The Walking Dead – Season Five Premiere!

WD_Season5“They’re f@$!#ing with the wrong people!” Those were the words that capped off the season four finale. At least, they were before the show’s writers decided to censor themselves and changed it to “screwing”. In any case, the show ended with Rick and his party arriving at Terminus only to find that the advertised oasis was a lie – a trap designed to lure unsuspected people in for some nefarious purpose.

Naturally, the blogosphere explodedediately after with various people offering their own theories as to what Terminus represented and what they intended for Rick and his crew. The smart money appeared to be on cannibalism, as it seemed most consistent with what happened in the comics, not to mention the odd room with all candles and the words “NEVER AGAIN. NEVER TRUST. WE FIRST, ALWAYS” written on the wall.

In the weeks leading up to the premiere, fans were also warned that this season would be darker and bloodier, and the preview poster – which showed Rick sporting a new beard – had the words “hunt or be hunted” scrolled across it. Between all these hints and warning, the fanbase was pretty much stoked and there was no surprises when the premiere opened at a record-breaking 17.3 million viewers, beating out their previous record of 16.1 million.

And this past Sunday, the big reveal happened in an episode that was appropriately titled…

No Sanctuary:
https://storiesbywilliams.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/913a6-the-walking-dead-5-temporada-trailer-07.jpgThe episode opens with a flashback where two residents of Terminus – Chris and Alex – are being held prisoner. They reflect on how they chose to remain human in the midst of the crisis, and suffered for it. Flashing back to the present, we see Rick and the others preparing to make a break for it as soon as the door to the railcar is opened. However, they are surprised when a flashbang is thrown in through the roof and they are then carried out.

Rick, Glenn, Daryl, and Bob are then taken to a kill room where they see a body being carved up. Four others are positioned alongside them over a metal trough, and two men begin butchering them one by one. Chris comes in to take stock and pauses the killing long enough to ask Rick about the bag he stashed out in the woods. Things are about to start again when shooting from outside and an explosion sends everyone to the ground.

http://i2.wp.com/geektasticpodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/walking-dead-trailer.jpg?resize=620%2C344Outside of town, Tyreese, Carol and Judith continue on their way towards town when they come across a herd. They hide and are saved when gunfire distracts and lures the herd away. They proceed towards the source, and find Alex out on sentry duty and talking over a walkie-talkie about Carl and Michonne. They take him prisoner in a small shed and Carol goes on ahead while Tyreese remains behind to watch him with Judith.

After covering herself with gore and mud, she proceeds to the edge of town and sees Rick, Daryl, Bob and Glenn being taken inside. At the same time, the herd begins to approach the fence line and the guards begin to run away. Using her sniper rifle, Carol shoots a gas tank sitting by the fence and uses a firework to detonate it, killing a dozen Walkers and breaching the fence in the process.

https://i1.wp.com/www.geekchicelite.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/twdno1.jpgChaos ensues as the Walkers move in and begin attacking the town and Carol slips in amongst them. Chris leaves the kill room to assess the situation while Rick uses a piece of sharpened wood to saw through his restraints. He kills the two men and then sets the others free, and the four proceed out into the compound. Fighting against both Walkers and guards, they seize weapons and free the others.

Back at the shed, the noise from the explosions and gunfire begins to draw Walkers. Alex gets free, takes Judith hostage and forces Tyreese to disarm and go outside. He steps out and is grabbed by several Walkers, but all noise stops a moment later. Alex takes Tyreese’s knife and begins inching towards the door, and Tyreese breaks back in, slams him on the grounds and begins beating him to death.

https://i2.wp.com/i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/10/13/1413173366927_wps_50_The_Walking_Dead_Season_P.jpgMeanwhile, Carol begins looking for Rick and the others inside. After finding her way into a building, she comes across a stash of stolen goods and finds Daryl’s crossbow. Eventually, she comes to the strange room where she is confronted by Mary, the town matriarch. They fight, Carol gets the upper hand, and Mary explains how the town became the place that it is:

The signs… they were real. It was a sanctuary. People came and took this place. And they raped, and they killed, and they left… over weeks! But we got out, and we fought, and we got it back! And we heard the message: you’re the butcher, or you’re the cattle…

Carol shoots Mary in the leg, and then lets a group of Walkers in to finish her. In the rail car, the rest try to decide whether they should break out into the chaos or wait. Sasha asks Eugene what the cure is, and he explains that he once worked for the Human Genome Project as part of a team that weaponized viruses to fight other weaponized viruses. He claims that with his knowledge, they can kill all the Walkers if they can get to Washington DC.

https://i1.wp.com/cdn.bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/BzysAj2IUAEZ2yV.png-large-620x400.pngRick then shows up and lets them out, and they all fight their way to the fence. They make it out and proceed into the woods, where Rick digs up the pack he buried and tells them they are going back to finish the job. The group tells Rick its pointless since they are as good as dead, Carol emerges from the trees and is embraced by Daryl and Rick. She tells them to follow her up the road, where they rejoin Tyreese and Judith.

Rick is elated to learn his baby girl is still alive and Sascha her brother. They decide to move on up the rails again, and Rick finds a sign pointing towards Terminus and wipes out all but two words: “No Sanctuary”. The episode ends with another flashback where Chris, Alex and Mary are being held together, and Chris says they will take it back, repeating the adage: “You’re either the butcher, or you’re the cattle.”

https://i1.wp.com/i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/10/13/1413173605905_wps_66_The_Walking_Dead_Season_P.jpgAnd in a post-episode peek, we are shown a figure who is following the tracks and comes across the sign. He spots symbols carved into the trees and begins following them. Once he removes his mask, we learn that it’s Rick’s old friend Morgan.

Summary:
I quite enjoyed this episode, and for a few reasons. For one, it delivered on its promise of a darker, bloodier feel, even though this was hardly lacking in the previous seasons. It also handled the whole “good people gone evil” theme very well. Despite everything they do and the evil they commit, the people portraying the Terminites (Terminans?) managed to capture the inherent sense of desperation and anger powering them.

This is the very core Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, which is how otherwise good and civilized people can do terrible things when push comes to shove. And since it was something that didn’t happen in the comics, but was loosely based on it, it made for just enough of a surprise. And of course, few people could argue with the fact that the action was pretty badass too, and the reunions pretty heartfelt.

The only things I would criticize is the character arc of Carol. By now, people can’t fail to notice that she’s become the female version of Rambo. At the end, Rick asks her “did you do that?” And by that, he means rescuing them by single-handedly blowing up a section of wall, letting a herd overrun a small town, and then taking out the town’s matriarch. Yes, somehow, a “thank you” and a “welcome back” would seem appropriate.

But this really doesn’t seem fitting for Carol. As I’ve said before, she went from being an abused, put-upon housewife to a bereaved mother, then an independent woman, then a character who had little to do, all before becoming some ruthless woman who immolated people to prevent the spread of disease. Now, she’s a one-woman army who kicks ass and takes names.

It’s cool, but it’s not exactly realistic. What’s more, Michonne is supposed to be the ass-kicking heroine of that bunch, not Carol. The way her character kind of got sidelined in this episode really drove that home for me. And Sasha is also a strong female presence, same as Maggie. So I do wonder if her character’s not just a bit superfluous at this point. And considering she was long-dead by now in the comics, I have a hard time taking her seriously.

Also, Tyreese’s character has seemed just a little too gentle for my tastes. I very much liked how he took out several Walkers with his bare hands and then beat that Alex kid to death. This is the Tyreese I know and remember from the comics, a big, strong, troubled man who did what he had to, even though he didn’t enjoy it one bit. The TV show’s Tyreese, while certainly likeable, seems too much like a big teddy bear to me.

Otherwise, I like what they’ve done so far this season and where they are going. At this point, Morgan is poised to rejoin the group, and from the previews, it seems clear that they are now converging back on comic book material (i.e. finding a preacher and taking him in), all the while working their way towards Washington DC.

*As a side note, I should point out that, despite what some fans saw in the ending, the producers have indicated that that was NOT Negan making an appearance near the end of the episode. However, I imagine that’s what the shows producers intended when they cast that look alike, as the intro of Negan could turn out to be season 5 material. Stay tuned!

Walking Dead: “They’re f***ing with the wrong people”

WD4_finaleFew people who watch The Walking Dead can forget how Season Four ended. After finally finding their way to Terminus and regrouping, Rick and the others quickly learned that something wasn’t right. After attempting to escape, they found themselves being herded by bullets to a railcar, which they were then told to board. Inside, they found the rest of their companions and realized the community was nothing but a lie.

