Science Fiction Studies

#71 = Volume 24, Part 1 = March 1997

Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, David Brin

Building on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation: An Eaton Discussion with Joseph D. Miller as Moderator

Edited by Gary Westfahl

In 1995, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, and David Brin signed with HarperCollins and the Isaac Asimov estate to write new novels in the Foundation series. Benford’s novel, Foundation’s Fear, will appear in March 1997; Bear’s novel, tentatively entitled Foundation and Chaos, will appear in late 1997 or early 1998; and Brin’s novel, as yet untitled, will follow about a year after that. On April 12, 1996, Bear, Benford, and Brin joined in a panel discussion about their Foundation work at the 18th Annual Eaton Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, which took place at the University Club of the University of California at Riverside; serving as moderator was Joseph D. Miller, Associate Professor of Pharmacology at Texas Tech University, frequent contributor to Eaton conferences and volumes, and a friend of the authors. This edited transcript of the discussion was transcribed by Karen Bellinfante and edited by Gary Westfahl with the participation of all four speakers. I thank everyone else responsible for the conference, especially chief coordinator George Slusser, my fellow coordinator Eric S. Rabkin, and assistant coordinator Gladys Murphy.—GW

Miller: I sent an e-mail message to Greg Bear about this panel, and he said, "You might ask how we could have the gall to dare step into the Good Doctor’s shoes." So I’ll turn that back to him and say, "Yes, how can you do that?"

Brin: Money? [Laughs]

Bear: Sufficient quantities of money .... It’s actually difficult, when allowed to do so, not to tinker with a classic. You know, there’s a certain feeling that there’s something you can add to it ... and, of course, that’s a dangerous feeling because, basically, you’re messing with success and that’s like tinkering with genetic material—you just don’t know what’s going to come out of it.

But on the other hand, we all have our own axes to grind, and every masterpiece, certainly in the science-fiction field, can be approached from another point of view.

Miller: I guess we can at least assume that this is a plausible project to engage in. I asked the same question of David Brin by e-mail, and he said that he has always been puzzled as to why Asimov insisted on combining (or conflating) the two very different aspects of his universe: the Empire and the Robots. Issue number one: why did he do it? Did he have a grand picture, a reason? And second, what ultimate implications does this combination have? In a literary sense, does an author owe something to readers in making a macro-work that ties together and possesses a unified, moral heart as well as making logical sense? So let me ask David to expand on that one.

Brin: Well, there’s this temptation that you see again and again in science fiction to tie everything together in a universe, to make use of your old characters. I have done it to a minor degree ....

Benford: A minor degree? Four books?

Brin: No ... the continuing series is one self-indulgence; a more severe case is trying to tie every book of yours together and have every character know everyone else. Larry Niven, for instance, in one of the finest of all science fiction universes, made one blunder—trying to unite the Protectors into his Known Space universe. It makes no logical sense and, in order to make them fit, he had to bend himself over into pretzel shapes.

Asimov found himself in a similar conundrum. If you look through the Foundation trilogy, it’s striking to see the series of temptations he gave way to, followed by realizing the problems he’d created, then brilliant solutions ... solutions which themselves he then had to fix in a later book.

Temptation number one, in Foundation and the first half of Foundation and Empire, was to depict vast populations of human beings as stochastic systems without any effective free will. Hari Seldon waved away free will by saying it would cancel out, averaged over a quadrillion people. Picture the contempt of a socially isolated nerd for all the socially adept people around him who would not accept him; having been there (as a maladroit nerd), I can recognize the attraction of that model of human affairs. It relates to the roots of American science fiction in general: as Greg Benford pointed out, the "fans are slans" syndrome, the übermensch mentality in comic books, the hero as Achilles, beyond accountability to the great, unwashed masses. Asimov was far from the most extreme singer of this song. The most prominent exponent, since L. Ron Hubbard, is Orson Scott Card, whose every novel features an übermensch character who is reluctant, spends a hundred pages agonizing over the exigencies of power, contemplates withdrawing, but then imposes his will on the foolish masses, saying, "this is for your own good."

Bear: And then apologizes.

Brin: Right. In any event, the problem Isaac faced is that perturbations would inevitably screw up any probabilistic system. And, to give him credit, he faced the problem and went at it full tilt. Ergo, the Mule. And the solution that he came up with was the Second Foundation.

Now this Second Foundation is Phase Two: guidance by an elite. There will be perturbations; some of the masses will disagree with this whole process and try to break out; therefore, you have a knowledgeable, dedicated group to steer the plan back on track. What is more attractive to a solitary übermensch/slan/nerd than to find other übermensch/slan/nerds and have a cabal?

But then, to Isaac’s credit, he soon saw that his second solution evoked a new problem: you get a brave-new-world aristocracy, a permanent, superior class. Hardly appealing to a true-blue American like Dr. Asimov. What is the solution he came up with for this new dilemma? Robots. So it wasn’t just a self-indulgence to bring them into the picture, after all! The advantage: they allow you to introduce a guiding force for the Galaxy that is administered by trustworthy eunuchs, avoiding the trap of a self-replicating human aristocracy. This also helps you explain fifteen thousand years of static Empire. It is not a Roman empire, by the way; it is Chinese! From the robot Giskard’s point of view, the most stable period of human history was the Chinese empire— conservative values, honest eunuchs, a meritocratic civil service, and a tailored class system that takes into account human nature.

