Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

ROBOTS OF DAWN

A novel by Isaac Asimov (1999, Doubleday [original copyright: 1983])
Book 3 of the Robot Novels

Baley is sent to the Spacer world of Aurora to prove the innocence of a man accused of killing a robot.

 

 

3+ stars+

Read March 6 to 14th, 2002 for the second time  
    Rapid-fire dialog and an increasingly desperate Baley make this book a lot of fun to read.  However, Asimov started to go on about things that would only be relevant in the next ten thousand years, and that got wearying.

I like a good murder-mystery, especially when it revolves around robots.  The mystery was certainly a better one than in The Naked Sun, and better resolved than in The Caves of Steel.  Unfortunately, the final twist, necessary (according to the author -not me) in order to start linking the robot and Foundation novels, brings the whole thing down.

I never realized how early Asimov had actually started linking those two series.  Early in the book, we get Dr. Fastolfe's views on a subject he has termed "psychohistory", which, of course, Asimov himself coined decades ago with the very first Foundation novel.  Giskard even cites some of the laws of that science, leading me to wonder exactly why they needed Hari Seldon...

The Dawn in the title comes from the planet Aurora, which is named after the Greek goddess of the dawn.  There were all sorts of neat references to historical irrelevancies that intrigued me like this.  Baley starts out the book on Earth, outside on one of his short jaunts away from the steel walls of the Cities.  He is planning to lead a group of people to become colonists, should Earth ever get permission from the Spacer planets to settle other worlds.  This is the big setup for the entire book, because the murder doesn't even matter here.  It is the settlement of the outer worlds, which would eventually lead to the Galactic Empire, that is of paramount importance.

The murder investigation that Baley is sent to clear up is not even really murder.  A robot has been immobilized -a humaniform robot, like Daneel, and also the property of Dr. Fastolfe, whom we met in The Caves of Steel.  This incident is being used to discredit Fastolfe, who is a popular politician.  If his opponents win the battle, they will force him and his views out of the senate, and, in all eventuality, humaniform robots will lead the settlement of the galaxy.  The problem with this, as we are told several times, is that those robots would be able to create thousands more colonies just like the planet Aurora: safe, sterile, and never actually leading to a growing human race.  Fastolfe thinks that robots should be banned from settled worlds altogether, which strikes me as a little harsh, but also explains why there are no robots during the time of the Foundation.  (Actually, it explains why the robots that do exist are hidden, because they are all around, as is explained in Foundation and Earth.)

If Aurora gets to settle the galaxy, Earth will die.  So Baley must solve the case of who "murdered" the robot in question, Jander Panell, for Earth's future is in question, not to mention his career, and finally, the career of Dr. Fastolfe. 

He is barred in every way in this investigation, mostly by the man who has sent for his help.  Fastolfe studies Baley, by subjecting him to the outdoors, under all sorts of conditions.  He also claims that he is the only person who could have immobilized Jander.  But he also claims that he did not do it, that it was random positronic drift, and could happen to any robot, even though the chances of that happening are minute. 

Baley is also hindered by a lack of information about the planet.  For the most part, that is part of the interest of the story, and, like in The Naked Sun, it flows naturally.  Once again, I cite the terrible Starfighters of Adumar in the lack of information given to an agent who was supposed to do a job.  There, Wedge Antilles was an honored guest, and his bosses knew exactly what he would be up against.  Here, however, Baley was barely tolerated.  Nobody wanted him there, they didn't see fit to tell him anything about Auroran customs, and they didn't care if he fumbled around, until it started to impact on their lives. 

The only person who really wanted him there was Gladia, the woman he met (and possibly fell in love with) in The Naked Sun.  They were the subject of a holodrama, which I am sure was just as cheesy and outrageous as they describe it.  Asimov was obviously taking his pot-shot at Hollywood here.  But I wonder how the entire public could not have figured out the gaping hole that Baley left at the end of that story -the fact that the roboticist was too afraid of human contact that he killed himself, so that he could never have committed the murder, and that Gladia must have been the murderer. 

But aside from the holodrama, Gladia and Baley talk about her sex life.  In fact, sex is a very important part of this book, and takes up many pages of dialog here, as it does in every other Asimov book published after this one.  It is almost as if Asimov really had become a "dirty old man"!  He always denied it, claiming that sex was part of life, and he put it in his book not as gratuitous, but as a part of his characters lives.  Unfortunately, I have to disagree.  He goes into much more detail about sex than is really necessary to the story, and he is not shy about using accurate words to that purpose.  He will never refer to something as a "man's private parts", when a single word naming those parts will do.  Gladia's first and subsequent orgasms are described in detail, as is the fact that she was never satisfied.  So she claimed the robot Jander as her husband. 

This, of course, is something that would be a complete embarrassment if word got around, so she keeps it silent.  Jander was able to please her every time, and she took all that he could give.  It is only later, when Baley is injured and unable to care for himself, that she learns how to give back some of that sexual energy.  That scene, still kind of erotic, is one of the best in the book, because she really does learn something. 