A series of hints were given as to what was going on there, like the room filled with candles, the names of people written on the floor, and the slogan: “Never Again. Never Trust. We First, Always” written on the walls. The smart money says this community is made up of cannibals, based on material taken from Volume 11: Fear the Hunters. This would make sense, given their efforts to lure people in and the fact that they didn’t kill Rick and the others right away.

wd4_16_3In any case, the season ended with their crew reunited in crisis and Rick uttering the chilling pronouncement: “They are gonna feel pretty stupid when they find out… They screwed with the wrong people.” As it turns out, AMC had a different ending in mind. Once again, mirroring what was written in Volume 11 of the original comics, the real conversation between Rick and Abraham was punctuated with some F-bombs.

AMC filmed this ending first, but decided to tone it down for the sake of their viewing audience. To which I have to ask… really AMC? You have a series that showcases rotting corpses eating people alive; but swearing, that’s wrong? You’re season finale was especially bloody, featuring men attempting to rape Michonne and Carl, Rick biting a man’s jugular, an evisceration, and even strong hints of cannibalism.

AIn that same season, you had people bleeding out of their eye sockets, the Governor cutting off Hershel’s head, and a massive prison assault where multiple characters were violently gunned down. You even had one episode where a little girl murdered her sister and had to be executed, and where partially-cooked zombies had their heads explode once they were shot. And yet, you think the word “fuck” is a step too far? REALLY AMC???

Anyhoo, Season Five kicks off October 12th, by which time all questions regarding the true nature of Terminus, and why they choose to keep their captives alive, will be answered. And in the meantime, check out the clip of Rick delivering his final line as he was meant to, F-bomb and all:

The Walking Dead – Season Four Finale!

The Walking Dead SDCC Season 4We come to it at last, the season four finale of the Walking Dead. And my apologies for arriving late to this party, but this week has been a rather busy one. Lucky for me things have slowed down to the point where I can finally get my two cents in about the highest rated finale in TV history. Yes, apparently, this week’s episode broke the finale record for ratings with 15.7 million viewers, and 7.3 million even stuck around for the aftershow. One would think people were anxious to see what happened or something!

Alas, the finale delivered on several fronts, bringing the whole Terminus storyline to a conclusion, bringing all the main characters back together, and forcing a confrontation between Rick and the marauders led by Joe. And they even managed to merge some of the relevant comic book material into the mix, which was something I was wondering about. Once again, they are kind of off script with things at this point, so its interesting to see how and where they choose to include things.

Anyway, onto the show!

A:
WD4_16_0
The episode opens with Rick having a flashback to the old days when they were still living in the prison. He remembers the time after the Governor fled, and how they began making a good life for themselves. Intrinsic to this was his efforts He also recalls how he was very much concerned about giving Carl a normal life again. During his last flashback, he remembers when he, Herschel, Carl, Beth and Judith were all together and happy.

Things then flash back to the present, where Rick, Michonne and Carl are completely occupied with finding food and avoiding Walkers. After setting down for the night in an abandoned car, Joe and his group catch up to them and take them prisoner. Daryl emerges and tries to tell Joe to let them go, and that he will stand in for them. Joe orders his men to beat Daryl for “lying”, and Carl is pulled from the car by one of the men who attempts to rape him.

WD4_16_1Rick and Michonne attack them, and Rick manages to get close enough to bite Joe’s jugular. His men are shocked and this gives Michonne and Daryl the opportunity to turn the tables on the rest of them. Rick finishes it by eviscerating the man who tried to rape Carl. The next day, Daryl talks to Rick about his time with Beth, her disappearance, and how he fell in with Joe’s group. They assure each other that they’ve done only what they had to stay alive, and set out again.

Having reached the outskirts, Rick and the others choose to search around the edge of the town. Carl and Michonne go in one direction, and she fills Carl in on the rest of her story, and how Andrea, Rick and Carl brought her back. Carl confesses that he’s changed and is no longer what his father thinks he is, that he is just another monster. Elsewhere, Rick buries their stash of weapons, but keeps a pistol for himself “just in case”.

WD4_16_2They then sneak around the back way, pass through the fence and then proceed inside. Finding their way into a building, they come to a room where people are preparing maps and putting out radio broadcasts, inviting people to town. Rick gets their attention, and a man named Garreth welcomes them. After a quick weapons check and pat down, another man named Alex comes to escort them to the welcome area. They meet Mary, and she prepares them food.

Rick begins spotting things that make him suspicious, including one man wearing riot gear, a woman wearing a poncho, and that Alex is carrying a pocket watch. He grabs Alex and puts a gun to his head, demanding to know where they got these things. A standoff ensues, turns into a gunfight, and Rick and the others flee. They quickly pass through a strange room filled candles and altars, and realize that the townspeople are not shooting to kill them, but to drive them.

wd4_16_3Once outside, they find themselves surrounded on all sides and are forced to put down their weapons and surrender. They are then told to go to a train car parked nearby, step inside and seal the door. Inside, they find the others – Glenn, Maggie, Bob, Sasha, Tara, Abraham, Rosita and Eugene (but not Tyreese or Carol) – who have also been taken prisoners. Defiant, Rick says they their new enemies are going to feel pretty stupid when they find out. When Abraham asks what, Rick declares “that they’re screwing with the wrong people.”

Thus ends season four of the Walking Dead!

Summary:
As expected, the season ended on a brutal and ugly note, but with the hope of some serious ass-kicking to come. And as predicted, the town of Terminus, which offered people sanctuary and salvation, turned out to be a pretty messed up place. Only passing hints were given as to what is involved in this, but the blogosphere has certainly been alive with plenty of ideas. I forgo those for just a second to say what I liked and what stood out about this episode to me.

For starters, I liked what they did with it. Sure, they concluded the whole “Joe and the marauders are looking for payback” thing rather quickly, but were never a huge plot aspect so it didn’t seem terribly wrong to me. I was also pretty impressed with how Rick and Michonne took out their captors, though I could have done with a little less eviscerating! And they did manage to incorporate some aspects of the comic book material from this part into the mix.

WD4_16_4Speaking of which, and it seems this is the current favorite amongst bloggers, is that Terminus is a community of cannibals. The proof? First, during the chase scene, Rick and the others run through a courtyard where human bones (stripped of all flesh) have been piled. Second, the character of Gareth does bear a resemblance to the character of Chris, who in the comics was the leader of the cannibal community. And third, this was the ugly turn that things took during this part in said comics.

And let’s face it. If you were running a cannibal community, you too would need a constant influx of fresh bodies. I mean, why else go to all that trouble of putting out maps and sending out broadcasts? In a post-apocalyptic landscape, the biggest threats of all comes from bands of ne’er-do-wells, especially if they are well organized and equipped (as the Governor and Joe illustrate). So if you have a secure community, chances are you wouldn’t be advertising it and inviting everyone and their brother to come find it. Not unless you got a trap waiting for them!

And of course, this has effectively left things on a cliffhanger and promises that next season will contain its fare share of ass-kicking and badassery. And I am once again looking forward to see what happens, provided they don’t go terribly off-script again! There is one thing that I can’t seem to figure out though. What was up with the title of this episode? A? Seriously? What the hell does that stand for?

See you next season!

The Walking Dead – Season 4, Episode 15

The Walking Dead SDCC Season 4The penultimate episode of season four has aired! The climax is approaching, and after last week’s exploration of brutality and corrupted innocence, this week’s was rather soft and cushy by comparison. A good thing too, I don’t know if anyone came away from that one unscarred! In addition, this week also began bringing season 4.5’s various plot threads together – and by that I mean the different bands of characters who, up until now, have been separated and looking for each other.

At the same time, it answered a few burning questions, and left some others for next week. For example, we finally get a glimpse of that big ol’ MacGuffin that the latter half of the season has been revolving around – aka. Terminus. But of course, the bigger question of what it represents – salvation, or false hope – remains to be seen. Next week, it all comes together. But in the meantime, here’s what happened this week…

Us:
wd4_15_0The episode opens with Glenn, Tara, Abraham, Rosita and Eugene carrying on down the railroad tracks and getting to know each other. Along the way, they find another road map with Maggie’s writing on it, telling Glenn to go to Terminus. After running some distance, Abraham tells Glenn they need to stop and rest in a water tower. However, a Walkers emerges from it and nearly lands on them, which sends Tara to the ground, hurting her knee.

