Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review - The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov

Short review: A robot is destroyed and Baley and Olivaw are sent to solve the mystery. Again.

Back for a third time
To solve a robot murder
Tie things together

Full review: This is the third of the Elijah Baley/R. Daneel Olivaw murder mystery novels, and the one that opened the door for connecting the robot series with the Foundation series. It is better than many of the Robot-Foundation crossovers because although the crime to be solved also probably the weakest of the three Robot mysteries, the story contains a frightening depiction of the dysfunctional nature of spacer society.

The mystery at the heart of the book concerns the destruction of the human form robot Jander on the planet Aurora. Once again, Lige Baley is teamed with Olivaw to hunt down the culprit, but the mystery serves mostly as a vehicle to explore the oddity of the spacer culture. Once on the outwardly utopian Aurora, Lige delves further into dysfunctional nature of spacer society revealed in The Naked Sun. Gladia, introduced in The Naked Sun, turns out to be Jander's owner, and is so distanced from human contact that she took Jander as her lover and "husband". The murder mystery leads Lige into Auroran politics, featuring a struggle between Aurorans who believe that colonizing the galaxy is their destiny, and others opposed to such a goal.

Along the way, Lige discovers attempts to construct further human form robots to further the goal of colonizing the galaxy, the seeds of the idea that will be developed by Hari Seldon as psychohistory, and a love triangle. The intersection of these elements, especially the attempts to construct human form robots without the assistance of the one roboticist who knows the secret of their construction, proves to be the thread that ties together the answer to the mystery. Unfortunately, the answer, and Baley's handling of the dénouement of the book is mostly just a set up for the various Foundation-Robot crossovers that came later.

The weakness of this book is not necessarily contained in the story or characters in the book, but the implications that the story has for other Asimov works. The introduction of psychohistory here, thousands of years before Seldon, lessens the "revolutionary" insight that got Seldon arrested and put on trial in Foundation. The introduction of Olivaw and Giskard as more or less benevolent robot-gods shepherding humanity through a crisis begins the process that ends with the omniscient robot guardian of Foundation and Earth. While the story contained within the book itself is well-crafted, the connections it makes with other works serves only to cheapen them.

Previous book in the series: The Naked Sun
Subsequent book in the series: Robots and Empire

1984 Hugo Award Nominees
1984 Locus Award Nominees

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