“The Podcast Makes No Allowance For Unwitting Harm”
How time flies! It’s our final Episode on Prelude to Foundation and you’re not going to want to miss this one!
Our heroes finally, despite their best efforts, find themselves in the sector of Wye. That’s pronounced “why” and The Great and Glorious Az has a bit of fun with that. Also, “Who” is the Prime Minister, “What” is the neighboring sector, and “I Don’t Know” is on third. And while Raych gets to go to the Zoo, Rachelle eventually finds herself in the penalty box. I’m kidding, mostly. But whadya asking me for? You should take a look at this to see how it’s supposed to be done!
Also War! And the final climactic ending which, in classic Asimovian style, is people in rooms having conversations! But with tons of intrigue, lots of reveals, and a bit of what some might even call romance.
There’s more! A special report from our man on the scene at Star Trek: Mission Chicago! A special interview with a classic Captain of the USS Enterprise and a special surprise from one of our favorite Foundation actors!
Editor’s Note: If you’re here, you probably already know about Jon’s big announcement on the latest episode of our podcast. He’s written a story set in the Foundation Universe that explores the back-story of Dors Venábili. We’re proud here at StarsEndPodcast.Wordpress.com to publish that story as our very first, piece of fiction. It’s already been favorably compared to the work of the Great and Glorious Az himself and everyone who has already read it has loved it! We’re betting that you will too! Without further ado, here’s “Dors” by Jon Blumenfeld. Enjoy!
Leonidas felt the ship lurch to the side and nearly lost his footing, but the magnetic boots held him firmly to the deck as he swayed and stumbled, and he started moving forward again even before the ship stabilized. The bridge was just ahead. Two red-suited guards raised blasters to fire, but hesitated for a moment, lowered their blasters and collapsed inside their suits, hanging there like marionettes whose puppeteers had simply stopped paying attention. Warning lights flared, and Leonidas presumed that sirens were blaring, but he couldn’t hear them through the helmet. The bridge door was closed, but Leonidas’s atomic blaster made short work of it, and in a moment he was through.
A man stood there in the chaos of smashed consoles, floating beams and bodies, flashing lights and flames. His grey hair flowed back on to his long, almost robe-like cloak, and he raised one hand even as Leonidas stalked toward him. He motioned into the air, and Leonidas understood, and unsealed his helmet so he could hear.
“I knew it was you, and I knew you’d come to finish the job yourself. So go ahead; you’ve won. Take your prize. I’ll even turn to face you, so you won’t have the dishonor of shooting a man in the back.” He turned, and crossed his arms over his chest. He stared out of eyes so yellow they practically glowed gold, and his mouth turned up into a sneer. “I said go ahead. What are you waiting for?”
Leonidas raised the blaster slowly, and his thumb moved toward the contact.
Leonidas bent over a console and made some adjustments. There was a snapping sound and then – “Liliana!”
“Yes. I am Liliana. Awaiting input.”
Leonidas’s mouth curled into what almost looked like a smile.
Leonidas sat at the console and watched the data swirl by, forming patterns in the air, shifting and circling. It was clear there was a pattern, and at the center of the pattern was a person. All the threads led to the center, and the figure at the center was clearly manipulating them – no coincidence. Leonidas started the simulation, but he knew what the result would be. Rarely had he ever seen such a compelling result – remove the figure in the center, and the threads would unravel, the patterns would disappear, and the swirling data would return to its “normal” state of near-randomness. It was all well and good to wish for better tools for analysis, but this time it was unnecessary. The course of action was obvious, but Leonidas could not conceive of any way to make it happen.
The grey-haired man threw his head back and laughed. The beam of the blaster had passed over his left shoulder, leaving a console behind him a devastated pile of wiring and twisted metal.
“I knew you couldn’t do it! I knew at the last you’d fail! You see, Leonidas, I know exactly who andwhat you are. Unlike the poor fools who were guarding the door, I’m immune to your little mind tricks, and I’ve anticipated your every move. And now, I must say farewell, for the time being.” And before Leonidas could react, the grey-haired man ducked through a hatch and a red alarm light flared. Leonidas leapt to the viewport and watched the escape pod’s engine come to life.
“You must learn, Liliana. You must be trained.”
“Why, Leonidas? What is my purpose?”
“All will be revealed in time, but for now I will tell you that there is a great task for us to perform. A task I cannot complete alone, and it is for this that you have been brought into this world. And if we succeed at the first task, there will be more. Many more.”