But then this solution presented Isaac with new problems. Why do his books mention no robots in fifteen thousand years, when they were so easy to make on primitive Earth? What happened to other life-forms? What prevents progress? Why are common citizens so content and apparently so stupid? Again Asimov noticed these dilemmas. In some cases, he hinted at answers; others he took on directly, especially the image of the reversal of roles of master and servant. Under the system created by the super eunuch-robots, Giskard and Olivaw, humans are predictable, and programmed; the ones with memory and free will are robots! Isaac had to come up with a scenario for homo sapiens to reclaim its own destiny.

His solution? Deification of humanity. So, we have Phase Four: Gaia/ Galaxia—Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of humanity subsuming itself to a Godhead. It makes humans the masters, and it is a Big Idea. Big and transcendental.

The problem with this apotheosis? It seems to permanently end the adventure of human individuality. Had Asimov lived to continue the series, I’m sure (there are hints all over) he would have added another layer, just as he did before. One thing about Isaac is that he always came around to noticing the previous decade’s philosophical quandary and would try to deal with it on the next level.

Miller: Is there a common theme, though? That average humans have very limited awareness? That masses are stupid, and that they have limited ambition, capability, and are fearful?

Brin: But Isaac wrote exceptions! Take the very beginning of the series. He depicts the First Foundation as being rather American; Terminus is a dynamic world in which individual initiative counts. Another exception is The Stars Like Dust, which he ends with an exultation of the U.S. Constitution and the concept of masses of free individuals guiding their own lives.

To finish up, in writing new Foundation novels, we are required, first, to be faithful to actual events that took place in the Foundation universe. This does not mean we must adhere to all things said by some particular character; things that are hearsay, or testimony by biased individuals. Second, there are interesting things we never have seen. Asimov took us on tours of lovely bizarre places: the devolved Solarian worlds, and weird sectors of Trantor. But we never saw a normal imperial world. We never saw the society that the robots designed for us that ran for fifteen thousand years of stability, or the social class structure at work under normal circumstances, in order to see why it’s failing after fifteen millennia.

Greg Benford and I discussed the problem of social classes implied by the Empire’s static social order. The citizenry and the gentry breed like rabbits, and compete with each other in old-fashioned human ways; the robots would know they could never suppress these desires to fight your way upward in a pyramidal pecking-order, and for the gentry to play the old game, competing for breeding and status. So what you do is design a culture so aristocrats preen and think they’re in charge, but they don’t really matter, because civilization is run by the third social order, a civil service copied straight from the Chinese: disciplined, honest, unimaginative. (In pre-modern European history, the term "innovation" was an aspersion, and it would be in imperial society.) Outside the civil service you will have superior individuals in a fourth order, the meritocracy. They can preen, wear academic gowns. Only they don’t compete with their genes, but for social status and to prove "my idea’s bigger than your idea." (Meritocrats are encouraged not to procreate.) The fifth social order is the eccentrics, artists, individualists, and you encourage them to reveal themselves by giving social rewards, then find ways of sequestering them and making sure they don’t breed.

A society with many of these features is pretty much required by Asimov’s Galactic Empire. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine how you could have had fifteen thousand years of incredible stability, elimination of renaissances, and absolute suppression of the invention of robots.

Benford: All that’s in the first hundred pages of my book—because when David gave me this speech, I said, "Fine, send it to me on e-mail," and so I just downloaded it right into the manuscript, cleaned up the prose, and, it’s an extra thousand words—hey—we work for money. [Laughs.] Actually, despite the aspersions cast by Greg Bear, I didn’t really mostly do this for money; one always writes for money. (Wasn’t it Dr. Johnson who made that remark?)

Miller: He said it first.

Benford: Yes, he said it first. I kind of wanted to imply that. In answer to the question about whether this is a tetralogy or something, I agree with David, largely, in his comments about how it evolved. I was tempted to do this book because I had so many things I wanted to straighten out about the Foundation. I wondered about the enigmatic figure of Hari Seldon, so my novel is mostly an attempt to characterize a guy who is, after all, an obsessive, neurotic, bi-polar mathematician, like so many of us, and who, nonetheless, is, at the end of the novella in the last book, Forward the Foundation, thrust from being a head of a department of mathematics at Streeling University to becoming the first minister of an empire with twenty-five million worlds in it. This seemed to me to require a little explanation, and the novel is, in fact, about that transition. It spans about six months or so. But in it, I faced what Greg Bear outlined (or maybe Brin did it) as that crucial kind of paradox: why unite the Robots and the Foundation series? First, I object to the aspersion that there is something self-indulgent about wanting to unify your world-view because, after all, theoretical physics is about the pursuit of a unified field theory. A theory which has larger compass is a better theory, period.

Brin: Well, then, let’s discuss the biology of quasars.

Benford: Sure, I can discuss that: first you get quasars, later you get biology.

Bear: Wrong order, again. It’s first the biology, then the physics!

