Foundation: "The Merchant Princes"
November 5, 2015 5:46 AM - by Isaac Asimov - Subscribe

"The Merchant Princes" is set fairly shortly after the events of "The Traders". The changes heralded in the previous story have become the new status quo. Or almost, the traders are still nominally under the control of the old political order, who fear the independence of this new class. Master Trader Hober Mallow gets sent to the planet Korell to investigate troubling reports that may indicate the arrival of a Seldon Crisis.

In "The Merchant Princes", Asimov is exploring the boundaries of his ability as a writer. He's never painted on such a broad scale before. This is the only story in the whole series which makes me feel like the galaxy is, well, galaxy-sized. The shock that someone as far traveled as Hober Mallow feels when he learns that the Empire still exists, communicates well how immense the setting is.

Asimov also handles the intrigue and double-dealing in the story well. On the other hand, it has my least favorite scene in the whole series, when the spousal rape of Licia Argo by the Commdor of Korell is played for laughs. I've never written fanfic, but I'll admit that I've been tempted to write a short story about Licia, who gets married off to a loathsome warlord, and suffers greatly. She deserves more empathy than she gets from her author, which is none.

This scene sort of ruins the whole story for me, to be honest, but I appreciate how well the rest of the tale is laid out. Having read the series for the first time when I wasn't yet a teenager, I can't remember if the ending was a surprise to me at the time, but even knowing the outcome there is a real feeling of uncertainty and danger in this story. Hober Mallow is an intriguing character, probably the only "strong silent hero" in the series who has a personality beyond "strong silent hero". I like how he uses the same kinds of mental jujitsu techniques Salvor Hardin used. I think that's the last time that happens in the series.

[I apologize for the long radio silence. To explain, I just moved back to Iceland with my family, had a book of poems published, and started a new job. All of this happened in closer proximity than originally planned.

Also, I will put a reading schedule for future books up on the ClubTalk page.]
posted by Kattullus (4 comments total)
Probably the best story in Foundation. Mallow's visit to the Empire is memorable.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:51 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

"What business of mine is the future? No doubt Seldon has foreseen it and prepared against it. There will be other crises in the time to come when money power has become as dead a force as religion is now. Let my successors solve those new problems, as I have solved the one of today."

I believe this passage is what inspired John Campbell to tell Asimov that he wanted to see what happened when Seldon's Plan failed. Hober Mallow may have taken a place in the hearts of Foundationers, but to me he sounds like every politician who (to borrow a phrase) has stood for nothing but re-election.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:37 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

It took me awhile to catch up with everyone, but I have been reading along. When I finished reading this story, it somehow evoked A. E. Van Vogt to me, though better written, and without me thinking when I finished "Wait! How did they do that?"

I had never read Foundation before, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, considering how long ago it was written.
posted by wittgenstein at 4:16 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

["The General", the next story in the series, now has its own post.]
posted by Kattullus at 5:18 PM on November 10, 2015

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