Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review - Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov

Short review: To foil a nefarious spacer plot, Olivaw decides to condemn most of the population of Earth to a slow, horrific death for their own good.

Evil spacer plot
Olivaw will save us and
Irradiate Earth

Full review: This novel marks the explicit bridge between the Robot novels - The Caves of Steel (read review), The Naked Sun (read review), and The Robots of Dawn (read review) - and the Foundation series - Foundation (read review), Foundation and Empire (read review), Second Foundation (read review), and others - also linking in the Galactic Empire series - Pebble in the Sky (read review), The Stars, Like Dust (read review), and The Currents of Space (read review). Figuring out which series to place this novel in is something of a puzzle, as it belongs to the Robot series, the Galactic Empire series, and the Foundation series, but at the same time doesn't really belong to any of them.

This novel mostly sets in place the events leading to the irradiated and devastated Earth in the Galactic Empire series, and also establishes R. Daneel Olivaw as the nigh-omniscient benevolent guardian of humanity.The story is a planet hopping tale that follows Olivaw, Giskard, and the spacer Gladia (introduced in The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn) as they trace a nefarious spacer plot to eliminate Earth's population, leaving the galaxy free to be colonized by the "superior" men of the spacer worlds. This novel establishes for the first time the dubious Zeroth Law of Robotics, to allow Olivaw and Giskard to overcome their Three Laws imposed inhibitions and act for the greater benefit of humanity (a very nebulous standard at best). In the novel, Asimov justifies the irradiation of the Earth as a means to benefit humanity over the long term, a course of action that can only be possibly justified if you assume a godlike level of prescience on the part of the robots in the story, and even then, I have serious doubts.

The end result of Robots and Empire is to leave humanity without a viable home world, cast into space by supposedly benevolent robots acting for our benefit. Most of the book is merely a set-up to explain elements of other, better novels. The novel is also responsible for making R. Daneel Olivaw the annoying character that dominates the later-written Foundation novels.While the planet hopping intrigue story contained in the novel is adequate, the creation of the Olivaw-monster that infects the Foundation universe and the inhuman end result that he arrives at (apparently condemning millions to slow radiation induced death is a good thing) drops the story down to merely average at best.

Previous book in the series: The Robots of Dawn

1986 Locus Award Nominees

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  1. I like that - "making R. Daneel Olivaw the annoying character that dominates the later written Foundation novels." LOL!

  2. @Julia Rachel Barrett: Once Asimov got fixated on Olivaw, the robot grew to fill every available space in his fiction. This is the version that is dubbed the 'Olivaw monster'.