The planets in the robot novels can, I think, show what stage of life Asimov was in.  The Caves of Steel had no sex in it.  I don't even think there were any references to sex.  Asimov was very young back when that story was written, and it can be seen in the way his only female character is written.  The Naked Sun had a planet where sex was a duty, abhorred in public, and procreation was pretty much done away with.  When a woman became pregnant, the fertilized egg was transferred to a mechanical incubator, and neither parent had anything more to do with it.  The job of a husband was to come to the woman on the prescribed night, and have intercourse, preferably without touching her!  Asimov was not much older when he wrote that book.  He probably had little or no sexual interaction at all. 

But by the time this book was written, he had kids, and two wives.  He must have figured out the sex thing!  And discovered that he liked it!  And because people were going to buy his books anyway, he might as well write what he liked!  So along comes Aurora, a society where sex is as casual as having tea.  Procreation is reserved for married people (that is the only reason a marriage permit will be granted), and a marriage has a prescribed term.  Might that have been a dream society?  Even though he shows people who are aghast in the society they live in, who seem to subscribe to that strange thing called monogamy, I think he came up with this society as a potential one that would satisfy the dirty old man in him.

Like I said, the murder is a side issue.  Like the other books, the murder and Baley's questioning of various individuals is mostly to show off the society that he has created.  And it does a great job of doing that.  Even from the very beginning, when Baley is talking with his son Bentley, we can see how much he has changed in the two years since he went to Solaria. 

When Baley boards the rocket for Aurora, and Daneel greets him, we immediately get terrific rapid-fire dialog and debate.  This was both fun and very exhausting.  But I found that as fun as it was, I enjoyed Baley's private thoughts much more than his everlasting conversations with other people.  He could debate things better with himself, explain things to himself.  His thoughts were less circular, and didn't contain a structure that was so complex, with sentences that ran on forever, interrupted with dashes and commas. 

Asimov also gets obsessed with explaining things, so much that it started to sound like Star Trek's technobabble.  The other robot novels were more about humans and their society than about what ran the society.  This book settled down about halfway through, after he had explained hyperspace, the spice shaker, and other things. 

I could follow Baley's thought and logic processes very easily, for the most part, in this book.  There was a very logical method to it.  After Fastolfe kept defending Gladia against Baley I wished the investigator would kick him out.  Sure enough, he did.  Gladia mentioned a suitor named Gremionis, who kept offering himself to her sexually, unlike normal Aurorans, who could take a hint.  Then he found out that Fastolfe's daughter, Vasilia, who hates him, also looks remarkably like Gladia!  Might Gremionis have done the same thing with her? 

All of his gambles work, the riskier, the better.  He puts together that Vasilia's boss, the head of the robotics institute named Amadiro, urged Vasilia to urge Gremionis to keep trying to win Gladia's affections.  To that end, Gladia and Gremionis went on long walks, which kept her out of the house, so that Amadiro could question the robot Jander at his leisure.  For Amadiro was Fastolfe's political enemy, and wanted to use humaniform robots to settle the galaxy, only he could not build a humaniform robot!  But he could question Jander, and from the robot's responses, figure out the way to do this. 

This all derives from what is definitely the best scene in the book.  Amadiro sent Baley out in a sabotaged airfoil in a giant thunderstorm, with only Daneel and Giskard as his guides.  When he discovered that they were being followed, he concluded that the following robots were not after him (even though he was considered to be in danger), but they were after Daneel!  And he was proven correct in the easy way he managed to manipulate the robots who were following him to leave his obviously-ill body alone.  All of this is so that Amadiro could get his hands on Daneel, thus completing the work that he started on Jander. 

The dialog that preceded this revelation was very exciting, especially with Gremionis.  Amadiro went on too long about Earth, but Vasilia was also fun banter, especially when Baley realizes that he should have been kicked out long before he is.  I didn't think his bluff would work, though, about the robots being forced to kill her, and am still not sure that it should have.  She was, after all, a roboticist, and even if the robots killed her to keep Baley from harm, they would be irreparably damaged because of the act, and would not be able to protect Baley after that- something they would already know.

When all these facts are brought to the attention of the Commissioner of Aurora, who has been called upon to remove Baley because of the slander he is issuing at everybody he speaks with, Amadiro puts his foot in his mouth, revealing the crime that he has committed.  That still leaves the incapacitation of Jander a mystery, presumably the random drift that Fastolfe maintains as the only possible cause.  But it does not satisfy Baley.

I will leave the unveiling of Jander's murderer until the very end, as I comment on some final aspects that don't relate to the end of the book.  One thing I really like about these robot books is that they are all told from the point of view of a single character.  We know what Baley knows.  Nothing more.  There is not even any narration by the author, explaining situations.  Baley explains them as he sees them.  There are a couple of spots that don't exactly fit in with that method, but they don't really stand out too much.

