From what has just been said it will be apparent that characters, in a sense, are to Asimov of diminished importance. From the point of view of Seldon’s plan they do not exist. If one person did not take the actions that are taken—so the theory goes—another person would, impelled by the forces of psychohistory. The question of which person does what is then barely relevant. Perhaps the best illustration of this tendency comes from the character of Bel Riose, the Imperial general in the first story of Foundation and Empire. Riose, Asimov tells the reader, is a man of unusual ability, not only militarily but also personally. His soldiers love him. He wins over determined political opponents. He even persuades the Imperial favorite sent to spy on him to abandon the Emperor and help to achieve Riose’s ambitions instead. Yet his loyalty impresses the Emperor enough to send him vital reinforcements. How can such a paragon be defeated? The answer is given in only a few pages of austere historical analysis, whose burden is that a weak Imperial general could obviously never threaten the Foundation, nor a strong general in the time of a weak Emperor (for such a general would turn his energies against the Emperor instead). It is only the combination of a strong general and a strong Emperor that is to be feared, as indeed has been the case with Bel Riose and Cleon II. Yet in that case the answer is again inevitable: A strong Emperor cannot tolerate a strong general, no matter how loyal. However successful Riose was, he was bound to be recalled, disgraced, and executed. All Riose’s charm and skill cannot evade this; as for the intense and fast-moving plot by which agents of the Foundation attempt to deliver (false) evidence of Riose’s treachery to the Imperial capital, it is revealed to be pointless at the end. The treachery was assumed even without evidence. Events took place regardless of human volition, and in defiance of individual character. Is characterization, then, nonexistent in Asimov’s work?
There are two answers to this, one theoretical and one practical. The theoretical answer is exemplified by the character immediately succeeding Bel Riose (in some ways an opposite to him) in Foundation and Empire: the strange figure known as “the Mule.” He does...
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