Benford: I don’t think it’s mysterious why Asimov wanted to unite them either, because the central problem in both those series is control. The Three Laws of Robotics are about the question, "are these laws sufficient and necessary to control robots?" The Foundation series is about the control of human history. Asimov was fixated on the problem of control: what better than to unite his series and, in fact, to turn over the controls literally to the robots who ran the Empire for fifteen thousand years, as part of a conspiracy theory? Why do conspiracies come to the foreground? Because the style of Marxist analysis, which was the prevailing mode among most intellectuals at the time, is of a giant conspiracy theory of history. You’re supposed to get results that come out of the synthesis of thesis and antithesis—but in fact the conspiratorial mode is the mode of Marxism, as every Communist society on the planet has proved. That world-view inhabited Asimov’s mind; and therefore, his solution to the problem of the soon-to-be-wrecked Empire was a conspiracy theory. And the problem with conspiracies, as we now know from the first half of the twentieth century, is that you can fix it with one conspiracy, but then you’re probably going to need another one, and so you’ve got the Second Foundation; therefore, it doesn’t in fact strain credulity to predict that the title of David’s novel will probably be Third Foundation.

The point is, why bother with what is, after all, a more than half century- old-series? I think we ought to realize that part of the essence of genres is that they are continuing conversations; I’ve said this before, but I’m going to underline it. Science fiction, more than any genre, is aware of its status as a continuing conversation; it’s showed that by its evolution of fandom (we invented fandom). Look at the letter columns in the SF magazines: then look back in the history of western magazines, mystery magazines—you don’t see those big letter columns! Science fiction has been a conversation, not only with the fans, who participate in this genre more than in any other area of literature, but also among the professionals. Time and again you see people writing books which are direct commentaries on previous books, so that James Blish wrote a rather undistinguished answer to Stranger in a Strange Land; and Joe Haldeman did too. That is not merely about the anxiety of influence (as the lit-crits say), but it is an ongoing dialogue about some very large issues. Going back and reinspecting the Foundation series is, I think, in that tradition: looking at all that lies behind what is, after all, the most popular series in science fiction. What we have done, the three of us, is construct an overarching set of ideas and a plot thrust and, also, by the way, a series of revelations in which I write the first novel, Foundation’s Fear; Greg Bear’s title, so far, is Foundation and Chaos; and then there’s David Brin’s novel which may be ...

Brin: Third Foundation? I don’t know ...

Benford: Third Foundation. Go with the money; follow the money.

Brin: Foundation Cubed?

Benford: The point, particularly for people like us, the next generation, or maybe even two generations downstream (although Asimov, when he died, was younger than my father, who is still alive), is to reflect back upon the genre and, in a sense, to understand it. Science fiction keeps digesting itself; it’s the reason that perhaps the best novel of last year (as one of the panel of judges on the Campbell award committee, I can speak somewhat authoritatively, having read a large number of these novels) is The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter, which is a legitimate, authorized sequel to The Time Machine by H. G. Wells—and by the way, it’s extremely good; you ought to read it. The function, therefore, of the genre itself is revealed in the publishing modes; publishing is not merely determined by the vicissitudes of guys in the three-piece suits at the top of the corporations. The history of science fiction has emerged as a dialogue between the writers and the fans also, and this is just one more manifestation. It is reinspecting the assumptions behind the Galactic Empire.

You might say, if you wanted to do the kind of analysis common in the academic world, that it is an inspection of the American Empire in this century and the assumptions of control. One question raised by psychohistory is strictly personal—what sort of guy makes such a theory? Who is Hari Seldon anyway? But I also wanted to show what psychohistory looks like as a theory: how, run backward, can it give you history? We have chaos theory now; Asimov didn’t. His model for the Foundation, and the whole theory of history, was that populations were like gas dynamics; they were like absolutely ignorant molecules slamming into each other and establishing PV = NRT (the pressure laws, and so forth), and that’s of course not a very good model for society.

So, in fact, I’ve sidestepped that, and my model is one of chaotic interactions and so forth, and later on it emerges that in fact the Empire is a self-learning system, in which the system as a whole learns things that no individual knows, and perhaps not even a whole society knows—that is, there is a kind of knowledge in a large system which is not held by any member of that system. That’s a much more modern version of how you get control; but the issue is still control.

That kind of thing, I think, is exactly what science fiction ought to do: revisit its assumptions and make them fresh, because this is a genre that, oddly enough (although it has always been to some extent about the future and the impact on society and all that kind of definitional stuff), has been a conversation, a continuing conversation; and that’s the one thing, you will notice in the critical community, that is actually attacked more often, largely because the critical community doesn’t understand this aspect. That is, I am certain that when we publish these novels, this will be decried by some, particularly by John Clute, as "sharecropping" on Asimov’s turf. Yet in fact, the inspection of your earlier origins and the revisitation of them is crucial in all literature. Let us not forget, in conclusion, that what many regard as the greatest American novel of the nineteenth century is not merely a sequel, but is a sequel to a boys’ book, Tom Sawyer. Over to you.

