by Lacey Kat
(Copyright by the author - All rights reserved)
(Copyright by the author - All rights reserved)
Isaac Asimov, though best known for his science fiction work, actually stopped writing science fiction back in the late 1950s. True, he did write an occasional story and did continue to published several anthologies of his past work, however, with the exception of “The Gods Themselves,” published in 1972 (I do not include “Fantastic Voyage” for reasons that are obvious) Asimov stopped writing science fiction novels in 1957. From that point on, the bulk of his literary output was devoted to science fact and other matters more grounded in earth. In 1981, fortunately, that was going to change.
On January 15th, Asimov was called into the publishing offices of Doubleday by his then-editor Hugh O’Neill. O’Neill was a young man, new at his job, and not quite up to the task of dealing with the distinguished writer, so he did the only thing a man in his position could do. He turned it over to a woman. She, Betty Prashker, told Asimov that she wanted the good doctor to write a novel. A science fiction novel. A “FOUNDATION” novel.
Asimov was unsure of his ability to write novels anymore, but Betty would not hear of such nonsense and told Isaac to go home and come up with an idea. That idea was “Foundation’s Edge,” and it became Asimov’s first best-seller as tallied by the New York Times’ Best-Seller list. The doctor was back.
Even before “Foundation’s Edge” hit the bookstores the advanced buzz and presales convinced Doubleday that Asimov was still a talent in the industry. They came to him with another contract for another novel. When his latest novel (first in thirty-three years) hit the best-seller list on September 22, 1982, Asimov began to write again.
To understand the good doctor’s method of creating it is important to jump a little back in history. Please bear with me, there is a review coming, I promise.
Almost from his start, Asimov was known for his robot stories. He is the benchmark by which all modern robot stories are judged. He is even given credit for coining the term “robotics.” After a long series of short stories, Asimov wrote his first robot novel in 1954 (see Caves of Steel, reviewed this site). In 1957 he wrote a sequel (see Naked Sun, ibid) and fully intended to write a third installment making this his second trilogy (Foundation being his first of course). He got bogged down in the story after eight chapters, and finally abandoned that project, and soon novel writing in general.
Now it is twenty-four years later and the ol’ doctor has hit one out of the ballpark. “Foundation’s Edge” is a critical and commercial success and if he can write a fourth Foundation novel than a third Robot novel should be child’s play. That novel, originally entitled “World of Dawn,” was “The Robots of Dawn.”
The book opens two years after the events of “The Naked Sun.” Elijah Baley is the hero of the day, once again solving the mystery and saving the earth. He is now convinced that earthlings must leave their caves of steel and once again strike forth into the galaxy. The fifty “spacer” worlds, planets previously colonized by Man in the last galactic expansion, like space the way it is, and do not want the filthy earth men to pollute their way of life. A life heavy in robots, free of disease, and extended in years.
Baley, as said above, is the hero of the hour. His exploits on the planet Solaria, two years earlier, are well celebrated and were even the subject of a popular “hyperwave drama,” seen all over the earth and the fifty “Spacer Worlds” besides. As a result, he has been promoted to the police rank of C-7, and has been allowed to take a small group of men and women out of the domed cities of the earth to relearn the outside skills they will need if they are to push out into the stars.
As a hero, Elijah Baley is also the one thing an organized society cannot tolerate . . . an individual. The administration on earth is not happy that Baley is a hero, nor that a “Spacer World,” this time Aurora, is once again calling for his help. Earth wants Baley to fail so that they have an excuse to demote him to oblivion. A significant faction on Aurora wants Baley to fail because they want to keep earthmen isolated from the rest of the galaxy. Baley is being called off-world again and is not sure why, by whom, or for what “real” purpose. This is a mystery on several levels.