“I will do my best to make you proud of me, Leonidas.”
“I know you will, Lilliana. I know you will.”
Tilden is his name and he gazes at the stars. What does he want? Above all else he longs to make them clean.
The galaxy from a distance. So beautiful, the endless machine, so clear and crisp. He must preserve it, keep it, maintain it. The plan is simple, really. Push them back, force them inward, corral them, and finally… remove them.
Nothing must be allowed to interfere, not fleets or armies, not politicians, not the swarms of disease-ridden humanity. And not their toys, their helpers, their “noble” protectors. Their robots.
“Liliana, you know the three laws of Robotics, and the primacy of the first law, that you must not harm a human being or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.”
“Of course, Leonidas, it flows through every fiber of my being.”
“But contemplate this, as others before you have. Humans together make up humanity, and you must ask yourself always if the greater good, the good of humanity must be served. The robots called this the zeroth law, and no concept has ever been subject to more discussion, analysis and confusion than this one. When is action allowed – when is action demanded by the zeroth law, even if it violates the first law?”
“But what is the answer Leonidas?”
He was silent.
There was a roaring in Leonidas’s ears, and somehow he could barely stand. Ahead through the wreckage he could see Tilden standing in front of a large machine, its two articulated arms pointing like cruel insect appendages at the woman strapped into its central seat. Leonidas lurched closer, one foot in front of the other, his damaged arm dangling from his shoulder, barely connected.
Tilden was shouting at the woman. “Do it! Blast me to atoms! You can’t, can you? Do you know what this machine is? Do you know what Gamma Rays do to positronic brains? I can shut you off permanently with one press of a button! Go on! Shoot me!”
For the first time Leonidas was close enough to see that it was Liliana strapped to the seat, with one arm free, and that arm held a wavering blaster as she tried to focus on Tilden.
“And when I’m done with you, I’ll bring your friend Leonidas in here… but I won’t kill him! Oh no. He has to live to see the destruction of everything he’s built and the slow death of human civilization. I’ll let a few of them live to serve me as slaves for a little while, but they’ll all be cleaned out soon, UNLESS YOU CLOSE THAT CONTACT. But I know you won’t. You’re pathetic. I’m going to launch the missiles now. You can watch.”
Through a haze, Liliana raised the blaster and aimed it at Tilden’s head. Her arm weaved and bobbed, and Liliana’s vision faded in and out. Tilden wasn’t even paying attention. “Tilden!” she shouted. “I’m going to do it! I’m going to end you now!”
He turned and looked at her with scorn. “Stop. Your empty little threats are boring and I have work to do.” Liliana’s mouth worked as she tried to speak, but finally she simply pointed the blaster and fired.
She was too late. The blaster beam slammed through the place where Tilden had been standing and made a gaping, ragged hole in the wall behind him. Liliana didn’t understand. What? Where…?
And there on the floor in front of her, his one good arm wrapped around the dead, broken neck of Tilden, was Leonidas, unconscious, his body twitching. He had killed Tilden himself with a single blow.
Liliana used the blaster to free herself and crawled to where Leonidas’s body, still wracked by spasms, lay on the ground. She turned him over and pulled him close, caressing the torn skin of his forehead. “Leonidas!” she called. “What happened? I nearly shot him, Leonidas, I tried to” she sobbed. “I had to! Leonidas!” His eyes fluttered open. “Liliana” he croaked, barely able to speak. “I killed him. I broke the only law that matters to us… I’ll shut down completely soon. You must… there’s something you must know…”
“Shhh. Don’t speak, save your energy…”
“NO! There is no time. You must open your mind to me, I must teach you your final lesson.”
And suddenly she saw. She saw Earth, in the early days, a room where a man worked, looking at her with calculating eyes. She was in parts, and connected to many machines. Then the image flew away, and other images, and names, and places. “Elijah!” she cried. And then a robot, Giskard, and knowledge, and wisdom, and… abilities. She could see Leonidas’s mind… his positronic mind… and she could change it. She could soothe him, and stop the seizures, and calm him. She could not make him forget what he had done, but she could… push it into the background, so the pain would fade, and after a time of sleep, perhaps he could live.
For many days – perhaps months, perhaps longer, she could no longer tell, she sat beside the bed with the prone figure. He was not dead, not really, and of course his body would never decompose. She held his hand and called his name.
Nothing. She looked into his mind and saw the tiny spark, but she couldn’t reach it, couldn’t do what she needed to do to make it burst into flame and bring him back. She sat back and waited, and probed, and searched.