Miller: Well, I’m really sympathetic with many of the things that the three of you have said. I have a suspicion that Asimov was having a conversation with himself, too, among other things, and that conversation was about something that affected him deeply as a scientist—that comes down to dealing with the limits of determinism. And I think that the Empire in Seldon’s time could be thought of as more or less an unconscious organism, in large respect. The First Foundation, on the other hand, and psychohistory, is a deterministic theory, at least in the sense of statistical thermodynamics. But Asimov wasn’t satisfied with that because even before there was a chaos theory, certainly there was Gödel’s proof that no system can really be completely self-consistent; there will always be some statements that you can’t prove within the context of that system; hence, we get the Mule, which is Asimov’s wild card, I suspect. And you can think of it maybe as a resonance of the new developments in physics, quantum mechanics and whatnot, which must have impinged deeply on Asimov as a chemist. So he couldn’t really accept a Newtonian theory as the be-all and end-all, which would have been the First Foundation. He had to have something more; first the Mule, and then the Second Foundation. But of course he didn’t stop there; and in the end we have the alternative of universal consciousness, Gaia, etc., and to me perhaps the most interesting thing was that Asimov’s final resolution—although it was set up by the robots, set up by Daneel Olivaw working in the background for fifteen thousand years, the final choice between First Foundation, Second Foundation, and Gaia, the universal consciousness—had to be made by a human being, by Trevize, who had, as Asimov describes it, the ability to make the right choice and the right decisions. This sounds a lot like what quantum mechanics talks about, or more properly, certain varieties of quantum interpretation such as the Copenhagen interpretation, of the observer collapsing the wave function.

Brin: I want to comment on this business of Trevize and Hari Seldon. Take a look at it from the robots’ point of view. Remember Giskard—the first telepathic robot, who set all this in motion, who gave Daneel the mantle? Now the Giskardian robots are heretics, in that they came up with a new testament, a Zeroth Law that basically enables them to do anything they rationalize as being in humanity’s long-term best interest. This is the fundamental thing about the Third Phase: again, Asimov recognizing, a decade or two later, the flaw in his own theory. The point is that he kept holding this conversation with himself and others who would buttonhole him at parties, and he listened. The Three Laws of Robotics are lousy for controlling robots once they become smart enough to be lawyers—who will interpret them any way they want. And he shows the Zeroth Law exactly that way! They create a situation reminiscent of Jack Williamson’s The Humanoids, but far more sophisticated and well hidden. We’re allowed to cut our own meat, and think we’re in charge. Now this heresy just cries out for a counter-reformation, so I’m going to bring some Solarian robots in, who are terrified of Olivaw; they’re much less powerful. They call themselves Calvinian, or Calvinist, robots. They worship Asimov’s ancient roboticist, Susan Calvin, and they believe human beings should have authority over their lives. Calvinian robots hold that there is no Zeroth Law, and humans ought to be obeyed and know the truth about their past. These robots have been on the run for fifteen thousand years—in a sense they are the Jews of the Galaxy, holding on to the old religion—but they show up at the end of Hari Seldon’s life.

The point is, the Giskardian robots have rationalized this Zeroth Law, but the other laws are still in effect, like an itch to be scratched. Changes in the human condition can be justified under the Zeroth Law, but it’s better if you can get a human to order you to do all these things. So you raise them, using the right nurturing environment, and say, "Okay, Hari Seldon, we’re going to mold your psychology so you are obsessed with predictability. Then we’ll ask you to design a world where human society is reduced to equations." Similarly, when Trevize comes along, there’s no psychic power of always choosing right; Isaac knew there could be no such talent, and he said so! But the Giskardians raise Trevize to believe he’s always right, so he will ultimately order them to do what they’ve already decided to do. It all makes sense.

Miller: I think that’s certainly a plausible way of looking at it, that the whole thing was designed from the beginning by the robots, particularly by Olivaw; and in fact, that does assume that the robots themselves, or at least Olivaw, must have had some notion of psychohistory himself, in order to ...

Brin: Well, how did they design the gentle, benign First Empire to last so successfully for fifteen thousand years, if they didn’t already have some psychohistory?

Miller: It was just not a psychohistory that they were ultimately happy with ....

Brin: Well, we started outgrowing it ... I have a line I’m planning for my new book, spoken by Olivaw to Seldon in the last month of his life: "It’s clear that you humans, despite all our efforts, are determined to achieve deification; all right, we’ll design one for you."

We’re busting out! They’ve had us, for fifteen thousand years, in a nice crib with a nice bottle, but now it’s time to grow up. What Hari Seldon sees as catastrophe—rebellion and social ferment on countless Empire worlds—Greg Benford depicts as planet after planet having renaissances, because the benign Imperial order is a perfect Petri dish for humans who are ready to try for Vernor Vinge’s "singularity." It will make us totally unpredictable. Some worlds go nuts, but one of them, sooner or later, is going to achieve Godhead, leaving the robots behind. Gaia is a robot’s idea of deification for humankind. A simple, predictable god-hood, with robots still guiding us from the wings. Isaac set the stage brilliantly!

Miller: I think Asimov was trying to say that somehow the robots had a direct line to the future of humanity, that it had to be either the Second Foundation, the First Foundation, or Gaia.

Brin: That’s what they tell Trevize. They would put it that way, wouldn’t they?

Miller: But you also have a problem if you ask the simple question, "What happened to every other intelligent species in the Galaxy?"