Tara says she’s okay to walk, and Glenn insists that they keep going. To make it happen, he promises to hand his riot gear over to Eugene to ensure his safety. They come to another message painted on the side of a tunnel, but hear Walkers inside and debate going around. Glenn decides to proceed through with Tara and avoid a day-long detour, but Abraham and his group choose to take the detour route and promise to meet them on the other side.

WD4_15_1When they get deeper into the tunnel, they find a slew of Walkers pinned under a fallen section of the ceiling. Glenn worries that this would have prevented Maggie and the others from getting through, but Tara concludes that it had to have happened today. Glenn proceeds through it and inspects the Walkers to make sure none are Maggie or the others, and they begin killing them. Once they make it over, they find a dozen or more Walkers on the other side, which begin to approach them.

Outside, Abraham, Rosita and Eugene double back to the last intersection and find a vehicle, which they plan to start driving for Washington DC again. However, Eugene insists on navigating and tells Abraham to sleep, then misdirects Rosita so that they end up back on the railroad on the other side of the tunnel, where Glenn and Tara are expected to emerge. Abraham wakes up and they begin to argue, until Eugene warns them of something that’s approaching them from the tunnel.

wd4_15_3Back in the tunnel, Glenn once again is scanning the faces of the Walkers, making sure Maggie isn’t one of them and finding no traces of bodies on the ground. Tara says they don’t have enough ammo to make it through and insists they turn around, but Glenn demands that they push through. Tara’s leg gets caught by a piece of concrete and she tells Glenn to leave her, which draws the Walkers closer. Glenn tries to fight it out, and they are both saved when a group arrives from the opposite end in a vehicle and opens fire on the Walkers.

After shooting them all dead, Maggie runs forward and embraces Glenn. Her group had met up with Abraham, Rosita and Eugene on the road and came in to help them through. They make camp in the cave and introductions are made. Abraham tells them that Eugene knows what caused the walker outbreak and once again says they should head to Washington. But Eugene insists they continue to Terminus first and a consensus is struck. Maggie takes the picture Glenn was keeping of her and burns it, saying he will never need it again.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Elsewhere, we catch up with Daryl’s new found companions, the group of armed men led by Joe. Daryl heads out to hunt and is joined by Harley, and the two begin to fight over a wild rabbit they both have claim to. Joe intervenes and tells Daryl that they live by a strict rules to ensure that things don’t get chaotic. By the rules of their band, everyone is forced to lay “claim” to something and respect it, and he then splits the rabbit between them.

As they continue on, Joe insists that Daryl join them since no one can make it alone anymore, despite Daryl’s insistence that he’s better off by himself. He also fills Daryl in on the rules – you claim; if you steal, you kill; and don’t lie – and the punishment for breaking any of them, which is a beating. They take shelter in a rail station for the night, find a bunch of cars inside, and begin claiming them for the night. Daryl, having made no claim, sleeps on the floor.

wd4_15_4During the night, Harley confronts Daryl and accuses him of stealing his half of the rabbit they killed. Joe inspects Daryl’s bag and finds the missing half, and Daryl accuses him of planting it there. Joe orders that Harley be beaten and tells Daryl that he saw do it. In the morning, Daryl finds Harley’s body outside with an arrow in his head and covers him up. On the road, they see a sign to Terminus, and Joe reveals that this is where they are headed, mainly because they are tracking the guy who murdered one of their own (Rick!).

At the end of the line at last, Maggie, Glenn and the others see a building with the name TERMINUS painted on it in large letters. They enter through a gate and find a series of small gardens and come to a large barbeque being tended by a woman. She identifies herself as Mary (though Trekkies and geeks will probably recognize her as Tasha Yar), and welcomes them to Terminus.

Summary:
Straight off the bat, let me say that I enjoyed this episode. It had just enough twists and turns to be interesting, and revealed enough that it was enjoyable. At this point in the season, that is to be expected since they can no longer afford to drag things out or confound viewers with 11th hour complications. I was glad for that much. I was also pretty pleased with the way they answered some important questions and brought key members of the cast back together finally.

Naturally, the big focus of this episode was the reunion of Maggie and Glenn, something which we’ve been waiting for since season 4.5 started. And I liked how they went about doing this, showing one group retracing the others’ steps and then meeting up in the middle. But another thing I enjoyed just as much was the way they revealed Joe and his group’s story. For some time now, we’ve been seeing them pop up and wondering what their angle in all this is.

Obviously, they are a bunch of marauding survivalists that no one in their right mind would turn their back on. And Daryl’s involvement with them represents a conflict which is sure to be resolved next week (echoes of Merle’s involvement with the Governor here…) But I also wondered if they were related to Terminus at all, if it was their base camp or a trap they were leaving out for unsuspecting wanderers. I also wondered if they played any role in Beth’s disappearance.

Now, it would seem that they are just an armed group of survivalists looking to make their way and take from others. The reason they are heading towards Terminus has everything to do with their last encounter with Rick, and apparently nothing to do with the town itself. And Beth’s disappearance? Well, that wasn’t revealed, but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts this Terminus community is a cooky social experiment and she was kidnapped by them because they are looking for women of child-bearing age. Seriously, anyone want to take that bet?

Ah yes, and at last, we got a glimpse of the place itself and now know that it does in fact exist. We did not find that the place was overrun and the promise of salvation it once offered had expired long ago. Nor was it an obvious trap where men with guns jump out and murder anyone willing to accept the invite. If anything – and this is a key part of that bet I’m making – it’s Woodbury 2.0, a seemingly nice community who’s happy exterior hides a dark and sinister interior.

In any case, that and other things will be answered next week. And as the sneak peak shows, we will be hearing from Rick, Michonne and Carl; who I imagine will have some ‘splaining to do once the marauders catch up with them. And of course, it won’t end well, mainly because things never do on The Walking Dead. Actually, they never really end at all. They just keep going and going, despite themselves. But in a post-post-apocalyptic landscape beset by rotting zombies and evil people, what else can you do?

The Walking Dead – Season 4, Episode 13

The-Walking-Dead-season-4-wallpapers-7This week on the Walking Dead… more pacing, more backstory, more filler! After last week’s bottle episode that focused entirely on Daryl Dixon and Beth Greene in the wilderness, we got a more balanced episode that saw more from that unlikely duo, plus some updates on Beth, Bob and Sasha as they continue to look for Glenn and proceed towards Terminus. And as usual, we got to hear a bit more about their pasts and got another earful about the need to “keep hanging on”.

Throw in some more kills and foraging, and you’ve got yourself another pacing episode as we near the season four conclusion. I know, it sounds like I’m being critical. But in honesty, I found it entertaining and enjoyable.

Alone:
wd4_13_1The episode opens with a flashback on Bob Crowley’s life before he reached the prison. This consisted of wandering through the woods, maintaining a thousand-yard-stare, and then getting picked up by Daryl and Glenn as they found him on the road. As is their custom, they asked him the two big questions: “How many Walkers have you killed?” and “How many people have you killed?” He then joins them, indifferent to what kind of people they might be since he’s sick of being alone.

Flash forward to the present where he, Maggie and Sasha are still searching for Glenn. After fending off a group of walkers in the mist, they proceed to the railroad tracks where they too find a sign showing them how to get to Terminus. Maggie insists they go to this town since she’s sure Glenn would have if he saw the sign, but Sasha thinks its a trap. Grudgingly, they stay together and follow the tracks to the destination.

wd4_13_3Meanwhile, Beth and Daryl continue to track through the woods and Beth is injured when she steps in a small trap. They proceed to a funeral home surrounded by a vast graveyard and put in their for the night, noticing that someone else seems to have taken up residence. As they eat and wait, they continue to bond. Beth is insistent that Daryl accept that there are still good people in the world, but realizes he does because of her.

As they wait for Beth’s leg to heal, a dog comes around to the house and tripping their string of cans. One night, it returns, and Daryl opens the door to find a herd of walkers fighting to get in. Daryl lures them to the embalming room in the basement where he uses surgical tools to kill them while Beth escapes out the back. When Daryl makes it to the road, he sees her bag lying on the ground and a car drive off.

wd4_13_4Daryl runs through the night, following the road, and finds his way to the tracks where he finally collapses. He is then found by a group of armed men who appear to want to scavenge his equipment. A standoff ensues as Daryl points his crossbow at their leader, a man named Joe. We recognize him as one of the gunmen who Rick run afoul of earlier, and he encourages Daryl to come with them and “hurt other people”.

