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Literature / The General (Foundation)

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General Riose inspecting evidence for the "magicians".

BEL RIOSE... In his relatively short career, Riose earned the title of "The Last of the Imperials" and earned it well. A study of his campaigns reveals him to be the equal of Peurifoy in strategic ability and his superior perhaps in his ability to handle men. That he was born in the days of the decline of Empire made it all but impossible for him to equal Peurifoy's record as a conqueror. Yet he had his chance when, the first of the Empire's generals to do so, he faced the Foundation squarely....
ENCYCLOPEDIA GALACTICA, 116th edition, published in 1020 F.E.

First published as "Dead Hand" in Astounding Science Fiction (April 1945 issue), by Isaac Asimov. This Science Fiction Novella takes place after the events of "The Merchant Princes" and in 1996, it earned second place in the 1946 Retro Hugo Award (losing to "The Mule"). After many decades of growth, the Foundation has expanded near enough to the borders of the shrinking Empire that they've been noticed. Despite being only a quarter of its previous size, the Empire is still much larger than the fledgling Foundation. How can the dead hand of Hari Seldon defeat a living will?

General Bel Riose, banished to the edge of the Empire, is the Military Governor of Siwenna. Siwenna appeared in "The Merchant Princes", where Hober Mallow visited Onum Barr. General Riose is visiting Onum's son, Ducem Barr, who is now an old man. Barr convinces Riose of the existence of the Foundation, a galactic nation who are foretold to conquer the galaxy. In disguise, General Riose travels there and confirms much of what Barr told him. So, to defend the great Galactic Empire (and to engage in the glorious war that he wants), Riose announces a campaign against the Foundation with ten massive Empire ships.

During one of the first attacks into the Foundation, an independent Trader called Lathan Devers is captured and interrogated: Devers affirms that he does not care much about politics. However, when left alone with Barr, Devers shares his actual plans with the man: he's a spy sent to supply false information to Riose, find information on him and do anything he can to disrupt his plots.

Riose's reports reach Trantor and Emperor Cleon II, which results in Privy Secretary Brodrig being sent to keep an eye on Riose. Brodrig bribes Devers, who lies to him by telling the Privy Secretary that Riose seeks the Imperial throne, which he may be able to achieve by using the Foundation's advanced technology in his favor.

A few days later, Riose meets again with Devers and Barr and reveals that Brodrig's throwing his full support behind Riose, the opposite of what Devers had hoped. Riose states that, after weeks of requiring each planet to be hard-won and that all of them maintain a constant resistance, led by the merchants, he suspects there is more to Devers than thought. Barr knocks Riose out and both Trader and Siwennian escape on Devers' ship. Devers, knowing that time is running out for Terminus and Siwenna (as most of the planet is getting ready to rebel the moment the Empire loses power in the region), proposes a risky plan: go to Trantor and use Riose's actions to convince the Emperor that the General and the Privy Secretary are plotting to take over the Empire.

After several weeks of using Brodrig's money to bribe successive levels of bureaucrats, though, one of them turns out to be a member of the Secret Police and tries to arrest them. Devers and Barr escape just in time - learning as they do so that Cleon II has had Brodrig and Riose arrested and executed.

With the end of the war, Siwenna rises up against the Empire and joins the Foundation, while Devers and Barr are decorated for their (unnecessary) efforts. Barr then explains that the Empire has become so corrupt and run by infighting and power struggles that expansionist wars have become impossible. Strong emperors are only strong because they don't allow potential competitors to succeed, so Riose's very skills and accomplishments doomed him. And if the emperor had been weak, Riose would have presumably been more inclined to seize control of the Empire itself (as had apparently become a relatively common occurrence) and, once on the throne, would then be too busy defending his own position and trying to keep the Empire together to do anything else.

In 1952, "The General" was revised and included as the first half of Foundation and Empire. Not to be confused with The General Series, another retelling of the 6th century Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantium Empire) campaign by Flavius Belisarius.

