The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I thoroughly enjoyed this third book in the Isaac Asimov robot trilogy (which I believe turned into four books…) and thought it was the best one. It follows the paths of Earth investigator Elijah Bailey and his Spacer robot sidekick R Daneel Olivaw as they attempt to solve the “murder” of a humaniform robot similar to Daneel on the planet Aurora. In the first book, The Caves of Steel, the two met and solved a murder mystery in New York City on Earth. In this futuristic Earth, a fearful population lives in huge domed cities underground and never goes outside. In the second book, The Naked Sun, Elijah is forced to face his fears and is told to leave Earth to solve a murder that occurred on a Spacer planet called Solaria where the sparse population has developed a weird type of disgust for their fellow humans. They refuse to touch other humans and mostly only interact with their numerous robots. When Elijah returns to Earth, he’s come to think that colonizing other planets is the only way that the human race on Earth can survive the future. He’s been changed by his experience.
In this book, The Robots of Dawn, Daneel’s humaniform robot companion has been “murdered” by someone, yet the only suspect is the most famous roboticist in the galaxy, Dr. Falstolfe, who freely admits he’s the only person in the galaxy with the necessary skills to be able to disable a positronic humaniform robot of that type, of which he is also the creator, yet at the same time he strongly claims he’s innocent. If Elijah and Daneel can’t prove him innocent, it will have terrible consequences for Elijah’s career and for Earth’s ability to attempt to colonize the galaxy. Daneel is also in danger, as he is the last remaining humaniform robot and it seems he is wanted. It’s a huge mystery and as Baley interviews various suspects and other people, it seems completely unsolvable, or at least everything points to Falstolfe, so there seems little hope for Baley and Earth’s futures.
Two important characters in the book are ex-Solarian woman, Gladia, now living on Aurora and with whom Elijah has a bit of a “thing,” even though he’s married and has no intention of cheating or leaving his wife, etc. He still allows himself to fantasize every now and then, remembering their time together when he was solving the murder on Solaria. The other major character is another robot named Giskard, who doesn’t appear to be as advanced as Daneel, but for whom appearances may be deceiving. Frankly, this is one of the most difficult mysteries I’ve ever seen any character solve and I had no idea how Baley was going to do it. The ultimate solution came as a bit of a shock to me and took me completely by surprise, as the apparent solution was a bit, just that – apparent, but there was a second, hidden, solution that was the brilliant shocker and which made this book most excellent.
However, I do have a complaint and in fairness to this book, it’s more about the author than it is about this book alone. Over the past year or two, in reading a lot of Asimov, I’ve come to realize that while he can come up with good ideas and write good mysteries, he’s a crappy writer and can’t write dialogue to save his life. In fact, he’s the worst dialogue writer of any author I’ve ever read! He’s freaking horrible!!! It’s so stilted and formal, so unauthentic, so academic and dry. In this book, somewhat surprisingly, there’s a lot of talk about sex, particularly between Elijah and Gladia and some of it occurs after an odd and surreal intimated sex scene and the dialogue is so 1950s wooden, formal crap that it’s just downright silly. No one talks like that. And this is supposed to be many thousands of years in the future! I read some of the sentences and paragraphs to my wife, who doesn’t read science fiction but who does read a lot, and she burst out laughing, stating that was the worst crap she had ever heard. And it is. My God, Asimov is a hack! In fact, he’s easily one of the worst sci fi “writers” in terms of actual writing ability of anyone I’ve ever read. In my reviews of his various Foundation books, I’ve often said it would have helped if he had taken some college level creative writing classes because he showed little evidence of basic skills, such as use of transitions, plot development, character development, and obviously his use of dialogue is such a joke as to make his books laughable – if these particular mysteries weren’t so intriguing. So, I really want to knock this book’s rating down a few stars, even though I think it’s a five star story. I mean, the story itself is brilliant, one of the best mysteries I’ve ever encountered. But the actual writing is so typically Asimov-bad, I’ve got to knock it down at least one star to four stars, with apologies. Nonetheless, it’s a darn good book and strongly recommended.