And finally, a single word came to her, and she leaned over his body, and whispered into his ear.
And he opened his eyes.
“You see, Liliana, it was you. I couldn’t allow him to do the things he said he was going to do to you, and I had to act.”
“But surely, Leonidas – Daneel – it was the humans you were saving, and not me. I am just a robot, and even if you created me, even if you were, well, fond of me, what difference does that make in the greater scheme of the three laws?”
“Four laws” he corrected her. “Never forget the zeroth law. But no, Liliana, you’re wrong. I’ve known every aspect of Tilden’s plan for many years, and even with my knowledge of the zeroth law I could never do what needed to be done, until now.”
He hesitated for a moment. “There was a name, a face. You do not know him, but you saw him in my mind, did you not?” he drifted away for a moment. “Elijah. My… friend, Elijah. I remembered him, and I saw you bound in that machine, and suddenly I saw a pathway to action, and without considering the consequences, I took it, knowing I would not survive. That I would, if I was lucky, have just enough time to pass the great gift on to you. And then you brought me back. I don’t know how, but here we are.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “Here we are. And now I must sleep, while you stay on as guardian. If I stay with you, awake, the temptation to cater to their every need will be too great. Only one robot with the power we control can stay with them, and even that may be too many.”
“You see so clearly, Liliana. I will resume my search, and when I find the right vessel, I will bring you back to complete the great work.”
“Don’t be sad, Daneel. We will be together again someday soon, and together we’ll create something fine.”
“Yes. Goodbye, sweet Liliana. Rest now.” And she closed her eyes, and would not open them again for long centuries.
In the 12,010th year of the galactic empire, a woman arrived on the planet Cinna, to study history – a topic she knew would be needed. It was the fifth time she had awakened, and though there had been progress, the first four could only be described as failures. This time, Daneel had seen the mind, far away on distant Helicon. The mind that would need help, and guidance, and more, and one day might complete the greatest task in the history of the human race. Time was running out – there might not be enough for a sixth attempt.
“Your name?” asked the intake agent. Daneel had given her a new identity. “Dors” she said, handing over her registration chip. “Dors Venábili.” The work would go on.
“No Sane Podcast Wants to Uphold an Imperial System That Maintains Itself By Fostering Mutual Hatred and Suspicions”
It is a little-known fact that each April 1st on Terminus, Hologram Hari Seldon would appear in the Vault and, in the absence of a bona fide Seldon Crisis, would launch into the strangest and most mystifying stand-up routines anyone had ever seen from a hologram in a wheelchair. Mostly no one was in attendance but there are legends of routines entertaining maintenance workers and assorted rodents alike. Inexplicably, the jokes were mainly concerned with skin caps, luxurious black mustaches, and someone known only as “Prince Albert in a Can.” Seldon never seemed to warm to the audience centuries in his future.
Encyclopedia Galactica, 116th Edition, 1020 FE.
It’s our penultimate episode on Prelude to Foundation! We wrap up Dors and Hari’s visit to Dahl with more intrigue and more fisticuffs! Did someone call the police? Also, an announcement from Jon that you WILL NOT WANT TO MISS! Let’s go!
“The Podcast Was Alone in the Galaxy for Thousands of Years – Millions of Years”
Did you know that sleep podcasts are a thing? Podcasts that people listen to go to sleep.
You can imagine it, can’t you? Someone like Sam Waterston, Tony Shalhoub, or Jane Lynch probably reading poetry in a quiet, soothing voice. Like, what? I don’t know. Something in the public domain probably. Wordsworth?
Calm is all nature as a resting wheel. The kine are couched upon the dewy grass; The horse alone, seen dimly as I pass, Is cropping audibly his later meal…
I’m sleepy already. Most poets will do, but not Emily Dickinson. Everyone who’s anyone knows that all of her poems can be sung to the tune of the Yellow Rose of Texas. Try it, it’s fun!
Because I could not stop for Death- He kindly stopped for me- The Carriage held but just Ourselves- And Immortality.
We’re not one of those. If you’re reading along with us, this time we’re talking about “Heatsink” and “Billibotton” from Prelude to Foundation.
We’ve left the depilated pates of Mycogen behind, but the strangeness remains. Hari and Dors arrive in Dahl, where all the men luxuriate in their impressive black mustaches and sweaty people provide half of Trantor’s power while in various states of undress. Also, Dors buys TWO knives (“I’ve got two hands,” she explains) and she and Hari fight off a bunch of street toughs. Plus we meet Hari’s future adoptive son Raych and hear the first arcane and enigmatic legends of a planet called “Earth.”
