Isaac Asimov’s ROBOTS AND EMPIRE heralds a major new landmark in the great Asimovian galaxy of science fiction. For it not only presents the thrilling sequel to the best-selling The Robots of Dawn, but also ingeniously interweaves all three of Asimov’s classic series: Robot, Foundation, and Empire. This is the work Asimov fans have been waiting for—an electrifying tale of interstellar intrigue and adventure that sets a new standard for the realm of SF literature.
Two hundred years have passed since The Robots of Dawn and Elijah Baley, the beloved hero of the Earthpeople, is dead. The future of the Universe is at a crossroads. Though the forces of the sinister Spacers are weakened, Dr. Kelden Amadiro has never forgotten—or forgiven—his humiliating defeat at the hands of Elijah. Now, with vengeance burning in his heart, he is more determined than ever to bring about the total annihilation of the planet Earth.
But Amadiro has not counted on the equally determined Lady Gladia. Devoted to Elijah Baley, the Auroran beauty has taken up the legacy of her fallen lover, vowing to stop the Spacers at any cost. With her two robot companions, Daneel and Giskard, she prepares to set into motion a daring and dangerous plan…a plan whose succes—or failure—will forever seal the fate of Earth and all who live there.
Culminating in a stunning surprise climax, ROBOTS AND EMPIRE is singular science fiction that excites the mind and stimulates the imagination. It is Isaac Asimov at his triumphant best, proving him, once again, the true Master of the genre.
In and of itself, this novel is relatively unimportant. It is the fourth (and last) book in the “Robot” tetralogy, but in terms of character and plot, has little to recommend itself. On the other hand, in terms of setting the stage for the final developments in Asimov’s idea of the positronic robot, it is critical.
Functionally, the novel does two things: First of all, it ties up any loose plot points left over from Robots of Dawn. Many of the main characters (such as Gladia, R. Giskard and R. Daneel Olivaw) are leftovers from the earlier book, and the most important remaining one is a descendant of Elijah Baley and his (narrative) heir. And, insofar as this aspect of the book is concerned, I cannot say that it is terribly memorable for me. It has something of the travelogue nature of some of the later robot/Foundation books, and it has a goodly helping of sex—but it is not memorable.
What is memorable about this story , as I say, is its establishment of two key points:
The first is the final and most official reason for why the Earth became radioactive. The radioactive Earth features as a plot element in the three “Empire” novels, Pebble in the Sky, The Stars, Like Dust—, and The Currents of Space, and in all three, it is attributed to nuclear war. This was a common expectation in the early 1950’s, when these books were written; it was only later that Asimov realized that from a physics perspective, it was unreasonable to think the Earth’s crust could become radioactive as a side effect of such a conflict. With the additional perspective of nearly forty years, Asimov felt a need to provide a more rational explanation for this phenomenon, and does so here.
More important is the formalization of something which has been implicit from the time, at least, of the first Susan Calvin story, “Liar!,” namely, the “Zeroth” Law of Robotics. This simultaneously provides a conceptual climax for the Laws of Robotics and sets the stage for genuine robotic influence in the Foundation books, and as such, as a brilliant stroke. Its great misfortune is to be trapped within a novel which is otherwise not one of Asimov’s best.