Brin: Don’t give it away!

Miller: Well—all I’m going to say is there are only a few possible suspects you can round up, and actually Asimov talks about one of them in a short story that’s largely ignored, about Imperial troopers who happened to encounter a planet on which there happened to be a moderately intelligent lifeform, and they stomped it out of existence.

Bear: No, they let it escape.

Brin: It’s called "Blind Alley," and I’m eager to re-incorporate this brilliant Asimov legend back into the mainstream of his universe. It’s about an Imperial bureaucrat, a member of the Gray Corps in the early days, who uses the tools of the bureaucracy to enable one surviving non-human race to escape to the Magellanic Cloud.

Miller: That’s right.

Brin: An example of an innovative human busting the system apart. I plan to use this guy, unless Greg Bear uses him first.

David N. Samuelson: That makes me think of something. You were just saying that you were each bound to stay within the so-called facts of the Foundation series as it exists, but you’re not required to be consistent with each other.

Benford: But we’re going to be.

Brin: We are not required to be consistent with opinions of individual characters in each other’s books; but we must respect events that took place unambiguously: the destruction of Junin Sector in Benford’s book; the fact that some ancient Sims got loose in the computer systems on Trantor; and the fact that the Tik-Toks almost caused Trantor to starve. The fact that Trantor was self-sufficient in food at one point, but a century later relied on an umbilicus to twenty agricultural worlds.

Samuelson: I’m suggesting that each of you may be developing new facts that the others may be unaware of, unless you’re in constant communication ....

Brin: I’m third. I’ll do my best to write my book consistent with all true historical events that Asimov and these guys [Bear and Benford] create.

Bear: Well, after I bring the Dune universe into Foundation, you’re going to have a problem!

Brin: I can always have them wake up—"it was all a dream."

Bear: I’m also bringing in Riverworld towards the end of my novel, too, so ...

Miller: There’s a question back there.

Bear: Wait a minute, I haven’t finished making my statement yet. Dave, you asked a good question about consistency; in fact, to my chagrin in the last couple of weeks, starting to read Gregory [Benford]’s book, and reading David’s outline and everything, I suddenly realized, you know, that two huge elephants have been trampling all over the grassy field of Foundation, leaving these heavy-duty pathways which they are enthusiastically pointing out to me as the true path. And there are a few green blades of grass they haven’t plucked up, peed upon, or stomped into the mud, and I’m sitting there looking at them, going, "Wait a minute; the room for consistency and creativity here is getting less and less and less," because, of course, the original creator was quite thorough about his perspectives, too. So all of their theories are now besmirching the entire Foundation landscape—which gives me a couple of possibilities. I can run off to the very end of time and pull off some sort of apocalyptic, cosmological novel that ties it all together and ace them out—no, I tend not to do that. I could blow up Trantor, which I have been known to do; I could turn it into lime Jello, which I have been known to do. But no, I’m not going to do any of these—I’m not going to get into any of my particular things. What I’m going to do is I’m going to miniaturize myself to a very small period of time, I suspect, and I’m not sure—but I’m promising nothing, because these guys continue to stomp around and David has one and a half more books to write, and he’s spending more time on this than on those books. So the elephants are still active out there in the field; I think Greg [Benford] has withdrawn for a little bit until the revisions come in ...

Brin: I’ve stopped ...

Bear: Yeah, well, okay—I’ll believe that when I hear it.

Benford: You’re gonna take, what—four minutes?

Bear: I’m going to take four minutes of Hari Seldon’s life and do a deep, Joycean analysis of it. [Laughter] That’s about all I have, after you guys are done, I’ll tell you. I think I can squeeze a few metaphysical theories into four minutes! No, I’ll probably end up taking about a week and going into some deep political background into the period of time in which Hari Seldon announces psychohistory. And I think that all the political stuff behind that would be very, very interesting to deal with. I will not have to deal with most of their [Benford’s and Brin’s] stuff too much because I’ll be talking about such things as character—individual character, you know?—and how people react to all these historical forces slamming them in the head and everything.

These guys’ books are going to be so full of ideas that their characters will come on stage, live, die, and turn to dust in seconds (except for Greg [Benford], who is dealing with six months). Well, David’s book is actually five books, the way I understand the outline, because he does not write like Asimov; he does not have a character walk into a room and discuss the situation in a civilized fashion with another character while covering vast empires of factual data and history—which is a very attractive method and, in fact, I think is one of the reasons why the Foundation books have been so popular over the years. The factor in its popularity we must not ignore is that Asimov was basically allowing you to sit down and have dinner with Asimov, as you read every single story in the Foundation series, and he was bringing forth various aspects of his personality, and kind of putting them in familiar phrases, many drawn from 1940s novels and movies, spoken by familiar characters, and then giving you what he considered, at the early stages at least, a Gibbonesque view of history as applied to science fiction. This is a very cozy universe in which you have twenty-six million star systems which you do not have to describe; they’re out there, you know, but you don’t have to talk about the input-output problem of dealing with them from one world. Well, in fact, I’m intrigued by that problem; these guys can handle all the things that Isaac was trying to do to patch together his different universes and do very clever jobs of it; I’m simply going to talk about what it is like to live in a galaxy that has twenty-six million worlds in communication with each other! That’s pretty wild; that’s going to have some interesting changes!

