“An atom-blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways.” – Salvor Hardin
Salvor Hardin is perhaps the most popular character from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga, one of my favorite books. The Foundation Saga, which consists of 7 books, deals with Hari Seldon, a scientist who has developed psychohistory. Psychohistory can predict the future of large masses of population, using algorithm. That doesn’t mean he can see a person’s future, but that of the entire Milky Way Galaxy, which is ruled by the Empire. He predicts that the Empire will fail soon and give rise to 30,000 years of anarchy and chaos before a second Empire could rise. He designs a plan, later mentioned as the Seldon Plan, which could minimize the anarchy to 1,000 years, if proper arrangements were made.
I won’t spoil it for you anymore, but character development is the strong suit of the series. So much so, that if I were to ever write fiction, I would copy Asimov’s style of character development. The characters are well-defined and you get subtle clues here and there about their true nature. You feel like you know the characters fully, but there’s always just one more thing you don’t know about them. Take Salvor Hardin for example. He is extremely cunning, knows how to manipulate and play people off one another and he isn’t afraid of improvising when things don’t go the way he imagined them to.
Yet another strong suit of the series are the unexpected plot-twists. I can guarantee you edge of the seat action while reading this series, but you will find the way the story twists over amazing. The characters take unexpected actions, say things they really shouldn’t and it seems like they’ve ended up in a pickle. In the end though, it’s revealed that everything they did had an end goal and they just improvised their way out of it. Obviously, no one does this better than Hardin.
“To succeed, planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well.” – Salvor Hardin
Now let me get back to the original quote, or Hardin’s epigram, as it’s called in the novel. I think, what Hardin said has two meanings. The literal meaning is pretty clear. An atom-blaster (or gun) is a great weapon to have in a battle, but if it slips from your hand, it could be used against you. Call it luck or the lack thereof, but the gun knows no loyalty. It is at best a friend and at worst an enemy in a battle.
The second interpretation I could think of is that an atom-blaster is an asset in a battle. If an atom-blaster can point both ways, it means that the other assets of your opponent can be used and turned against them as well. The followers of your opponent, their riches, literally anything they have can be corrupted and turned against them, with a bit of social engineering and improvisation. I believe, based on the context from the novel, that this is what Hardin meant, rather than the literal meaning.
As a master diplomat and a cunning politician, Hardin knows when and how to play off others and how to do it tactfully. But that doesn’t mean he is an all-knowing protagonist. The Seldon Plan was designed such that its true intentions and the intricacies within it were kept hidden from everyone. Hardin was in the dark most of the time. He did not know for a fact that he had to do what he did or whether it was the right thing to do. He just grabbed the opportunity when it presented itself and improvised accordingly. This trait of his is revealed the very first time he does something outlandish.
“Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.” – Salvor Hardin
The fact that Salvor Hardin has a strong sense of morals but isn’t afraid to do the things that need to be done is yet another reason why the character fascinates me. He is not presented as a perfect protagonist, who always does the right things and is okay with them. Hardin is a mere mortal being and he isn’t always happy with the decisions he is forced to take, his morals might prevent him from doing it, but he does it for the greater good of the Galaxy.
I could go on and on about why Salvor Hardin is the best character in the Foundation series, or even in contemporary science-fiction. But I’ll leave it to you to form your own opinions after you read the books. So what are you waiting for? Go read, now.