"The General" provides examples of:

  • 2-D Space: General Riose is averting the two-dimensional concept of space by organizing his ships into an "Inclosure", a 3D sphere of ships where the enemy cannot escape. As the Inclosure tightens, he advances through the Foundation's territory and maintains a supply line for his fleet.
  • Absurdly Huge Population: The planet Trantor, capital of the Galactic Empire, is populated entirely of government administrators, and their population is said to be 40 billions, requiring the combined output of twenty farm planets. This is Trantor after decaying to only the core galactic worlds, though citizens believe themselves to represent the Empire's peak because they have grown so large.
  • Agri World: Sergeant Mori Luk comes from the Pleiades sector, which has multiple agricultural planets. The only escape from a life of farming is to join the military.
  • All for Nothing: In the end, Devers' and Barr's efforts to meet the Emperor to convince him of Riose's and Brodrig's treason were for nothing — because the Emperor already suspected treason and had sent for them to be judged and executed. Devers and Barr learn of this just as they are escaping Trantor.
  • Antagonist Title: The title refers to General Bel Riose of the Galactic Empire, who wages war against the Foundation. The final line of Chapter 3 summarizes the conflict; "a dead hand against a living will". The "dead hand" refers to Seldon's Plan while 'living will' refers to General Riose's determination.
  • Blind Jump: Devers tries to escape from General Riose's fleet after escaping from their forward base by making hyperspace jumps without proper planning. He explains the danger to Ducem Barr. It isn't very risky, as the most likely destination if you vaguely target empty space is empty space... but since they don't know where they've ended up, it takes quite some time poring over starcharts until they can pinpoint their location.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: A subplot that occurs during the gap between the previous story, "The Merchant Princes", and this story. Ducem Barr had managed to rise high enough in military rank to be part of the guard for the Governor-General who had unfairly punished his home planet of Siwenna. He killed the General in retribution for the atrocities committed on his family and planet.
  • Bribe Backfire:
    • When Privy Secretary Brodrig interrogates the Foundation merchant Devers, he expects to be bribing the Privy Secretary into working against the Emperor. What he doesn't expect is Brodrig trying to bribe him, but he adapts and convinces Brodrig that General Riose is actually trying to overthow the emperor and take control of the Empire. This convinces Brodrig to support Riose instead of reporting it to Emperor Cleon II.
    • When Devers goes to Trantor, capital of the Galactic Empire, he and Barr try to bribe their way up the ladder of bureaucrats so they can see the Emperor and get General Bel Riose recalled. They eventually run into one who's actually an Imperial Police lieutenant. He's under orders to arrest them for conspiracy to overthrow the Emperor, not for bribing officials. Their effort was effectively pointless, because the only reason Emperor Cleon II had survived as long as he had was to be suspicious of everything his subordinates did, and they had been using Privy Secretary Brodrig's funds.
  • Cargo Cult: Implied to be the case when a soldier mentions that on one of the planets which lost both contact with the Empire and advanced technology, an old microfilm reel is a relic valuable enough to build a big structure around and die defending it (religious terms aren't used, but that may be just because the Empire is not religious).
  • Decadent Court: The inner court of Emperor Cleon II is full of sycophants and back-stabbers, each looking to secure their position for when the Emperor dies and possibly taking the throne for themselves. Despite his painful and incurable disease, Cleon keeps an eye out for possible revolts and betrayal, including young generals popular with the military.
  • Distant Sequel: The events in this story begins over forty years after "The Merchant Princes" (roughly 200 F.E.), and Ducem Barr (the offscreen son of an old man) is now, himself, an old man. Hober Mallow is gone, replaced by Sennett Forell (his bastard son). The other characters have all died from old age.
  • The Dreaded: Privy Secretary Brodrig is feared because he once had one of every ten men in a planet executed when the planet was late in paying their Imperial taxes.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita:
    • When published in the original Astounding Science Fiction magazine, chapters 1 & 2 have an italic paragraph to help introduce the setting, describing Trantor's and Terminus's governments. No attribution is given here, but they are replaced with Encyclopedia Galactica entries.
    • When published in Foundation and Empire, three Encyclopedia Galactica entries were added. Chapter 1 has an entry on Bel Riose, chapter 2 has an entry on the Foundation, and chapter 4 has an entry on Cleon II.
  • Every Man Has His Price:
    • Privy Secretary Brodrig tells Lathan Devers that he has somehow resisted the General's Mind Probe, but that he has a better one, one which 'can make any man talk'. Brodrig's Probe turns out to be a big wad of cash credits; he bribes Devers to tell him what the General is really trying to do.
