A puzzling case of “roboticide” takes interplanetary detective Elijah Baley from Earth to the planet Aurora—the self-styled World of the Dawn, where humans and robots coexist in seemingly perfect harmony. There, the most advanced robot in the Universe—an awesomely human machine—has been murdered.
Only one man on Aurora had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to commit the crime—and he has hired Baley to prove he didn’t do it. And to make Baley’s impossible mission even worse, he soon learns that not only his career but the fate of the Earth as well is riding on his investigation.
For the murder of the humaniform robot is closely tied to a power struggle that will decide the ultimate question: Who will be the next pioneers to colonize the Universe—man or his machines? And the answer to that question could spell either doom or new hope for an overcrowded Earth.
Armed only with his own instincts, his sometimes quirky logic, and the immutable Three Laws of Robotics, Baley sets out to solve the case. But can anything prepare a simple Earthman for the psychological complexities of a world where a beautiful woman could easily have fallen in love with an all-too-human robot?
Fresh from his phenomenally successful bestseller Foundation’s Edge, the master returns with a science fiction mystery that brings back the charmingly irascible hero, Elijah Baley, a character that Asimov fans will remember from his adventures in The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. THE ROBOTS OF DAWN takes us on a mind-stretching journey that recalls, too, the Asimov classic, I, Robot.
The unqualified success of Foundation’s Edge emboldened Doubleday and Asimov to try again, this time with the long-awaited third Elijah Bailey novel. Asimov had actually started this book in the 1950’s but discarded that earlier story and struck out in new directions.
While I would not rate this book as highly as Caves of Steel, it is one of the best of Asimov’s “late” novels and about on a par with The Naked Sun. As with that earlier novel, the main problems have to do with why Bailey was called in onto the case and the ultimate solution to it. I don’t think Asimov has provided a sufficient reason why the future of Auroran politics centered on who deactivated a robot, no matter who that robot was.
Beyond that, I think Asimov did well with his characters and situations. The three carryovers from earlier books—Bailey, Daneel, and Gladia—are reasonably consistent with their earlier characterizations and reasonably developed beyond their earlier characterizations. The new characters are also generally interesting and well-drawn. Aurora turns out to be rather like Solaria in a few too many respects, unfortunately.
There are a couple of matters however, which pushed buttons in me and made me think less of this book than it probably deserves. The first is the tie-in with the early Susan Calvin short story, “Liar!” This was one of Asimov’s favorites of his robot stories, but it isn’t one of mine, and I definitely do not like the idea of mind-reading robots.
The second has to do with the sex. I’m sufficiently puritanical in upbringing to be a little squeamish about explicit sex in a book. I would hardly call the sex here gratuitous, but neither would I consider it really necessary. Asimov’s use of sex in his books is rare (which may be one reason I like him) and even more rarely adroit. Here, unlike The Gods Themselves or The End of Eternity, it is not adroit.
These two points, however, are more flaws with me than with the book per se. Still, they do alter my own perception of it.
Bottom line, then: Quite good—not Asimov’s best, but definitely towards the top.