During the night, Sasha suggest to Bob they abandon the search, find the nearest building, and hold up. The next morning, they a wake to find that Maggie has gone on without them. They head along the tracks, hoping to catch her, and find that she’s left a trail of carved messages telling Glenn to go to Terminus. They eventually find their way to a series of buildings and Sasha once again suggests they set down there, but Bob insists they continue.

wd4_13-2Bob challenges Sasha to maintain hope that they find Tyreese and the others at Terminus; but sensing she won’t come, kisses her goodbye. He heads off alone again, and Sasha heads into the tall brick building. Looking out the window, she spots Maggie sleeping below. She accidentally knocks a window pane, which wakes up Maggie and causes Walkers to converge on her. Together, they manage to fight them off.

Maggie tells Sasha that she heard all she said, but that she was still waiting for Sasha and Bob to catch up since she needs them. They come together and eventually find Bob, and proceed on their way to Terminus. Somewhere else along the tracks, Glenn stops to read from a map that points the way to the same location…

Summary:
Compared to last week’s episode, this bit of filler proved to be more entertaining, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of Maggie, Bob and Sasha’s thread. It also managed to hint at what’s coming, thanks to the introduction of Joe and his party of  hunters/marauders. We already know from episodes past that they are some bad news, so I imagine Daryl will have his hands full in the near future.

I also enjoyed the shooting locations for this episode and the action sequences. Maggie really redefined the word badass with the way she used a street sign like it was a battleaxe, chopping and hewing her way through a horde of zombie heads. And that last shot, where she decapitated one of the biters? Holy crap, that was good! And of course, Sasha did pretty good too, wielding a sharpened stick like it was a combination spear/bo staff.

Alas, there were things I didn’t like much about this episode. For one, they seem to be running headlong towards a romantic entanglement between Beth and Daryl. I imagine there are some people out there clamoring for it to happen, but c’mon people! She’s still a child and Daryl is not the type to play the creepy old man! Still, the dynamic between them is very effective, and the budding relationship is touching. I just think it would be better if it didn’t get romantic!

And unlike other episodes, the title wasn’t so double-entendre-y this week. It was very much obvious, and harped on yet another theme that is growing tired on this show. Yes, the message of this week’s episode was more than clear: no one can make it out here alone. And of course this plays into the whole “we got to keep holding on” message that is played at least once an episode.

And what’s also a little bothersome is the fact that next week’s episode looks like more of the same. After hearing from Rick, Carl and James, Daryl and Beth, and now Maggie, Bob and Sasha, we’re about to get a bottle episode dedicated to Tyreese, Carol and the girls.

But there’s only three episodes left and they are already dropping hints as to how its going to wrap up. I predict a showdown between Rick and co. and Joe and his band of very bad men. But we’ll see soon enough!

The Walking Dead – Season Four, Episode 12

The-Walking-Dead-season-4-wallpapers-7And we’re back with another episode of the Walking Dead with just four more episodes to go before the season finale! And in another lovely act of double-entendreness, the episode was named “Still”, which seems to allude to all the dead bodies laying about, the story of Daryl and Beth’s will to survive, and the moonshiner operation they raid so Beth can finally get drunk.

And of course, the episode focuses exclusively on these two, avoiding any further development where Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene’s introduction is concerned, the different group’s journey towards the mysterious “Terminus”, or their eventual reunification. Yeah, this week was all about Beth and Daryl and was basically a pacing episode.

So let’s get going and wrap this piece of enjoyable filler up so we can get back on track for next week!

Still:
wd4_12_4The episode opens with Beth and Daryl still in the wilderness, desperately looking for food, shelter, and the other survivors. After spending the night hiding inside the trunk of a car and waiting for a horde of Walkers to move on, they set camp and enjoy a meal of firepit cooked snake. Beth then decides she needs a “real drink” and decides to head off and look for alcohol.

It’s not long before she runs into some Walkers and Daryl is forced to come retrieve her. After leading her back to the camp, she is outraged and claims that she is going off alone is she must. Daryle reluctantly accompanied her and they find their way to a country club and begin to look around. Inside, they find numerous people who committed suicide, but since came back.

WD4_12_0While Beth looks for alcohol, Daryl busies himself collecting money, jewelry, and anything they can eat or burn. They come across several Walkers, and Beth loses the only bottle of wine she could find and her change of clothes are stained with gore. Finally, they come to the bar where the only thing left is a bottle of peach schnapps. Beth begins to cry before she can drink, and Daryl smashes the bottle.

Leading her to a cabin he sees he and Michonne found, he opens up the still and procures several bottles of moonshine. They head inside and secure the place, and Beth begins to drink. She invites Daryl to join and they begin to play “I never”, which becomes an excuse for them to open up to each other. Eventually, Daryl tires of it and begins ranting.

WD4_12_1His outburst attracts a Walker, and he pins it to a tree with several arrows. Eventually, Beth stabs it in the head, and the two begin to argue about all they lost and how things will never be the same again. Daryle finally breaks down and admits that he blames himself for the way things ended at the prison. Beth hugs him, and the two spend the rest of the night talking.

During the night, Daryl finally tells her what he was before things turned – apparently, he and Merle were just drifters. Beth admits that she misses everyone and how she hoped her father’s remaining days would have been quiet. She also tells Daryl that she thinks he will be the last man standing, that he must put his past behind him, and suggest they burn the cabin down.

wd4_12_5They douse the place with the remaining moonshine, and using a stack of bills Daryl took from the country club as a torch, set fire to the cabin and leave it behind. They flip the burning mess the bird, and then head off into the night when they see Walkers approaching…

Summary:
Like I said already, this was a pacing episode, which just about always translates to tangents, asides, character development and assorted filler. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable. I thought Daryl and Beth were both well portrayed, their performances believable and appropriate, and the ending was especially poignant and powerful for me.

Though I must admit, at this point in the show I am getting a bit tired of the repetitive messages – the whole “we can’t lose hope or all is lost”, or the “I don’t care anymore. Oh wait – yes I do!” stuff. It is one of the central, overriding themes of the story and it’s a good one, but it’s well established at this point. And it does kind of feel like it’s something they go back to whenever they feel the need for pacing or a bottle episode.

But aside from that, I felt they got the title of the episode wrong. Sure, Still is yet another clever double-entendre, alluding to the pain of remaining alive in the face of so much death and the moonshine-producing apparatus itself. But for me, the real essence of this episode came across in the way that everything they found to help them forget ended up being destroyed.

Think about it. Beth wants to get drunk and forget, and this brings them to the country club. There, she finds some alcohol and a nice change of clothes. But its not long before the clothes are ruined and the bottles are used for self-defense or smashed out of anger. They find the cabin and the moonshine, but then decide to destroy them because they need to blow off steam and forget all the death.

To me, a more fitting title would have been “This is why we can’t have nice things”. We can’t have nice clothes because they might get ruined. We can’t party because it will put our lives in danger. We can’t have shelter because it reminds us of our pasts. This is what it is like living in the zombie post-apocalypse people! Life is grim, unfun, and uncouth!

In any case, that’s twelve down and four to go! Hopefully, next week, we’ll see some more development on the whole “We got to get to DC” verus “We gotta find the others and/or go to this ‘Terminus’ place we keep hearing about”. Until then!

The Walking Dead – Season 4, Episode 11

The-Walking-Dead-season-4-wallpapers-7Episode three of season 4.5 is here! And since I don’t want to drag things out with a long intro, let me just recap what happened last week as quickly as possible. Maggie and her group find the bus and all people aboard it are dead, but find no trace of Glenn. Tyreese and the girls are found by Carol, Judith is still alive and with them. They find out about a safe haven named Terminus and go looking for it.

Glenn finds Tara and sets out, and is found by Abraham, Rosita and Eugene, some new blood who got guns and a big honking army truck. And that’s what happened last week. Here’s what happened this week!

Claimed:
WD4_11_0The episode opens with Tara in the back of the army truck, taking notes on where her new “friends” are taking her. They stop to dispatch a group of Walkers, and Tara witnesses Abraham singlehandedly kill three. She notes how he did it all with a grin on his face and a sense of humor, to which he replies that he’s “the luckiest man in the world”.

