Isaac Asimov’s Ugly Little Boy had resided on my shelf for a number of years before I had got around to reading it. When I finally did, I wanted more of his work, so I had set out to my favourite used book store in Toronto and walked around hoping they’d have a decent selection of Asimov’s writings. They didn’t disappoint, and I fumbled through assorted printings with various covers of books in The Foundation series, not wanting to purchase a number of them to find I grabbed them in the wrong order, or missed on one vital to getting the whole story. I managed to read through the main five books of the series last year and had been thinking about them periodically since.
Of course, this year, they received a lot of attention as the first books to be Mars-bound, as Elon Musk, thanks to Arch Mission putting the initial trilogy of the Foundation novels onto a data crystal that will last billions of years, blasted it along with Rocket Man towards the red planet in the most elaborate advertising campaign for a car ever. The first three books receive a lot of love, such as receiving the Hugo award for “Best All-Time Series” in 1966.
While I did enjoy the first three books (especially the third, starring The Mule who wielded his hypnotic powers and defied the world), it was the fourth and fifth book which made me mull over much in my mind. It was the fourth book which introduced the planet Gaia, and specifically from Gaia, Bliss. Bliss is initially figured to be a robot by the novel’s main protagonist Golan Trevize due to her eccentric behavior (and perhaps due to Asimov initially planning to take her in that direction, but then dropping this entirely in the next book), though it’s not this peculiarity that stuck with me.
In Asimov’s Ugly Little Boy, I hadn’t expected the story to have such a strong human element. To not spoil the novel too bad, Edith Fellowes sacrifices everything for a cave
man–err, caveboy, neanderthal, and the science loving writer positioned the scientists as putting their work and craft above their humanity, whereas Edith put her humanity above her work. That science took a backseat had surprised me, or at least defied my expectations of the novel (given the reputation and perception I had of Asimov prior to reading the book). The Foundation’s first three books worked a little differently, with the characters being more noticeably present as plot-advancers, rather than being the driving force of the story, I finally found my want of the ‘human’ in the character of Bliss.
See, Gaia is obviously another word for earth, and brings with it connotations of a connectivity to nature. Gaea in Greek mythology is the deity of the mother of all life, of the goddess Mother Earth. In the fourth Foundation novel, Trevize and Janov Pelorat his academic companion are in pursuit of the origin planet (the series taking place in the distant future, where Earth is a thing of legend, hardly known by very few in the galaxy). Gaia is visited due to them believing it is possibly Earth itself, though it is revealed not to be. However, it is a planet where every single inhabitant on the body of the planet identifies as the planet itself. All life on Gaia are Gaia, despite having individual names which in full-length describe the history of the inhabitant, and shortened to something quick and easy, such as in the case of Bliss.
The writing for the character didn’t deliver me this needed ‘humanity’, but rather, the reflections on it did. I’ve done a number of posts as of late about the Sambhogakaya, also known as the “bliss body” in Buddhism. The Sambhogakaya being one part of the Three Bodies which make up the One Mind – this tying into the idea of all inhabitants of Gaia viewing themselves as Gaia experiencing itself and being without division, despite the division of their physical form. Things like jealousy, possession, and division are pretty much non-existent on the planet.
Trevize, when pulled between his home, and the planned fate of the galaxy (the main plot of the novels is that Hari Seldon has developed a mathematical formula which predicts events, and if those from the Foundation ensure his ‘crisis’ happen when they do and things continue to his plan, they can cut the years of barbarity and chaos down from a great amount of time, to mere thousands of years of violence), Trevize decides to throw a wrench in the cogs, and decides to move humanity off of Seldon’s plan, and after exposure to Bliss, decides that it’s in his best interest if they manifest the Gaia lifestyle – so that all becomes Gaia. Trevize struggles with his decision, believing this losing one’s “self” would bring an end to the violence, but also rebellion and the bits of chaos and disorder that to him, make life unique. However, Bliss points out repeatedly that taking refuge in these things, is so that Trevize can believe he’s outside of that which he influences, being isolated from the external, enjoying his being alone and thinking his own thoughts. (Those connected into Gaia begin to see through one another, having ‘telepathic’ abilities and the ability to communicate non-verbally as a skill that develops with everything being in unity).
It’s rather interesting to take the book from a Buddhist perspective, meditating on that part of the Foundation world.
It’s a shame that the Martians won’t get to see that part of humanity.
“Down–down–the results can be followed; and all the suffering that humanity ever knew can be traced to the one fact that no man in the history of the Galaxy[…], could really understand one another. Every human being lived behind an impenetrable wall of choking mist within which no other but he existed. Occasionally there were the dim signals from deep within the cavern in which another man was located–so that each might grope toward the other. Yet because they did not know one another, and could not understand one another, and dared not trust one another, and felt from infancy the terrors and insecurity of that ultimate isolation–there was the hunted fear of man for man, the savage rapacity of man toward man.” – Isaac Asmiov, Second Foundation