    • Subverted Trope when Devers and Barr are bribing their way up the chain of Imperial bureaucrats (nobility would have been faster, but their price is beyond the budget). Just a couple of bureaucrats away from the Emperor, the one they're bribing turns out to be a quite incorruptible Imperial Police Lieutenant. The police had noticed their efforts at bribing the lower-ranked officials and arranged a sting operation.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Privy Secretary Brodrig dismisses General Riose's (honest) claim to be devoted to the Imperium — the only reason Brodrig can imagine for embarking on a war is to seize power for oneself. Devers confirms his belief, so he begins sucking up to Riose by getting him the reinforcements the general wants.
  • Evil Chancellor: Privy Secretary Brodrig provides an unusual inversion because he is as selfish and scheming as any other member of Emperor Cleon II's Decadent Court, but because everyone aside from Cleon hates him, he is also the only utterly loyal and helpful member as a result. He's never really given an opportunity to betray Cleon II (and he's arrested and executed for conspiracy to commit treason before he can do more than dream of it).
    The low-born, faithful Brodrig; faithful because he was hated with a unanimous and cordial hatred that was the only point of agreement between the dozen cliques that divided his court.
    Brodrig — the faithful favorite, who had to be faithful, since unless he owned the fastest speed-ship in the Galaxy and took to it the day of the Emperor's death, it would be the radiation-chamber the day after.
    • Ironically, his disloyalty to Cleon actually makes him more loyal than the Foundation wishes. If he was actually loyal, being convinced by Devers that Riose was going to use the Foundation's power to take over should have resulted in him stopping that. Instead he helps because he wants that power for himself.
  • Failed Future Forecast: Riose's certainty about the Empire being stable. At one point, he says that the current Empire citizens are certainly safe from anarchy, and would have been even had they lived four times as long. The Emperor who is too ill to survive for more than a couple of years is the last strong ruler the Empire will ever have, and the complete destruction of the latter is about fifty years away.
  • Finale Title Drop: When this story was revised for publication in Foundation and Empire, the original title "Dead Hand" was reused for chapter 3, "The Dead Hand". The last line of Chapter 3 is General Riose summarizing the conflict; "a dead hand against a living will".
  • Franken-vehicle: Three of Riose's ships have engines or weapons "salvaged from the old Grand Fleet", which are considered superior to those built more recently.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Lathan Devers, a Trader from the Foundation, points out that when one government is toppled, all it really does is replace who's in charge, and people like him would be pretty screwed anyway. That's why he doesn't mind if the Empire wins the war against the Foundation. He is a spy sent to find out as much as possible about the Empire, so he's saying this to General Riose to gain his trust.
    • The next story reveals that Devers was in fact screwed after the Foundation won.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Imperial General Bel Riose comes the closest to toppling the Foundation during his campaign to "pacify" the Periphery. His plan is ultimately foiled by his own Emperor, who, paranoid of Riose's success and popularity, has him recalled and arrested on trumped-up charges of treason.
  • Guile Hero: Lathan Devers allows himself to be captured by General Riose in order to spy on events from the Empire's side. There are a couple of instances where he makes use of blasters and shields, but he spends most of his time trying to convince people to see things the way he wants them to. He convinces General Riose that he's a mercenary merchant without patriotism, he convinces Privy Secretary Brodrig that Riose is chasing the secrets of cheap transmutation, and he bribes the guards into giving him extra information.
  • Hero Antagonist: General Bel Riose (the titular character) is surprisingly likable for an enemy of the Foundation, and the narrative begins with his perspective. He demonstrates himself to be fairly noble and philosophical. His main concern is reigniting the glory of the Empire, with no ulterior motives whatsoever, which makes his inevitable defeat by politics in the inner court of the Empire rather heartbreaking.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: General Bel Riose apparently exemplifies this trait (a loyal subordinate who is more powerful than their superior) so thoroughly that his emperor, Cleon II, is later remembered merely as "Riose's Emperor". Much like the character's real-life inspiration, Belisarius, this results in his recall. Unlike Belisarius, however, Riose is executed for treason, because his competency puts the Emperor at risk of revolt.
  • Impoverished Patrician: General Riose, of the Galactic Empire, approaches Ducem Barr to learn about the Foundation, due to the rumours of what happened to Onum Barr during his impoverishment. He promises to restore the family's lands and titles if Ducem agrees to cooperate. He works against them because his family has already decided that it would be better to join the Foundation than to stay with the Empire.