Glenn wakes up in the back of the truck, demands that Abraham pull over and tries to leave. Abraham stops him, tells him that they are on a mission which may decide the fate of the human race, and introductions follow. They are Sgt. Abraham Ford, Rosita Espinosa and Doctor Eugene Porter; and apparently, Porter knows what caused the mess and needs to get to Washington DC.

WD4_11_2He reveals that Eugene was talking to people in Washington on a satellite phone, but for the past few weeks, no one has been responding. He asks for Glenn and Tara’s help since they know how to deal with Walkers, but Glenn is intransigent. Tara tells him she’s been keeping track of their route since they got picked up, and that she can get them back to the bus.

Abraham tries to convince him by telling him his wife is surely dead, and Glenn responds by slugging him. A fight ensues, which Tara and Rosita try to break up. But they only stop when Walkers are approaching and Eugene starts clumsily shooting at them. The others join in and take out the herd, but the truck is damaged and begins leaking fuel. Glenn and Tara depart yet again, and the others decide to follow.

WD4_11_1At the house, Michonne and Carl are having breakfast; they laugh, until the subject turns to Judith. They go out in search of more food, leaving Rick to rest and watch the house. Rick confides that he’s happy to have Michonne around, since Carl is in need of friends. While out, Michonne and Carl bond by speaking about her past, which includes how she lost her son, Andre Anthony.

While searching one house, Michonne finds her way into a child’s bedroom and discovers the bodies of the entire family laid out on the beds, having all died in a suicide pact. When Carl comes, she closes the door quickly. When he asks if there is a baby in the room, she lies and tells him it’s a dead dog. Carl responds by opening up about Judith’s death, saying he hopes she and Andre are somewhere together.

WD4_11_3Back at the house, Rick begins to hear voices and realizes he is not alone. When a armed man appears, he sneaks under the bed and hides. The man comes in to inspect the room and ends up taking the bed, leaving Rick underneath. Another man comes in soon thereafter and they begin fighting over the bed. One is killed by the other, and looks Rick in the eye before he is strangled to death.

Rick eventually slips out and hides in another room just as the intruders begin to gather back on the ground floor. He hides in a bathroom and comes face to face with one of them, and is forced to kill him. Taking his weapon, he sneaks out the window and finds his way outside the house just as Michonne and Carl are returning. He runs to them and they begin to run off together.

wd4_11_4On the road together, Abraham tries to appeal to Tara’s sense of reason by espousing their importance of their mission. They come to an agreement of sorts that they are all doing what they think is right because they are good people. Elsewhere, along the railroad tracks, Rick, Michonne and Carl come upon a map indicating the location of Terminus and decide to head there too.

Summary:
First off, let me say that I enjoy what they are doing with the show at this point. This is to be expected thanks to the introduction of Abraham, Rosita and Eugene, and the rather appropriate casting choices for them. Michael Cudlitz, Christian Serratos and Josh McDermitt manage to look the part of these characters very well, and so far, the character they are striking seems pretty accurate too.

Also, the way they have introduced these characters and their plot element at this point, though it does diverge from the comic book somewhat, works when paired with the other character’s trying to find their way in the wilderness. And the way they’ve inserted bands of marauders is akin to other elements in the post-prison part of the comic.

For one, it adds some sense of urgency, showing how people are being pulled in different directions. And now, it seems likely that everyone is going to converge on Terminus, and I think I know what they will find there. On the one hand, they might choose to go with something out of Volume 11: Fear the Hunters (which the roving band of armed men in this episode made me think of).

On other hand, they might choose to fast forward and go directly to Volume 12: Life Among Them which deals with the groups discovery of a working safe zone where they hope to build a new life. However, this seems unlikely at this point, as there is plenty of material that this would circumvent – good material that all took place between the prison being overrun and the entire group heading together to Washington.

I shall say no more on that front, as it would risk getting into major spoiler territory. Suffice it to say, at this point the show seems more like an open canvas. In the first half of season four, it seemed like the show was duty bound to deal with all the changes they had made in season three (i.e. the Governor surviving, the attack on the prison failing, etc.)

Now, it seems like they are back on track and free to experiment with a wealth of material, which – for me, at any rate, and I imagine other fans of the comics – has made the show exciting again. So I am interested to see how the second half of season four turns out, and hope that they don’t do something terribly off-script with the whole Terminus thing…

Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation – A Review

foundation_coversAt long last – after a year of reading it in small snippets between reading, writing and editing – I finally completed Second Foundation. As the third novel published in the Foundation series, it effectively ended the series, though it was followed up by two sequels and several prequels that expanded on the universe further.

However, given that it would be roughly 30 years until Asimov produced another Foundation novel and pressure from the fan community (and a hefty advance from the publisher) were the only reasons for it, many fans come to see Second Foundation as the final installment in what was effectively a trilogy.

I am one such person. And now that I’ve finished Second Foundation, I feel that the series is complete. And I’m rather dying to do a review, seeing as how the books been with me so long and it’s been months since I reviewed an actual novel. On top of all that, its taken me so long to finish this series that I feel a little embarrassed. Thank God the international society of sci-fi geeks doesn’t actually exist, or they’d kick me out for sure!

Sidenote: Before I begin, note the cover art that is featured at the top there. Over the years, many different covers have been produced, and the current cover for Second Foundation is the one you see below. However, I wanted to feature these ones since they give such a wonderful representation to the original trilogy.

In the first, you see Seldon sitting in front of the Imperial City of Trantor in the days before its decline. In the second, you see the Mule playing his instrument, sitting before a Trantor that lies in ruins. In the third and final, you see Arkady Darrel standing on a Trantor that has reverted to its natural state centuries later, the aged ruins lying well off in the distance. Once you read the full trilogy, you can see just how picture-perfect these representations are.

Plot Synopsis:
second-foundationMuch like Foundation and Empire, the book is divided into two parts, with the first dealing with the Mule’s ongoing search for the Second Foundation. This part opens a few years after the Mule’s trip to Trantor, during which time, his identity was revealed and his attempts to find the answer in the Imperial library were narrowly foiled.

Now in charge of a vast empire centered on the world of Kalgan, he sets out again, sending his fleet in all directions to locate and destroy this last challenge to his power. Knowing the a confrontation is inevitable, the executive council of the Second Foundation meets and decides to allow the Mule to find them, “in a sense”.

The search begins when Bail Channis, an officer recruited by the Mule because he exhibits an “unconventional mind”. He is sent out with Han Pritcher, an officer the Mule knows to be loyal but fears has been ineffective due to his own influence over the man. Together, they travel to the remote world of Rossem where, following clues left behind by Seldon (that the Second Foundation is at “Star’s End”), Channis believes they are hiding.

foundation_muleWhen they arrive, they find a backward, agrarian world where the locals are hospitable, but very little appears to be happening. Suspecting a trap and that Channis is in fact a Second Foundation agent, the Mule travels in secret to Rossem and reveals himself, thinking he has caught Channis and the Second Foundation off guard. However, he quickly realizes it is he who has stepped into a trap when the First Speaker emerges to save Channis.

The two do battle but in the end, the First Speaker emerges victorious by altering the Mules psyche, which prompts him to return to Kalgan and live out the rest of his days as a benevolent ruler. The story ends with another interlude in which the Executive Council celebrates their victory and now plots to get the Foundation back on track.

Part II takes place sixty years later, and fifty-five years after the death of the Mule by natural causes. The members of the First Foundation, led by Dr. Darrel, are now aware that the Second Foundation is out there and secretly discuss how they are exerting influence over their world. This is demonstrated by conducting electroneurology scans, which shows that key members of government have had their minds altered.

second_foundation_warMeanwhile, the Foundation is also embroiled in an ongoing conflict with the new ruler of Kalgan, who wants to reclaim the glory of the Mule by reconquering the Foundation and subjugating it to his will. Their fleet meets with early success and managed to cordon off Foundation space, but their fortunes soon change when the Foundation fleet surrounds them in a major battle.

In the midst of the war, the Foundation decides to send an emissary – Homir Munn, a noted Mule memorabilia collector – to Kalgan to investigate what the Mule learned about the Second Foundation in his final years. Darrel’s daughter, Arkady, sneaks aboard his ship to accompany him, since she is fascinated by the subject of the Second Foundation and Seldon’s plan, and because she is tired of being kept out of the loop by her father.

secondfoundation_arkadyIn the end, Munn is taken prisoner and interrogated by the Kalganian commander, but gives up nothing beyond stating that his purpose was to find clues to the location of the Second Foundation. Arkady is forced to flee, and on the advice of the Commander’s mistress, heads for the spaceport and flies with a family back to Trantor. To her surprise, she realizes that the mistress is a member of the Second Foundation, and that they are manipulating things on Kalgan.

