The Artdog Image(s) of Interest
Isaac Asimov does not need my reviews, as so many contemporary authors do. But after having recently completed the classic “Robot” Trilogy, these three reviews were a pleasure to write. If you haven’t yet taken this walk back into an earlier view of the future, you really might want to give them a try. They’re classics for a reason. Dated? Sure. But even so, there’s a lot to enjoy.
The opening novel of this major science fiction trilogy from the 1950s is a classic, odd-couple, “buddy cop” pairing. Elijah Baley is an Earth-born detective who profoundly distrusts the high-and-mighty Spacers, who think they’re better than those who stayed on Earth–and that goes double for the Spacers’ robots, who threaten to do away with ordinary people’s jobs and livelihoods. So of course when a prominent Spacer is killed while on Earth, and Baley is assigned to investigate, who should they name as his partner but a robot? And not just any robot. R. Daneel Olivaw is made in the likeness of the murdered Spacer, right down to the smallest hair. Cultures clash, misunderstandings ensue–but there’s a mystery to solve. This book opens a world of wonders (some of them highly improbable, given today’s understandings) and strong prejudices. A major theme is pushing one’s boundaries to open up new tolerance to “the other.” It’s a theme we could profitably revisit today.
I think this is my favorite of Asimov’s three classic “Robot” novels. It’s a well-made mystery, and once again involves a cast of interesting characters in a very unusual culture. Elijah Baley is promoted and sent (against his will) away from Earth as a special favor to the powerful Aurorans. His mission: unravel a seemingly-insoluble murder on another planet, Solaria, for which the only suspect is a beautiful young woman named Gladia Delmarre–who swears she didn’t do it. Baley is teamed up once again with the inimitable R. Daneel Olivaw. Together–and occasionally at odds with each other–they unravel the mystery in a way that only someone willing to “think outside the box” could do. Meanwhile, Baley continues to expand his horizons and push himself to new lengths against conditioning he’s accepted all his life . Some of the extremely dated assumptions underlying the entire world made the whole work even more interesting to me.
By the time this third installment was written, some of the tech was already looking and feeling a little obsolete–but Asimov is regarded as a master for good reason. This book brings Earth Detective Elijah Baley, his sometimes-partner R. Daneel Olivaw, and the Solarian, Gladia Delmarre, back together again, in new circumstances on the primary Spacer planet of Aurora. But Gladia’s in trouble again, and Baley still has un-dealt-with feelings for her from their earlier encounter. This book explores them and brings the trilogy to a resolution, while allowing Baley, once again, to use his powers of deduction in a way only a man NOT of Auroran culture could. Another fascinating take on culture clashes and assumptions made—even while it remains blind to some of the assumptions of the time period in which it was written.
IMAGES: I took photos of the covers of books in my possession, to make the composite as consistent as possible. The cover art for The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are both by Stephen Youll. Cover design for The Robots of Dawn is by Kiyoshi Kanai.