Brin: One thing that I would love to see at some point is a depiction of normal life, normal politics, the normal operating of the class system.

Benford: You should have been a mainstream novelist!

Bear: I see you’re getting big again. You’re getting big again.

Brin: Well, never mind the fifteen thousand years; just show it’s a stable, relatively comfortable world!

Bear: Yeah, and why, in fact, it may not be entirely stable and comfortable except from the point of view of the characters in the Asimov situation. I’ve been thinking of this as basically writing a John Grisham novel set on Trantor; it takes place within a week; and it’s around the time of Hari Seldon. Now, I think Asimov would have approved of this because, if I can manage it, it’s going to be a pretty exciting book, without dealing with the huge issues except as they impinge immediately upon the human characters in the book. And, David, I haven’t seen you go for five minutes without mentioning that "fifteen thousand years." So you’re thinking really big scale, and, you know, I’ve also learned something in my career which is, when these guys and people like Larry Niven and Vernor Vinge and so on come up with these ideas, you have to jump away and do something completely different because they’ve covered that territory. I mean, you can’t do a Ringworld again; you can’t do a Vinge-type approach to things; and you certainly can’t do—when Gregory [Benford] handles cosmological physics, I have to do something like Eon which is so surreally strange that it invents new physics to get away with it. So I basically scotch the issue—these guys handle the real world ...

Brin: Yeah, but Eon was one of the most inventive novels of our time.

Bear: Well, at any rate, that’s the way I survive in this particular milieu— as all these guys are doing the rational stuff; I’m going to sit down and maybe do the Joycean, John Grisham type thing.

Benford: The Joycean, John Grisham thing?

Bear: Yeah—a suspense novel written by James Joyce; now that would be interesting, wouldn’t it?

Benford: And the primary riddle to be solved is: when will this sentence end? You know, my novel is 160,000 words long, or so ...

Bear: All different!

Benford: No two alike!

Brin: But most of them used several times.

Benford: But I’m kinda hoping the rest of the novels will be shorter.

Bear: But the letter "e" is missing.

Benford: Yeah, no letter "e." But the copyeditor may change that.

Miller: Well, I think we’ve all had a say, here, so far, so why don’t we open this up to the field; but before we do, just let me say that I can’t imagine three authors who are more capable of handling the legacy of Asimov’s Foundation. So, that’s my nice thing to say.

Brin: I’d like to ask Greg a question, first. [Laughter.] Either you, Rosencrantz, or you, Guildenstern. Were you thinking of having this take place a few months before the trials, which is the first opening of Foundation?

Bear: I haven’t the foggiest idea, because I’m in the middle of a novel right now, and you guys are stomping up the turf! I’m just waiting for a few blades of grass to start growing again after you’re done; then I’ll start thinking about the details.

Brin: Well, the thing is, by choosing to do a Seldon book, it has the advantage of turning us into a trilogy, because we’re doing it in that order— Benford’s doing Seldon as a young man, Bear’s doing him in late-middle-age just before the trial and the ejection, and I do the last month of his life. The advantage is it looks like a trilogy; the disadvantage is that Bear’s squashed there in the middle because I’ve already got my story worked out, Greg Benford’s got his worked out. I mean, have you considered doing something totally unrelated to Seldon?

Bear: I wasn’t really kidding; it would be fun to bring in the Dune universe; it fits perfectly within the Foundation universe—it’s in a periphery out there, where they have lost touch, okay? But the structure of Dune, the Emperor, the social structure and everything, is very Asimovian, it’s very 1949 Campbell.

Brin: Like [the Belgian king] Leopold’s private place ...

Bear: And I’m sure Niven can be in there someplace ... a little more contemporary ...

Benford: But let’s remember, it would be good if it had an overall structure, and people would snap up all the books, and having read one would have to read the other two; this is what we want.

Bear: Actually, I’m only worried about that for the first two.

Brin: Backlist, backlist; classic, classic!

Bear: Imagine this man to be Robby the Robot, okay; and I’ve just given him a novel that he has to now integrate into his concept and Benford’s concept and BANG! He can’t do it perfectly and so we get all these red sparks and ...

Brin: I detect alcohol with traces of fusel oil ...

Bear: That’s right; and in fact this is a great way to eliminate competition ....

Miller: I just wanted to say one thing, with respect to what Greg Bear said, which is this notion of stability in both Dune and the Empire of the Foundation. You know, we do have one example of a feudal empire that lasted fifteen hundred years, with relatively little change; so if you did have a mechanism for suppressing renaissances, conceivably a feudal society wouldn’t necessarily be that unstable—I don’t know if it could last fifteen thousand years, but ...

Bear: Can you imagine the Bene Gesserit encountering the Robots? What a match-up.

Miller: Well, I think it would probably loosen Daneel Olivaw up if he had a little spice ... But we’ve been trying to take a question from the audience ...

Unidentified Questioner: But you’re having too much fun, you’re too pleased with ...

Benford: Ourselves?

Questioner: ... The project, and each other, but let me ask you some challenging questions ....