From Trantor, she sends her father a message and tells him the Second Foundation are on Terminus. Once again going by clues left behind by Seldon, that the Second Foundation was at “the other end of the Galaxy”, she tells him that a circle has no end. Ergo, she concludes that they must have been on Terminus all along, where they could monitor the Foundation and Seldon’s Plan up close. In the midst of this, the Foundation fleet outflanks the Kalganians and wins the war.

With the war over and the Foundation victorious. Munn then returns to Terminus and tells them the Second Foundation could not exist. Darrel rightly then reveals that he has suspected all along that Munn has been manipulated by the Second Foundation, and conducts a brain scan to prove it. He then reveals that his work has yielded a telepathic jamming device, which they then turn on.

foundation_seldonThe 50 or so Second Foundation agents that are on Terminus are thus revealed and arrested. Reasoning that they are now neutralized, and with the war over,  the Foundation is now free to expand and build the Second Empire. However, in a final twist, another interlude takes place where the First Speaker is conversing with a student, where it is revealed that everything has proceeded by their design.

After neutralizing the Mule, the Second Foundation knew that Seldon’s plan was hanging by a thread, hence they manipulated things to ensure that it would proceed on track again. This included pushes the Kalganians into war with them, and then seeing to their defeat, and letting the Foundations find some of their agents and presume to have neutralized with them. It’s also revealed that they had a hand in grooming Arkady Darrel, and that Trantor is the real home, with Star’s End being a veiled reference to the old Imperial saying “all road’s lead to Trantor”.

Summary:
I can honstly say that after many years of stalling and waiting, finishing the original trilogy was quite the relief. And for the most part, I enjoyed the third installment in the original three-act play. However, there were some weaknesses that did not go unnoticed, and some of Asimov’s little idiosyncrasies which I’ve come to expect over the years.

For example, the first story is somewhat dry. Rather than there being any real intrigue and action, the entire section consists of a sort of final, half-hearted act made up of mind games. This certainly feels like the case when during the final chapter, where both Channis and Pritchard, followed by the Mule and the First Speaker, are embroiled in a type of mind war. It’s a constant case of “I got you”, “no, I got you!” kind of thing.

foundationAnd this is how the Mule is defeated and the greatest threat to Seldon’s Plan is neutralized. After being portrayed in the second book as the one factor that Seldon did not plan for, a titanic force that was overwhelming the Foundation and its armies, his ultimate demise seemed rather undramatic. Granted, this was something that needed to be secretive and behind-the-scenes, but it felt it rushed and kind of forced.

The second story is much better, containing plenty of intrigue, action, and crisis. And the story flowed quite nicely, beginning at a time when the Foundation feels secure in itself, but a small band of specialists understand that this is not the case, and then culminating in a war and a big reveal. And here, the twists serve a better purpose, showing how the Foundation thinks they’ve neutralized the threat, never to learn that they’ve been helpfully misled.

foundation_forwardBut once again, there was a sense of things being forced and rushed. Towards the end, people are once again revealing that they knew things all along, were better prepared than they had any right to be, and could solve everything with the push of a button or a last minute decision. This time around, its the First and the Second Foundations involved in a case of strategic and mental Jiujitsu, and it feels like there’s a few too many reversals.

However, that doesn’t detract much from the ending, which feels like a good completion to the series. After establishing the Foundation in the first book and showing to the progression of Seldon’s Plan, to throwing it into disarray in book two, by this final act, it now appears that the Plan is fully restored and all the principal actors have done their part.

hari_seldonAnd as the book states by quoting the Encyclopedia Galactica, the war between Kalgan and the Foundation would be the last major conflict before the rise of the Second Empire. Ergo, it would smooth sailing from here on in. As I said already, Asimov claimed that the remainder of the series was motivated by pressure from fans and the publisher, so I tend to think of these three books as the series in its entirety. And I think the way he ended it here was effective and satisfying. No need for sequels or prequels beyond this point!

So if you haven’t read this series yet, I recommend you get on it. While it may have some flaws and apparent idiosyncrasies, it remains a classic of science fiction and one of the most brilliantly original series available. Hence why I felt I needed to read it, and why you should too. Especially if you consider yourself any kind of sci-fi fan or geek!

Foundation and Empire

FYI: this is my 400th post, people! Woohoo! I hope Asimov is flattered… Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

Welcome back to my ongoing review of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. Picking up where I left off last time, here we have book II in the series, known as Foundation and Empire. Much like Foundation, this book was originally published as separate novellas in 1952, and did not appear as a single volume until 1955.

As the second installment in the original trilogy, this book is where things invariably get dark. Though it begins with a sort of conclusion to the previous novel, showing the path of Seldon’s Plan and the decline of the Empire, things invariably go south with the introduction of a new and unforeseen threat. After detailing the nature of this new enemy and placing the existence of the Foundation in peril, things end with the mention of a Second Foundation, which sets the scene for the final installment in the series.

Plot Synopsis:
The book consists of two sections, the first of which picks up where the first book left off and acts as a sort of conclusion to everything contained within. Centuries after its establishment on Terminus, the Foundation seems well on its way to fulfilling its purpose, as foreseen by Seldon’s psychohistory. However, the Empire has not yet collapsed and the growing might of the Foundation is seen as a threat. Hence, a showdown between the two is in the works!

The second story is starkly different, throwing a curve ball into the storyline with the introduction of a new force that was unforeseen in Seldon’s Plan. This force, known as “The Mule” threatens to destroy the Foundation simply by being an aberration in the science known as “psychohistory”.

The General:
The first book, titled “The General” opens Bel Riose, a skilled and dedicated General of the Galactic Empire meeting with the old Siwennan noble, Ducem Barr, son of the man Hober Mallow visited in “The Merchant Princes from the first book.The reason for this meeting is that Barr is the closest thing the Empire has to a source on the Foundation, and his knowledge of their technology, assets and the science of psychohistory is sought.

In the course of their discussions, Barr warns that Riose that his plans are merely a symptom of the Empire’s impending collapse. Naturally, Riose rejects this and claims that the Empire is still healthy. He shares Emperor Cleon II’s feelings that the Foundation constitutes a threat which must be neutralized, though at the same time he to seize all traces of their knowledge and technology and incorporate it back into the Empire.

The focus then shifts Lathan Devers, an independent trader and agent of the Foundation who is sent to Riose’s armada to figure out how the Foundation can save itself. This, according to Ducem Barr, is a wholly unnecessary step, because the Seldon Plan has already foreseen this and everything will work out on its own. Nevertheless, he still feels something must be done and travels to Trantor in the hopes of convincing the Emperor that Riose has his own agenda. He fails, but still manages to escape and find his way back to Foundation space.

Once there, he discovers that things have worked out on their own. Apparently, Emperor Cleon II really was beginning to fear that Riose had his own agenda, and the closer he came to conquering the Foundation, the more fearful he became. Hence, Riose was recalled from service and arrested, thus saving the Foundation. As Bel Riose himself says in the story, it’s a dead hand versus a living will, and it turns out the living well never stood a chance.

The Mule:
The second story takes place roughly one hundred years later. The Empire has now fallen, Trantor has been sacked, and the Foundation has become the dominant power in the Galaxy. Meanwhile, the Foundation is experiencing decay and corruption, with several of its outer planets are planning a war of cessation.

In addition, a new threat has emerged which refers to itself as “The Mule”, an apparent mutant who possesses strange psychic powers. Already he has taken control of many star systems that border the Foundation and appears hell-bent on conquering it as well. Naturally, the Foundation leadership is not concerned, for they believe that this is just another “Seldon Crisis”, and that the Vault will open and tell them how to resolve it.

To their horror, during the scheduled speech by Seldon’s hologram, no mention is made of the Mule, which indicates that this threat is completely unforeseen. What’s worse, the Mule’s fleet shows up in orbit and begins attacking the planet. The main characters, Toran and Bayta Darell, flee to the border planets along with psychologist Ebling Mis and refugee clown named “Magnifico Giganticus”. There, they find temporary solace until the Mule’s forces show up again and conquer the sector with ease.

