May 3, 2015

What's a Robot to Do?

The Mule
I recently came across an article that describes Hari Seldon and The Mule as superhero-like characters. Seldon and The Mule are two of the most important characters in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Saga. Here, I want to discuss The Mule as seen from the perspective of the mature Asimov and a third character in the Foundation saga, R. Daneel Olivaw.

The Mule
The idea that Asimov would include a supervillain in one of his stories strikes me as an absurd idea. Supervillains arose and functioned as a literary device within comics, a literary genre that is distinct from science fiction. Asimov tried to present readers with intellectual conflicts between characters who had different views, but who could seldom be fit into conventional niches such as "hero" or "villain".

Transformation of Myth Through Time
During the 1940s, Asimov wrote a series of stories featuring positronic robots. Asimov also wrote the original Foundation stories during the 1940s, but he included no robots in what became the Foundation Trilogy (audio version).  In 1953, Asimov introduced a robot named Daneel who functioned as a "partner" for a police officer named Baley.

Much later, in the mid-1980s, Asimov inserted Daneel into the Foundation Saga. In Foundation and Earth, Daneel was depicted as having guided Humanity towards the creation of Galaxia, a galaxy-spanning group mind that could defend itself against aliens from another galaxy.

Telepathy and Mentalics
In the mid-1980s, Asimov also described the origin of Daneel's telepathic powers. As presented in Foundation and Earth, Daneel was poised to assist Humanity during its spread to 25,000,000 planets of the galaxy.

In my view, Asimov's retro-unification of his positronic robot stories with the Foundation Saga is among the greatest achievements of science fiction.

Daneel and The Mule
We must wonder: what was Daneel's role in The Mule's rise to power? When Humanity spread through the galaxy, Daneel discovered that aliens from a distant galaxy had, for at least a billion years, been visitors in our galaxy. For some mysterious reason, those aliens had withdrawn from the Worlds of the Galactic Core, but Daneel knew they would return some day. In order to protect Humanity against the aliens, he worked for 20,000 years to bring into existence Galaxia.

During those 20,000 years, Daneel could not risk allowing humanity to discover his existence. Daneel secretly prevented humans from developing new sciences and new technologies. However, there were a few new technological advances that were needed for the creation of Galaxia. In order to obtain those new technologies, Daneel brought into existence the First Foundation, a culture based on physical science. As described by Asimov in Forward the Foundation, Daneel also allowed a small group of humans to develop their telepathic abilities and form the Second Foundation.

The Tool of a Tool
The Mule was Daneel's tool for stimulating just enough technological progress in the galaxy so that Galaxia could be rushed to completion. Sadly, Asimov was taken from us before he could write a sequel to Foundation and Earth.

The Exode Trilogy
In The Foundations of Eternity, Isaac Asimov becomes a character in a recursive science fiction story that explains the origin of telepathic robots like Daneel. Daneel was the tool of the first positronic robot, R. Gohrlay.

By following the Laws of Robotics, R. Gohrlay became involved in a dreary Time Travel War with the alien Huaoshy. However, as told in Trysta and Ekcolir, Grean was eventually able to end the Time War and bring into existence the universe as we know it.

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