The “official” reason that Aurora has called for Plainclothesman Baley is that a high-ranking Auroran, sympathetic to the earth cause, is accused of murder. More exactly, he is being charged with the destruction of a humaniform robot by the name of Jander Panell. He is accused because Panell has suffered a mental freeze-out of a magnitude that only one man on Aurora could produce. That man is Dr. Han Fastolfe, earth’s best friend off-world, and noted roboticist. If Baley cannot solve the crime Dr. Fastolfe will be ruined, as will earth’s chance to move out of the caves and into space.
Along for the story is Plainclothesman Baley’s old partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, also a humaniform robot, his assistant Giskard, a robot in the more “traditional” sense, and the Solaria-born woman, Gladia, who we met in the previous robot novel “The Naked Sun.”
There is also a host of new characters as there is want to be in a murder mystery. These include a foppish boyfriend, an intellectual rival bent on destroying the earth, and an estranged daughter who has her own reasons for wanting to see Jander Panell and Dr. Fastolfe destroyed. Underlying all of this is something that Plainclothesman Baley cannot seem to remember. A small fact that will change the course of human civilization.
While this story takes place only two years after the one in “Naked Sun,” it was written some twenty-four years after. In those years, Asimov grew as an author and that is aptly demonstrated in this novel. The story is a classic mystery with a number of false leads, a not too confident protagonist, the element of danger, and a hot dame with “legs that go from here to there and back again.” The story moves better than his earlier robot novels and the “mystery” is only half of the story. Even with that, Asimov does not let the reader wander too far from the points of the novel. In the end, you have been given almost all the clues needed to solve the mystery yourself, a common practice in modern-day “Who-done-its,” and you are given another solution to a bigger mystery that ties well into the Asimov universe.
Another advantage to waiting twenty-four years to write the next robot novel is that times have changed along with Asimov. He has obviously grown as an author and a person by this time and has a few more experiences to draw from. His female character, Gladia, is more developed than she was in the “Naked Sun,” and he is more comfortable exploring the physical side of a relationship. At a time when a lot of science fiction was written by frustrated porn authors, Asimov injects just enough sex to make the characters believable. The love scenes are well spaced and deft, and while not vital to the plot, they help make the characters human. Important in a robot novel I thought.
According to his autobiography, “I. Asimov,” the good doctor had not yet come up with the idea of merging his Robot Universe with his Foundation storyline until after he wrote “Robots of Dawn.” There is no reason Asimov would lie on this point; however, there are tantalizing clues that would indicate that the idea was, at least subconsciously, already on his mind. For example, the Spacer Worlds, all heavily robot dependent, are very familiar with the robot legends of earth’s past. Legends we all know as Asimov’s earlier robot stories. Dr. Fastolfe refers to several of these stories in the course of the book. He also foresees his work on positronic brains leading to a better understanding of the human brain, and that leading to the development of “psychohistory.” Asimov may not yet have worked out how he was going to merge his two galaxies, but he was definitely laying the groundwork. He also makes references to the stagnation of man and the danger that he may encounter a more aggressive alien civilization that will close him off from the galaxy. This does happen in Asimov’s earlier work, “The End of Eternity.” This shows a tendency to connect his past with his own present.
A number of critics have commented that Asimov’s talent dulled with age. While that may have been true in a broad sense, this book easily demonstrates that he still had considerable talent. It is well written, tight, and has a good number of characters without abusing the reader. It is a good science fiction and a good murder mystery. The solution is an adult one and shows sophistication gained through experience. It brings back characters you may have treasured in your youth without overdrawing them or saddling them with an abundance of baggage the author himself may have collected. These are all familiar friends and you are interested in what their next adventure will be. That says a lot for friends you have not heard from in twenty-four years.
Aurora is the name of the planet on which the story takes place. It was the first planet colonized by man. It is also the Roman goddess of the morning and signaled a new dawn, or beginning, for the human race. This story also is a new dawn for Asimov novels and a bright new dawn as well. Science Fiction, Mystery, and Asimov fans, in general, will all find this book well worthwhile.
This book is still in print and readily available in most bookstores. It can also be ordered on Amazon.com