Faced with the fall of the Foundation, the group sets out to find the fables Second Foundation which they feel is their only hope at this point. In time, this journey takes them to Trantor, where the unearth the Great Library and begin searching for clues as to where the Second Foundation might be.Along the way, they are taken prisoner by agents of the Mule, but Magnifico manages to kill them using a trick involving his psychoactive music.

After days of tireless research on Trantor, which startles Toran and Bayta, Mis claims to have uncovered the location. However, Bayta has a revelation and kills Mis before he can tell them. She reveals this revelation to her husband: they’ve been in the presence of the Mule all along! She has noticed that wherever they’ve gone, people have been behaving mysteriously. The sense of defeat that was taking over the border worlds, the way their captor’s were killed, Ebling Mis’s extreme mental clarity… it was all for the sake of finding the Second Foundation! And the only person who was in their presence the entire time that they couldn’t account for was Magnifico .

When they confront him, he reveals that she is right. All along, he’s been infiltrating enemy worlds and using his psychic powers to bend people to his will. Initially, this served the purpose of making sure his forces met with minimal resistance, but when they began searching for the Second Foundation, his plans changed. He knows that this contingency group, which Seldon apparently kept a secret, still constitutes a threat to him. He declares that he will find it in time, and let’s them go as they are no threat to him or his plans.

Summary:
In many respects, this book built upon the strengths of the original. In the first story, it reestablished its roots in Gibbons seminal study The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In keeping with the series’ Romanesque theme, he also adapted the tale of Emperor Justinian I and General Belisarius through the characters of Cleon II and Riose. In addition, it extended it’s commitment to the concept of psychohistory, how all things were essentially foreseen by Seldon and prepared for. The way Devers runs about hoping to fulfill said plan, only to find that it unfolded naturally, was quite apt at demonstrating this. Much like Frank Herbert’s portrayal of the prescient trap, the pre-deterministic nature of the story is interesting, even if it is at a times a little convenient and contrived.

And the story provides a pretty fitting diversion with the introduction of the Mule. After a book and a half of being told that the Foundation is pretty much sacrosanct and unassailable, Asimov throws a wrench into the works that demonstrates that the vaunted science of psychohistory is not in fact perfect. The explanation given for this is also quite interesting, in that it  that it circumvents whatever pretense Asimov made earlier about the infallibility of psychohistory.

Essentially, Seldon’s psychohistory was based in part on the notion that humanity’s biological nature would remain fixed for the period his Plan accounted for. What he did not plan for was any spontaneous mutations or sudden divergence in human evolution which would allow for the emergence of individuals which psychic powers. Hence, the arrival of the Mule threw his Plan into disarray by creating a second power which could very well threaten to take over the Galaxy.

But of course, there is a slimmer of hope presented with the existence of a Second Foundation. Whereas the first was something that was out in the open that would openly abide by Sheldon’s Plan, the second was something that was meant to operate behind the scenes; their purpose was to see to the maintenance of the Plan if the worst should happen and the Foundation fell.

But just to play Devil’s Advocate here, these characteristics do open the story up to accusations of inconsistency. In one book, we are basically told that the Plan accounted for everything, didn’t account for everything, but did account for everything after all. Three twists in one book is a bit much. In fact, it would have been better if the first story had been included as part of the original Foundation since it felt like the real closing chapter to Act I.

And, to venture beyond the second book for just a second, this happens yet again in book III. There, as with here, the story is broken into two parts, with the first concluding the Mule thread and the second capping off the story. In both cases, I couldn’t help but feel that the story was cut and pasted in a way which seemed unnatural. But fixing that would have required a rewrite, not a simple case of restructuring. So in the end, this book is something you have to swallow as a whole, structure, twists and all. It’s a good read, a fitting sequel to the first book, and like all of Asimov’s work, accessible and entertaining.

The Foundation Series

When it comes to science fiction, few authors have achieved the kind of notoriety and prolific ouput of Isaac Asimov. Amongst the greats of classic sci-fi, he considered one of the “Big Three”, along with arry Niven and Arthur C. Clarke. And when it comes to his many novels, short stories, articles and thoughtful essays, two series stand out above all else. The Robot series and, more importantly, the Foundation novels.

Not only did they get the ball rolling on many major sci-fi themes that would come up again and again over the years (such as the concept of a Galactic Empire), they once again brought commercial science fiction into the limelight by showing how hard science could be merged with real history to produce genuinely thought-provoking literature. This is a trend which seems to be necessary once every generation years or so, with Frank Herbert doing it again roughly a decade later. And in his case, much of the inspiration came from Asimov himself.

So in honor of that accomplishment, and to mark the occasion that I finally finished reading the original trilogy, I thought it was high time that I start reviewing the Foundation series, beginning with the book that started it all. So without further ado, here’s Foundation!

Plot Synopsis:
The story opens many thousands of years in the future, where humanity has spread to occupy the entire Galaxy and is governed by the Galactic Empire. For over 12,000 the Empire has stood, and appears to still be stable and powerful. However, a trend of decay has set in and some suspect that it’s only a matter of time before the Empire falls

One such man is Hari Seldon, a scientist who has perfected a form of psychology and mathematics known as psychohistory. Having calculated the exact date and sequence of events which will lead to the collapse of the Empire, he has also created an organization that will be dedicated to ensuring that the dark ages that naturally follow will be as brief as possible – one thousands years instead of the alternate 30,000.

Divided into five parts – each of which was published throughout the 1940’s and together in a single volume in 1951 – the story jumps forward in time from the starting point, 0 F.E. (Foundation Era), to several hundred years in the future. Several protagonists are employed, people who find themselves at the center of events in any given period. Each period involves the emergence of a “Seldon Crisis”, a calamity that was predicted by Seldon’s psychohistory in advance, and the requisite response by the Foundation to resolve it. The first story, which sets up the subsequent stories and crises, is aptly named:

The Psychohistorians: Told from the point of view of Gaal Dornick, a young mathematician who has travelled to the capitol world of Trantor to meet Seldon, the story moves from their introduction to Seldon’s arrest by the Committee of Public Safety. Named after the Revolutionary body that send countless French citizens to their death after the 1789 Revolution, this committee is made up of Imperial aristocrats who are angered by Seldon’s philosophy and want to see him silenced. However, not wanting to martyr him, they instead tell him and his Foundation to pack up and move to Terminus, a world on the edge of the Empire.

The story then concludes with Seldon telling Dornick that he knew this was coming, and that it was actually all part of the plan. By being able to set up the Foundation at the edge of the Empire, it will be in a perfect position to begin enacting its policies once the Empire begins its inevitable slide into decline and loses control of first the periphery, and then the core systems. Thus, the most important lesson about psychohistory is presented for the first time: like a prescient science, it predicts all things and all things happen in accordance with its laws.

The Encyclopedists: Fifty years later on Terminus, the Foundation scholars have begun work on the Encyclopedia Galactica, the complete compendium of scientific knowledge for when the Empire falls. Unfortunately, the Empire is surrounded by four independent kingdoms that are in danger of threatening Terminus. The mayor of the planet, Salvor Hardin, is the protagonist of this story, and believes that the only way to keep their neighbors at bay is to pit them against each other. He perceives an opportunity when the Kingdom of Anacreon, which hopes to place military bases on Terminus, reveals that the four kingdoms no longer have nuclear technology.

Later, Hardin’s own rivalry with the Board of Trustees (the people responsible for the Encyclopedia) come to a head when Seldon’s Vault – a mysterious chamber which opens whenever a “Seldon Crisis” is imminent – opens to deliver a message. According to Seldon’s hologram, the creation of the Encyclopedia was a ruse to hide Terminus’ real importance. The true goal of the Foundation is to further science in a galaxy as it becomes consumed by interplanetary strife. Realizing that they are no longer in control, the Board hands its political power to the Terminus City mayor who graciously accepts.

The Mayors: Beginning in 80 F.E., this story revolves around the Foundation’s efforts to bring technology to the Four Kindgoms. This has the effect of creating a priesthood of sorts in these states, reminiscent of early medieval Europe where Roman priests were dispatched to western European kingdoms to establish centers of learning. Salvor Hardin has been re-elected many times over the course of the decades but faces an impending problem as an “Action Party” threatens to overthrow him. Fearing that Anacreon is slowly overtaking them, they want power so the Foundation will fight back.

