the greatest works of science fiction ever produced. In fact, during the 1966 Hugos, it defeated Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom series, Heinlein’s Future History, Edward E. Smith’s Lensman series (I really need to read that), and a rather obscure series called The Lord of the Rings, by some stuffy British dude. That being said, The Foundation Trilogy is very, very dialogue heavy. There are actually 7 core books in the series, and Asimov’s Robot books were eventually revealed to be much earlier on in the same timeline, but the Trilogy is what most people refer to when they talk about Foundation.

Synopsis:
Hari Seldon, using the totally not magical science of psychohistory, has predicted the fall of the Galactic Empire. To ensure the swift rise of humanity from barbarism, he has established the Foundation, a colony of scientists, and prepared conditions to force the inevitable rise of a new Galactic Empire less than a thousand years hence. Foundation and Empire takes place over three centuries later. The first part of this book details the Foundation’s battle against the remnants of the Galactic Empire. The second part, “The Mule”, details the conquest of the Foundation by the eponymous character, who happens to be a genetic mutant with psychic powers completely unpredicted by Seldon.

Verdict:
It’s been a while since I read any Asimov, so when I first jumped back in, I was not impressed. It just felt like more stilted old school science fiction with terrible characters. Then, when I got into the flow of it, I remembered WHY I loved Asimov so much: Because he’s fucking good. Bayta turns out to be a complete badass by the end of the book, which is way too rare for female characters from that time period. (Hell, for any time period up until very recently.) The book passes the Bechdel test, if by a slim(ish) margin. And the Mule? One of the most memorable, intimidating villains in science fiction. Seriously. The “victory” the main characters have over him is only a minor setback for him. He doesn’t even bother with retribution. They’re simply not worth it. He also is probably the most well developed character in the whole series. He’ll show back up in Second Foundation, too. Final verdict? This totally deserved the Hugo.

Trivia:
-Coruscant, from Star Wars? Totally ripped off the planet Trantor, from the Foundation series.
-The Holophoner from Futurama is based off the Visi-Sonar from The Mule. (The Holophoner makes holograms, while the Visi-Sonar makes psychic images).
<Intro to the Hugo Reread
1951: Robert Heinlein- Farmer in the Sky>

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