  • Irony: Devers had expected to have to bribe Brodrig to bring him around his plans, but in the end Brodrig is the one that bribes Devers, who runs with it and just tells Brodrig what he wants to hear.
  • King Bob the Nth:
    • The current Emperor, Cleon II, follows in memory of Cleon I, under whom the Empire reached its zenith. Cleon II likely surpassed his namesake, because Cleon I was not a forceful monarch and he preferred letting his First Ministers do the real governing, but Cleon II was a very active and powerful emperor.
    • Ducem Barr mentions Emperor Daluben IV, who reigned during Hari Seldon's development of psychohistory.
    • The narration introducing Cleon II mentions a previous Galactic Emperor; Stanel VI.
    • Riose mentions the campaigns of Loris VI, which occurred two thousand years ago, when describing his Enclosure of Terminus.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Emperor Cleon II is in charge of the Galactic Empire while it is strong enough to assault the Foundation, but he is the first and last emperor to do so. His namesake is Emperor Cleon I, who was the last emperor before the Empire began losing territory.
    • Bel Riose is loosely based on General Flavius Belisarius, of the 6th century Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantium Empire). Both are/were loyal members of their emperor, and led campaigns to reclaim lost territory.
  • Monster of the Week: General Bel Riose is a massive threat to the Foundation and fully immune to their previous tactics, as political maneuvers are useless on him, the Foundation's religion is long dead and nuclear embargo can do nothing to him as he has Empire technology. He manages to severely weaken the Foundation's hold on the Periphery, and even lay siege to the Foundation's doorstep by taking some of the Four Kingdoms, its inner core worlds. He's also surprisingly likable, fairly noble, and philosophical. His main concern is reigniting the glory of the Empire, with no ulterior motives whatsoever, which makes his inevitable defeat by the politics of the inner court of the Empire rather heartbreaking. The timing of the attacks favours him, too; the Foundation government is much weaker than the capitalists running the corporations. We have foreshadowing that a class struggle between the plutocrats and the common traders is forthcoming.
  • Morton's Fork: Any Emperor who tries to go against the Foundation themselves will have to either return home or lose their throne to a usurper. Therefore, the emperors must remain on Trantor, and only an Imperial general can threaten the Foundation. However, if the general is strong enough to challenge the Foundation, yet didn't take over the Empire himself, that means the Emperor is one who knows how to remain in power... which includes removing any underlings who might grow strong and popular enough to challenge them — like, for example, by becoming a conqueror.
  • The Namesake:
    • The original title, "Dead Hand", refers to Hari Seldon's Plan created by psychohistory. Seldon has been dead for centuries, yet Ducem Barr contends that it is more powerful than the Galactic Empire.
    • The revised title, "The General", refers to General Bel Riose of the Galactic Empire, who hears about Seldon's Plan from Ducem Barr but wishes to conquer the Foundation despite it.
  • Naming Your Colony World: Loris is a region in the Four Kingdoms, under siege by General Riose. The region is named after Locris, a region of Greece (the province was established in prehistoric times and still existed until 2006), and appears again as Captain Pritcher's homeworld in "The Mule".
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Subverted. A number of the heroes' actions, like the bribes, look like they might doom them and the war, but the whole point is to show that individual actions cannot break the Plan.
  • Orcus on His Throne: General Riose is a strong subject who served a politically savvy, but incurably ill, Emperor. When he tries to conquer the Foundation, we learn why psychohistory predicts that the collapsing Galactic Empire cannot do so. The Galactic Emperor cannot leave their throne (represented by Trantor) to lead troops into battle and expand the territory of the Empire because civil war will draw them back home. If the Emperor is weak, they will be deposed by stronger subjects. If the Emperor is strong, they cannot allow strong subjects to grow because they risk being deposed like a weak Emperor.
  • Orwellian Retcon: This story was originally published as "Dead Hand" in Astounding Science Fiction. When it was republished in Foundation and Empire as "The General", many minor edits occurred, such as giving every chapter a name (Chapter 3 reuses "The Dead Hand") and replacing italicized exposition with Encyclopedia Galactica entries. Another minor revision is that Hari Seldon was changed from being "the pride of Siwenna" (implying citizenship) to having "once visited Siwenna", in ages past.
  • Proud Merchant Race: The Foundation had enjoyed a booming economy and expansion in the forty years since Master Trader Hober Mallow had a single ship and crew under his command. Now his illegitimate son, Sennett Forell, has a fleet of trading ships that answer to him, and works with a cabal of similarly powerful executives.