On Anacreon, it is also becoming clear that the young King Lepold I faces an internal threat from his uncle, Prince Regent Wienis. Before he can come of age, Wienis plans on seizing power for himself. Central to this plan is using a battleship the Foundation restored for Anacreon to attack and conquer the planet. On the night that Lepold is to be ordained, Wienis invited Hardin into his quarters and shares his plan with him. Hardin reveals that he too has a plan, a counter stroke which will neutralize the battleship and Wienis’ power.

After decades of seeing Foundation scientists as “holy men”, the public is incensed when they learn that Wienis is planning an attack on them. What’s more, all their technology, including the attacking battleship, becomes useless as the only people who know how to run them (the Foundation scientists) begin shutting them down. Wienis loses it and tries to kill Hardin, but his weapons cease working, and he takes his own life.

Upon his return to Terminus, Hardin is vindicated when Seldon’s vault opens to reveal that his plan was right. With this crisis behind them, the Action Party defers to the mayors and their authority is once again validated. In addition, the Four Kingdoms are now free to continue the advance of “Scientism”, which will extend their influence throughout the region and ensure the fulfillment of Seldon’s plan.

The Traders: Events in this section take place 135 F.E., at a time when the Foundation has begun sending out Trade representatives to distant worlds to share their technology with all neighboring planets in the quadrant. Master Trader Eskel Gorov, also an agent of the Foundation government, has traveled to the worlds of Askone to trade in nucleics. Gorov, however, is met with resistance by Askone’s governing Elders who abide by the taboo that certain technologies are morally proscribed.

Enter the protagonist, Trader and Foundation agent Linmar Ponyets, who is sent to Askone’s central planet to negotiate the release of Gorov, who has been arrested. After learning that the Elder’s Grand Master plans to have Gorov executed, Ponyets agrees to offer them a payoff in the form of a transmuter than can turn lead into gold. At the same time, Ponyets finds a willing ally in a young protegee named Councilor Pherl. While initially wary of Ponyets, he is convinced that the transmuter could help him to attain power and eventually become Grand Master himself.

Because of this, Gorov is released and travels back to Foundation space with Ponyets. Gorov is critical of Ponyets dealings, saying that it was unethical, but Ponyets counters with a quote by Hardin, wherein he said “Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right!”

The Merchant Princes: This last story, which takes place in 155 F.E., occurs against the backdrop of a powerful Foundation, which has subjugated the neighboring Four Kingdoms and expanded its commercial and technological empire throughout numerous stellar systems. However, it still faces challenges, this time around from a planet named Korell where three Foundation ships have disappeared. Fearing that a “Seldon Crisis” in coming, the Foundation assigns Master Trader Hober Mallow to investigate and determine the Korellian’s level of technology.

At the same time, the people who assign Mallow, Foreign Secretary Publius Manlio and the Mayor’s secretary, Jorane Sutt, foresee an opportunity to weaken the traders by creating an embarrassing diplomatic incident. To oversee their plan, they plant an agent aboard Mallow’s ship to spy on him. When they arrive on Korell, he invites a Foundation missionary on board their ship, a move which causes a mob to surround the ship. Since Foundation agents and technology are not allowed on Korell, this arouses Mallow’s suspicions.

Mallow hands the missionary over to the mob, in spite of the agents intervention, and the missionary dies. Surprisingly, he doesn’t seem too disturbed by this and even earns the chance to meet with Korell’s authoritarian ruler, Commdor Asper Argo, because of it. He appears friendly and welcomes Foundation technological gifts, though he refuses to allow Scientism on Korell. In accordance, Mallow agrees to continue trading with them but agrees to abstain from encouraging missionary work within the Republic of Korell.

Later, Mallow is also given a tour of the planet’s facilities, during which time he notices the presence of atomic technology bearing the emblem of the Empire. He concludes that the Empire is expanding into the periphery again and journeys alone to the planet Siwenna, which he believes may be the capital of an Imperial province. There he finds nothing but a desolate world and an impoverished patrician named Onum Barr, a former provincial senator who tells him how an a local rebellion led the Empire to devastate the planet and kill all but one of his sons.

Convinced there is nothing there to see, Mallow returns to Terminus where he faces trial for murder because of how he turned the missionary over to the Korellian mob. However, he is able to convince the court that the “missionary” was in fact a Korellian secret policeman who played a part in the conspiracy against the Traders manufactured by Sutt and Manlio. Acquitted, Mallow is received with delight by the population of Terminus, which will almost undoubtedly select him as Mayor in the elections scheduled to take place in the following year.

To prepare for the election, Mallow engineers the arrest of Sutt and Manlio, and eventually takes office. However, he is soon faced with tensions between the Foundation and Korell, which declares war on the Foundation, using its powerful Imperial flotilla to attack Foundation ships. Instead of counterattacking, Mallow takes no action, knowing that Korell has become accustomed to trade with the Foundation and the lack of said trade will cause deprivation and anger towards the government. In time, this will cause Korell’s war efforts to grind to a halt and the end of hostilities.

Thus ends book I of the foundation series, with the Foundation ascendent in a Galaxy that is becoming increasingly permeated by chaos and Seldon’s plan in effect on well underway.

Good Points:
As I said, this novel (if you’ll excuse the pun) really wrote the book on Galactic Empires and historically/socially relevant sci-fi. Inspired largely by Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it advances the notion that all civilizations are basically organism, subject to the same laws as all living things. And like all organisms, they enjoy a period of growth, maturation, and then decline, culminating in their death. When that happens, their absence leaves a natural power vacuum characterized by chaos, strife, and a marked decline in all things “civilized” – aka. the arts, the sciences, learning, etc.

By taking a page from history, namely the attempts to preserve classical knowledge throughout the Middle Ages (which culminated in a rebirth of learning in the Renaissance) Asimov creates a fictional repeat of history in the distant future whereby the efforts of the preservers were enhanced with the help of foresight and a coordinated plan. Had such factors existed in the wake of Rome’s fall, it is entirely possible that the Dark Ages would have lasted for a significantly shorter amount of time.

On top of that, this book was is also very accessible and readable, in spite of the fact that it throws some rather deep scientific and intellectual content at the reader. And the way the stories are succinct, concise, and tie together so effectively makes for a read which is easy on top of it all. For an accomplished reader, it can be read in one sitting. I am hardly a speed reader, but even I found it a quick study.

Bad Points:
Conversely, some of the books selling points are also potential weaknesses. For one, its accessibility can be seen as a mark of simplicity. For example, the book is all about a science that deals with the masses, of how historical events are determined by the actions of billions, trillions and even quadrillions of people. And yet, in every story, everything seems to hinge on the actions of one person, the protagonist, and a few others.This seems a little contradictory, and intentional since it provides quick resolution to the plot.

Herein lies another weakness, which is that of contrivance. Many times throughout the novel, the way the characters tend to figure things out seems awfully convenient. In every story, you see the mayors, merchants and Foundationists pulling resolutions seemingly out of nowhere, knowing everything they need to in advance or just providing a perfect solution on the spot. Granted, it seems to make sense, but how they know to do this and how it always seems to work out does not seem wholly realistic.

And of course, the explanation is always there in the background, Hari Seldon predicted it using psychohistory and these people know that science so they are therefore prepared where others are not. This sort of advances a notion that the science itself is infallible, that human minds really can be reduced to mathematical formulae which is water-tight. If anything, I would say that predicting the behavior of billions gets more unpredictable the farther afield one looks, and that no science can ever be capable of predicting it with certainty. And we all know what became of those philosophies that tried – aka. Marxism, Hegelianism, and many other isms besides!

But of course, the concept of psychohistory is entirely fictitious and was really just a tentative argument that Asimov advanced, and for the sake of a fictional story no less. In order to make the story work, he had to create a universe in which a form of prescient foresight, made possible through the application of rigorous mathematics and psychology, was possible and accurate. In short, its just food for thought, not something to be taken seriously. And of course, Asimov did show that he was willing to break from this notion with the second book in the series, Foundation and Empire, where the “Plan” began to falter due to external, unaccounted factors.

So in the end, I have to recommend Foundation as required reading, not just for science fiction fans but for all people curious as to how many trends we’ve come to associate with speculative and satirical literature (including dystopian lit) got started. Granted, there were those who came before Asimov who made use of such themes and classical inspirations, but he was the one who brought such things into the public eye like few before him. And as a result, he would go on to have an immeasurable influence on those who followed in his wake.

Up next, Foundation and Empire, part two of the original trilogy, before fans and publishers practically forced him to write many, many more books in the series. Stay tuned!