Another unique mystery is played out in The Robots of Dawn as an investigation is launched due to the murder of a rare humaniform robot on the spacer world of Aurora. The story features now famous Elijah Baley, who has been shown across the galaxy in a widely popular film depicting his expert ability in solving crimes from the earlier entries in the series.
The Robots of Dawn, like the two previous entries in the series is a murder mystery that is complicated due to a clash of cultures between earth men and spacers. The situation for Elijah Baley is convoluted further by the fact that spacers from separate planets with unique cultures, the Aurorans and Solarians, are both involved in the story. The murder would have been hard enough to solve without taking into account the different lifestyles of the suspects but that’s what makes these science fiction murder mystery books so special. Motive for each character changes depending on their origin, and some characters are held to different standards during interrogation due to their culture.
Baley struggles to navigate the case in a way that doesn’t cause offense. The Robots of Dawn explores sexuality as a plot device and the norms of earth and spacer cultures contrast widely. The book makes implications for what it means for people as they become technologically advanced at the expense of healthy human relationships. All the taboos are torn down, and when humans are peeled back layer by layer to a point where individuality overrides the opinion of other people, then shame isn’t even so much a motivator to be conservative or reserved. Why be ashamed of what you want to do at all? Incest is common, and sex between people who are nearly strangers is common. It’s almost rude to deny someone, and anyone can proposition another. To Elijah Baley the customs and moral discrepancies between Earth and Spacer cultures are hard to shelve during the investigation. Baley’s line of questioning often insults and offends the spacers. His bias that would lead him to believe that typical motivations such as desire that could result in murder need to sit on the sidelines as he learns that emotions such as jealousy are not present in the advanced spacer society.
I enjoyed having read The Robots of Dawn, though I personally found that the story is flat when compared to the previous mysteries featuring detective Baley. The setting for the investigation is great, but the impossible nature of the cases previously explored were a bit more exciting than the mystery laid out here. A robot is killed in Asimov’s universe. Robots living side by side with people usually means that people cannot be killed, but a robot being destroyed or killed is a likelihood with several explanations. The books have built up to the point in history where society is wanting to begin treating robots as human, but as a reader it was hard to care so much that a robot was killed verses a person. It was interesting though, that the highest stakes among any of Baley’s investigations lay with this case. It’s implied that if Baley were to vindicate the person who hired him, that their influence would be used to grant Earthmen their first allowance to space travel where they can begin their own branch of humanity among the habitable planets as their Spacer counterparts did in the far past.
In the end, I did enjoy the reveal as to what caused the “murder” as well as the journey towards the solved mystery. It was a decent story and left me happy enough that i’m committed to reading the remainder of the Asimov books featuring Elijah Baley and the R. Daneel Olivaw.
A couple points in the book that I enjoyed outside of the main story were that Psychohistory is briefly mentioned, a nod to the Foundation series, which I can’t wait to continue diving into. I also enjoyed reading as Baley’s experience with real foods elated him. The reminders that Baley is just a person and enjoyed simple things that were not afforded to people on earth due to the difficulties created by scarcity and over population, was always a fun breakaway from the investigation.
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