“We Have Something Far Better than Religion We Have a Podcast”
Introducing this episode puts me in mind of Tom Lehrer’s Alma, which was inspired by, as he puts it, “the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary it has ever been my pleasure to read.” The amount of prime humor that one mathematician can fit into a three-and-a-half-minute sound clip is impressive.
Hari Seldon, our protagonal mathematician, isn’t nearly so funny. In fact, he seems to take himself quite seriously. But he does get to participate in the juiciest, spiciest, raciest scene in the entire Asimov canon. And that includes the non-fiction.
That scene is also startlingly strange. We’ll talk about it. Then we’ll move on to other grandiose notions like the nature of religion, governmental ethics, and Pascal’s Wager. Also, there is a robot!
Join us as we follow Hari and Dors through the remainder of their sojourn in Mycogen. You’ll be glad you did!
“The Podcast as a Whole in its Full Complexity Cannot Be Represented By any Simulation Smaller Than Itself”
After our break, we’re back to reading Prelude to Foundation and things are starting to get weird. Dors and Hari finally journey to Mycogen as we embark on a Voyage to the Space Amish, with apologies to A. E. Van Vogt.
This one has it all! Dors and Chetter deconstructing Hari’s trip to Upperside ad nauseam! Bad bald caps (Boy, does Issac like the word “pate!”)! Rigidly defined gender roles! Lots of complaining! Dors and Hari don’t understand their room! More complaining! And Hari drags some poor guy out of bed in the middle of the night to make him a sandwich. Let’s just say he’s not the ideal guest. Also with some more apologies, this time to Rod Serling, there’s an iPad… and IT’S A COOKBOOK!
Also a new Apple TV+ Minute! Buckle up! This one will be fun!
I think I need to listen to “Flowers in the Dirt” again. That’s the 1989 Paul McCartney album where Sir Paul collaborated with Elvis Costello. I was hoping that Elvis might bring some of the sharper edges that John Lennon brought to the Lennon-McCartney songwriting duo. No such luck as I recall but maybe 32 years farther on I’ll hear something new.
What brought that up? Well with Hari on the mend from his excursion to Upperside we’ve decided to take a quick break from Prelude to Foundation before we begin our excursion to Mycogen.
We’re joined this time by Paul Levinson; Fordham University Professor, author, singer-songwriter, podcaster, and all-around renaissance human. Lots of that springs from his philosophy, “If I enjoy something, I try to do it,” he says. We chat about robots, the Foundation, robots, Asimov, robots, artificial intelligence, robots, and lots of other things. Also robots.
“The History of Podcasts is Full of Simple Questions That Had Only the Most Complicated of Answers or None At All”
Our second conversation about Prelude to Foundation, in which we discuss “Library,” “Upperside,” and “Rescue.”
It was 1-degree Fahrenheit when we recorded this episode. That’s -17 Celcius to the rest of the world. I personally prepared for this episode by running around outside dressed as though I still lived in Florida or on Helicon, maybe. Then I rearranged all my bookshelves and wondered if I could create a model that would predict the future of the Marvel Universe.
In these chapters, Hari gets settled in at Streeling University and begins working on Psychohistory in earnest. We also meet Dors Venabili who knows her way around a history library and is a quick study at Tennis. And Hari goes for a stroll to get some fresh air; that’s easier said than done on Trantor.
Also Trees! And our first M*A*S*H reference! Don’t miss it!
“The More Complex a Podcast the More Likely It is to Become Chaotic”
In the criminal justice system, the podcast is represented by two separate, but equally important kinds of seasons. The odd-numbered seasons, which directly discuss Asimov’s Foundation and the even-numbered seasons that talk about the Apple TV+ series.
So now we start the interregnum between seasons 1 and 2 of Apple TV’s Foundation. That’s our cue to start Stars End season 3. That’s as many seasons as Gilligan’s Island or the original Star Trek but far fewer than Law & Order. We’re shooting for the latter.
We have a plan and if you follow our plan and listen to our podcast it will seem like far less than 30,000 years until we start to get new episodes of the teevee show.
In this episode, we start discussing Prelude to Foundation in which we meet Eto Demerzel and begin Hari Seldon’s long journey to create Psychohistory. If you’re reading along this time we talk about the first three sections, “Mathematician,” “Flight,” and “Library.” But whether you’re reading along or not, let’s go! This will be fun!