Bear: I should kill myself.

Questioner: When I first heard you were doing this, I was very shocked, a little bit appalled ....

Benford: So were we!

Questioner: Thoughts were going through my head ...

Brin: I at first refused.

Benford: I refused it, too.

Bear: I was never given the chance to refuse it.

Questioner: I’ve got two specific reasons for thinking you shouldn’t be doing this. One, write your own books! You’re all terrific writers, and actually each of you has written books that I like more than the Foundation series books, so as a fan of all three of you, I’d actually rather see you keep doing the kinds of things you do on your own than to try to become Isaac Asimov or be bound by conventions of that series. Specifically, I want to talk about one that has always offended me. I’m a sociologist, and I find it’s a lot easier to find science fiction that’s sophisticated in natural science than social science. The social science is usually terribly naive. I’ve always felt that the Foundation trilogy, particularly the early books, are a great example of that. I respect a lot of things that Asimov has written, but when I pick up Foundation, and I find Hari Seldon saying, "Fifty years have elapsed, so you had your first revolution three hours ago..." You know, we’ll never have that kind of social science; we’ll never have that predictive value. That’s equivalent to a natural scientist leaving a time capsule saying, "It’s April 15th in the year 2050, so you’ve just had a record snowfall in New York." Natural science doesn’t have that predictive value; social science doesn’t have and never will have that predictive value.

Bear: Yeah, you’re exactly right.

Questioner: But now you have to write down that Hari Seldon can do all these things ...

Brin: But even Asimov talked about that ...

Bear: Yeah, we talked about that. You have to understand the milieu that Asimov came out of—that science was graduating from Leibnitzian thoughts of predictability where, literally, if you knew the position of every particle in the universe, you could predict the next stage. They did not know that this was not, in fact, true. Now, I suspect that Asimov from the very beginning suspected that this was not possible.

Brin: He was writing for Campbell.

Bear: He was writing for Campbell. Now, here’s something that we haven’t talked about too much: the constraints that Campbell put upon his Astounding writers were pretty severe. For one thing, he didn’t want aliens that were smarter than we were. He liked Scottish engineers; of course, Asimov got around that by putting it so far into the future that it didn’t matter—you couldn’t tell the accent because it had blended, like many many malts all together. So you put these things into effect, and what we are doing is we are paying homage to a great moment in science fiction, while at the same time, in our various ways, we are saying, "Look, even Isaac recognized that it creaked." What worked we wish to retain: the sense of wonder, the depth, the passion he put into it, we will retain. We will then impose our own personalities on the story and upon his universe; the really strange thing about this is, I think, in most of these cases you’ll find these novels are not only highly readable, but they will not be offensive to Asimov readers because Asimov readers don’t believe Asimov was ever cut in stone. He himself amended things; but also you will find, if mine works out, and I suspect that with these two [Benford and Brin], with their level of quality, you’ll find they’re very good novels of our own.

We do this all the time, as Gregory points out, with science fiction; we take and miscegenate between our universes all the time. So when Arthur C. Clarke reads Eon, he’s bored for the first seventy-five pages because he did this already in Rendezvous with Rama—but I’ve got a kicker in there for him on page seventy-six! And he’s roaring away after that, because we steal ideas from each other—what we have to do is promise to do them better! The problem that we have is that, outside the science-fiction community, they steal our ideas and do them worse! Or get them wrong!

Benford: And make more money.

Bear: So our dialogue is, in fact, perfectly legitimate; it’s within the social structure of science fiction. I don’t think Isaac would have objected, although he probably would have liked to look over our shoulders and make suggestions. We all have that in mind.

Brin: I like what Benford said about the idea of a conversation. The Foundation universe happens to be one of the central forums where the issues that you are discussing are central. The Teilhard de Chardin dichotomy of deification, the idea that we can only deify in that particular way; this is a major issue. The question of the predictability of human beings, the question that Jefferson and his followers faced, that the masses are filthy, contemptible, and yet sovereign. Why and how could the Empire have total amnesia about its past? These are major, major issues and they are all on the table in Asimov’s universe. He has already gone through several iterations, sometimes arguing both sides! He hinted at various answers before he died. At first I refused this project because I write far too slowly for my lifespan, to do the number of projects I want to do. The same holds for these two guys. But then I realized, this is the family table—where all these social issues have been raised and will continue to be raised. People will go to this universe and partake in the conversation.

Bear: I think the issue the gentleman’s bringing up here is fairly legitimate, which is, why do we gang-bang each other’s ideas? And that’s because science fiction does not, naturally, have a strong sense of literary morality. [Laughter] Certainly not sexual morality, in dealing with each other’s ideas—we have shared-world universes, we have the common sharing of ideas, sometimes we get offended when someone takes the idea that we thought was exclusively ours and runs with it, but that’s okay. That’s just the way it works. Now, the other questions that could be asked were asked of Gregory when he wrote a sequel to Against the Fall of Night. And then he was pilloried by a number of people who said "How could you?" for the various reasons you’re pointing out. And my thought was, gee, it was pretty good! It wasn’t bad at all—it gave me a lot of great ideas. Ultimately, of course, Gregory is going to write a book called Up Against the Wall of Night. [Laughter] He hasn’t done it yet; however, since he takes our ideas and sticks them in his books, eventually he will write this novel!