    "They have built up a filthy trading community that curls its tentacles about the systems further than their toy ships dare reach. For parsecs, their Traders — which is what their agents call themselves — penetrate."General Bel Riose
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: In chapter 1, General Riose explains to Ducem Barr that the reason why he had been posted in Siwenna is because he was politically foolish. He had joined the military to fight and defend the Empire, yet being raised through the ranks meant elbow-rubbing with the nobility, until they banished him to the outer provinces of the current Galactic Empire.
    "That's why they sent me here. I'm too troublesome at court. I don't fit in with the etiquette. I offend the dandies and the lord admirals, but I'm too good a leader of ships and men to be disposed of shortly by being marooned in space. So Siwenna is the substitute. It's a frontier world; a rebellious and a barren province. It is far away, far enough away to satisfy all."General Bel Riose
  • Recycled Title: When this story was revised for publication in Foundation and Empire as "The General", the original title "Dead Hand" was reused for chapter 3, "The Dead Hand".
  • Red Baron:
    • The Encyclopedia Galactica entry for General Riose references a nickname given to him by historical records, "The Last of the Imperials". The title is a reference to his role in conquering several star systems and expanding the territory of the otherwise Vestigial Empire.
    • The Encyclopedia Galactica entry for Emperor Cleon II references two titles. The first is "Cleon the Great", because his leadership caused a brief surge of political and artistic innovation, but his other title is "Riose's Emperor", due to the General directly attacking the Foundation while the Emperor was restricted to the capitol planet Trantor due to a painful and incurable disease. Foundation citizens, therefore, remember him only in relation to General Riose.
  • Soap Opera Disease: Emperor Cleon II suffers from some painful and unknown disease which no one can cure.
  • Space Is an Ocean: General Bel Riose uses giant spaceships to encircle (more like "ensphere") a solar system just like Real Life Admirals use their fleet to blockade an island.
  • Spin-Offspring:
    • Sennett Forell, one of the richest of the Association of Independent Traders, is known to be a distant relative of Hober Mallow, from "The Merchant Princes" (actually his bastard son). He appears in only two chapters, being the one to send Lathan Devers to spy on General Riose.
    • Ducem Barr is the son of Onum Barr, who had been offscreen in the previous story.
  • Strong Empire, Shriveled Emperor: Cleon II is the last strong Emperor of the Galactic Empire, yet he's bedridden due an unknown and painful disease. He's highly skilled at managing a court full of ambitious sycophants and politicians, but cannot even hold court every day.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: After winning battle after battle, showing himself to be a powerful and popular leader, General Bel Riose is summoned before the Emperor and killed (off-screen). It gets pointed out that a strong general would've overthrown a weak emperor, and a weak general wouldn't be able to beat the Foundation in battle. With a strong Emperor on the throne, they must cull their strongest subjects due to fear of overthrow and rebellion.
  • This Page Will Self-Destruct: The Foundation's secret messages are sent on a medium that oxidizes to gas within a minute after exposure to air. They're kept safe inside an airtight "personal capsule". Lathan Devers thinks that because the Empire isn't able to oxidize their messages, this is evidence that the Foundation is technologically superior, despite the Empire having more power.
  • Trope Makers: The city-wide planet idea was first proposed for Trantor, seen when he published "Dead Hand" in Astounding Science Fiction (April 1945 issue). Trantor would inspire the Trope Codifier, Coruscant from Star Wars.
  • Unintentional Backup Plan: Devers constructs an elaborate plan to defeat General Bel Riose and the First Galactic Empire, only for it to do nothing. Instead, political infighting on Trantor wins the war for them. This is taken as a sign of the inevitability of the Seldon Plan's success.
  • Unwitting Pawn: General Bel Riose actually thought he would win and came close, but was inevitably called back to Trantor and executed on grounds of believed disloyalty. The pawn here is Emperor Cleon II, who could've trusted in his subordinate (although historical evidence said that he'd be betrayed sooner or later, and executing overly successful subordinates was the only way to survive).
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: When Lathan Devers gives Ducem Barr a bracelet that can be used to block listening devices, he claims it normally sells for twenty-five credits. Privy Secretary Brodrig, however, bribes Devers with one hundred thousand credits. Devers soon escapes and uses Brodrig's credits on Trantor to bribe other officials.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The protagonists' efforts to stop General Riose from defeating the Foundation end in failure at best. Instead, it's a demonstration of how powerful the Seldon Plan is; no matter how powerful the general, no matter how powerful the emperor is, the First Foundation cannot be defeated by the First Galactic Empire.

Alternative Title(s): Dead Hand