Baley's fears were wonderfully described.  He starts to go crazy at some parts, and the writing shows it.  Some of his fears were overcome easily -I especially enjoyed his jaunts outdoors.  Everything was perfectly emotional.  When his fears started to overcome him, he often became disgusted with himself -afterwards, of course.  While he was being overwhelmed, he was too busy being... overwhelmed ... to be disgusted.  Still, no matter how disgusted he became with himself, he still had many relapses, and that was refreshing to see.  Some of his fears were hilarious.  I liked the description of the "unnatural outdoor lighting"!  I thought his fear of the open personal went on for too long, but his shock as a unisex personal went beyond anything he had ever imagined!

Baley's logic broke down here and there, though most of the time it was for a reason.  He reasoned that Daneel didn't warn him against the personal that looked like a backyard because he had strict orders, which was nice to see, because I was getting annoyed at Daneel for not mentioning the potential inconvenience or agoraphobia.  Especially in light of the trouble the robot went to protect Baley from the outdoors in the last book.  However, I also got annoyed that Daneel didn't warn Baley about the projector on his way to Aurora.  That Baley would feel unease at being outside is something Daneel well knew.  He should have known that space feels much more vast than any outdoors, and that Baley would feel uncomfortable in this "holodeck".  Still, he didn't warn the Earthman.

Finally, I remember from my youth that this book contained many small errors in spelling, punctuation and so on.  I was hoping that in this specially produced omnibus collection of The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn, that these would be corrected.  Unfortunately, they apparently used the original typesetting, which was noticeably annoying. 

Aside from my complaints, which are numerous for an Asimov robot novel, I quite enjoyed the book.  It was longer than the two previous ones, but that only made the mystery more drawn out.  I could have used some editing on the dialog between Baley and others -Asimov goes on for too many pages with just dialog, barely noting even who is speaking.  But even so, the dialog was at least very interesting, and made me think!  As well, Auroran society was interesting enough to describe in detail, even though it is obviously a sterile culture.  Once again, robots and murder combine to give a really good story.  Just not as great as the previous two tales.  Strange, I remember thinking this after reading it the last time, as well.  Still, a terrific read.

And now...  It is amazing how early on Asimov set up the culprit who was responsible for Jander's death...

 

 

--- PLOT-RUINING SPOILERS FOLLOW ---

 

 

 

Giskard was revealed much earlier than I had thought he would be.  Because I had read this book long ago, I retained a little of the story.  I remembered the abundant sex talk, and I remembered the fact that Giskard was a telepathic robot.

That made it more interesting to pick up the clues that were laid around for us.  When Baley thinks about viewing Aurora from the cockpit of the rocket, Giskard announces that he will not be able to view the planet.  When Baley faints, Giskard comes to his aid even before Daneel, which was, of course, the realization that finally revealed Giskard to him in a great sequence in the last chapter.  When Baley almost realized the truth about Giskard, the robot woke him up from his near sleep state, causing the thought to flee.  And of course, Giskard found Baley in the rain easily because he could read minds, not because he used his infrared vision.  Many other little instances give us tantalizing hints that Baley's subconscious mind picked up, as well.

I kind of like the idea that Giskard could read minds, but I really dislike his ability to influence them!  I don't even think it is necessary for the plot or any other point in the book to work.  He tells Baley that he modified a brain path so that the Earthman would not discover the truth -but a simple noise would have been sufficient to drive the thought away as Baley woke up.  Why can't Fastolfe be the originator of psychohistory instead of Giskard? 

But worst of all is Giskard's motive for incapacitating Jander: he didn't agree with Amadiro's plans for settling the galaxy.  What?  He even tells Baley that he would let Fastolfe's career go down the drain in order to keep his situation secret.  That doesn't sound like a robotic response at all.  In Robots and Empire, Giskard formulates the Zeroth Law, that humanity supercedes individual humans in the First Law.  But there, he is nearly (?) destroyed because of it.  Here, he must be even less sure, so that he would definitely be in violation of the First Law.  No, I don't like this at all. 

I don't even like the idea that Giskard could destroy Jander by reading Fastolfe's mind.  Fastolfe told Baley that he could only have destroyed the robot with intense effort over a long period of time.  I doubt that Giskard would know enough about robotics to be able to figure it out for himself, even with Fastolfe's knowledge.  The human brain, it is constantly mentioned, is infinitely more complex than the robotic one.  Even if Fastolfe consciously went though the method for destroying Jander in his thoughts, I wonder if Giskard could have pulled it off.  But that is something that I am able to put aside and accept, anyway.  Because it does make for a cool and completely unsuspecting way for the robot to be killed.  The other reason for killing Jander was to be able to study an Earthman.  I still don't understand the reason for that.  Still, Asimov thinks and writes in broad strokes, never limiting his stories to something simplified.

 
   

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