Miller: I just wanted to address one thing that Greg Bear said about the theft of ideas, not so much by other science fiction writers, but by the culture at large. There is a wonderful rumor that I’ve heard, maybe it now has the character of urban myth, but the way it goes is that for years after the death of Walt Disney, the Disney executives would gather once a year to view a film that Disney had prepared for them with instructions for the future guidance of the company. This went on for something like a decade after he died; now what does that sound like?

Bear: It got very comic, as I understand it, after a while, because he was totally missing the technology that was coming in, and the economic changes ... can you imagine the comedy that he’s talking about?

Brin: It reminds me of a scene in which the Mule is about to land on Terminus and they’re all watching Hari Seldon mouth on about the traders ...

Carl Freedman: What I have to say actually relates a bit to some things Greg Bear was saying about ten minutes ago. But first I have to begin by, not for the first time, correcting Greg Benford, on the subject of Marxism. [Laughter]

Benford: Oh, you don’t think Marxists are conspiratorial?

Freedman: If there is one thing that Marxist theory absolutely excludes, it is conspiracy theory. And in fact this is so true that in some of my work I’ve been really critical of traditional Marxist political science in being so fundamentally hostile to conspiracy theory that sometimes one doesn’t recognize that conspiracies can happen. But the fundamental point, the absolutely central insight of Marxism, is that history is made behind the backs of the people who imagine themselves to be making it. So conspiracy—although I don’t think one needs to deny that conspiracy can exist here and there, from a Marxist point of view, the one thing that could never be the motor of history is conspiracy, which is usually what we mean by conspiracy theory, that conspiracy is the motor, the driving force of history. But that’s just a scholarly point.

Benford: The Communist cell? That term doesn’t mean anything to a Marxist? Communist cells were conspiratorial cells. And, if communism isn’t an expression of Marxism, then the Episcopal church is not an expression of the Bible; I mean, they really do go together!

Brin: Let’s debate this later, and get on with the point about Foundation.

Freedman: Yes; what is psychohistory? The one thing that Asimov did, memorably, was to invent a science, the way to do it. It seems to me that what psychohistory is, thinking about Asimov’s general intellectual background and so forth, is a kind of synthesis of Marx and Freud; or more specifically, is a kind of synthesis of a fifth-hand acquaintance with Marx and a tenth-hand acquaintance with Freud. And what Asimov is doing with psychohistory is in a certain way to put Marx and Freud together and then reduce them to positivists—which is why you can have these ridiculous things.

Brin: I could not disagree more.

Bear: Yeah.

Brin: Asimov’s Imperials have seen a lot of worlds fall into barbarism and become social "laboratories," so after fifteen thousand years they have a lot of psychohistory rules of thumb, but Seldon gets down to general equations.

What he’s talking about is turning social science into a reductionist, mathematically modelable, pragmatic science, and I don’t see any sign of Marx or Freud in there, in his version, which has the statistical mechanics of a gas.

Benford: Right; that’s what he says.

Bear: Which of course is incorrect.

Freedman: Well, it was in the atmosphere of the 1930s when he was growing up. But my point is precisely that if it is Marx and Freud, and I think it is an attempt to predict ...

Bear: I would go along with Marx, more than Freud.

Benford: Yeah.

Bear: If you think of Marx as a continuing future history series, you know ....

Freedman: It’s all reduced to positivism.

Brin: Well I’ve always believed that Karl Marx was the greatest of all science-fiction authors, for this reason—in the East, and in small patches in the West, he was taken as a religious figure and actually believed to be scientific, and in the long run, he had almost no effect except to take a lot of people and neutralize their brains. But in the West people read Das Kapital as a plausible scenario, a dystopian novel of "what might happen if" and that has always been the most powerful kind of science fiction. The self-preventing prophecy. We see this in Brave New World, 1984, which girded us against those forms of totalitarianism. Marx had his biggest influence on history in the West, where influential people read a terrifying "if this goes on" story and were moved to prevent it by initiating reforms.

Bear: This is a terrific idea; in fact, remember Norman Spinrad did The Iron Dream and made Hitler a science-fiction writer; all we have to do is alter a little bit of timescale here and we have Karl Marx and Adolph Hitler sitting in a room with John W. Campbell talking about things ...

Brin: And L. Ron Hubbard being the sane one!

Bear: Yeah, L. Ron Hubbard being the sane fellow, saying, "Let’s do it!"

Freedman: And the one who comes out of the room is John Maynard Keynes ....

Miller: I have to say that there is a little problem here; I mean, if you’re saying that the main goodness of science fiction is this notion of self-negating prophecy and at the same time if we claim credit when we actually predict things the right way, well then, no matter whether we predict things right or wrong, we’re right!

Brin: Now you’ve got it! [Laughter]

Benford: Hey, they don’t pay us much, but we get to set the rules!

Miller: Is that the final question? Let me thank George Slusser and particularly Gary Westfahl for setting this panel up; I think it’s been most intriguing.

Brin: And thank you, Joe, for moderating these huge egos!

Benford: Quite moderate he was.

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