Volume 2, Number 3, July 1984

The Robots of Dawn

By Isaac Asimov

1983, Doubleday, 408pp
Reviewed by Michael Grossberg
July 1984

This book should have been 300, or even 200, pages. But most Asimov fans will find the patience to wade through the continuation of his series of superior science-fiction mysteries, notably The Naked Sun and The Caves of Steel, featuring Asimov's rationalist detective Elijah Bailey.

The best thing that can be said about the latest sequel is that it's better than Asimov's last, Foundation's Edge. Edge was nearly filled with discussions between members of the First Foundation about the possible existence of the Second Foundation, and discussions between members of the Second Foundation about the possibility of a Third. While Robots is also mostly discussions—of every single hypothetical scenario that could possibly have led to the murder of a robot—still it is a better book.

Yes, I said robots and yes, I said murder. The superiority of this sequel stems from Asimov's ingenious exploration—and ingenious solution—of the vitally important robot's murder. What makes his almost endless variety of clues and apparent dead ends so interesting are the special characteristics that make the robot's destruction a "murder," and second, the daring "deus ex machina" ending.

The only thing libertarian in Robots is the lifestyle of the citizens of Dawn, a planet with an affluent, post-scarcity (but not anarchist) economy and full civil liberties. One of the murder suspects, an attractive woman living on Dawn, expresses Asimov's civil libertarian leanings when she takes for granted her planet's legal system permitting any sexual act, so long as it's voluntary.

But like Asimov, among the best of today's liberals, no one on that planet ever considers how full civil liberties can be sustained without full economic freedom. For example how can a free media continue to operate without the right of private property allowing ownership of printing presses? But that question raises an unfortunately invisible issue in Asimov's current worldview—so in this novel it becomes an internal social contradiction that is never confronted. It makes his imagined world less believable than it would otherwise be, but doesn't detract from the plot—the main reason to read the book.

Politics does play an unsuspected role in the solution to the mystery, and Asimov's solution has the additional payoff of integrating the Elijah Bailey series into the same Future History as the Foundation series—no mean feat, considering the prevalence of robots in the first series but their virtual absence in the second.

Once again: Asimov has shown his ability to write an ingenious murder mystery.

All trademarks and copyrights property of their owners.
Creative Commons License
Prometheus, the newsletter of the Libertarian Futurists Society, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.