Saturday, July 9, 2011

Robots and Empire

Robots and Empire
© 1985 Isaac Asimov
383 pages




In Isaac Asimov's robots novels, Earth is home to some eight billion people living in vast underground complexes known as Cities or "caves of steel". In his Empire novels, those billions have vanished: large patches of land are radioactive, and the few who remain hold on bitterly to memories of Earth's past glory.  How did Earth fall from being the heart of humanity to passing out of memory entirely in the Foundation series? Its decline, and the rise of the Galactic Empire, begin in Robots and Empire -- a fantastic novel which uses a plot of political mystery to seamlessly knit together Asimov's series.

Two hundred years have passed since famed Earth detective Elijah Baley died, but his legacy is strong and growing. Baley helped the people of Earth to look again to space, to build civilizations away from the tired old Earth from which they sprang.  Humans had looked outward before, settling some fifty planets, but the people there used robot labor to create lives of leisure for themselves. They ceased to grow, to expand -- and they regarded their less-advanced Earth ancestors with disdain.  It was their power and Earth's fear of change that Baley defeated with the help of others, but now both Baley and his allies are dead.  There are those among the "Spacers" who do not want to see Earth expand again...and they will strike at the planet itself if that is what it takes. They work their plans in secret, but Baley's old partner R. Daneel Olivaw is determined to thwart their plans.

Robots and Empire functions as both an SF political thriller and a  bridge between Asimov's series. He's written other books to serve the same function, and together they tell a story which lasts for thousands of years. Although there are still some loose threads (What happened to the Cities during the Empire novels?), Robots and Empire reveals how Earth decayed and why robots (present in Robots, absent in both the original Empire and Foundation novels)  fell from use. His central character here, and consequently the Robots-Empire-Foundation meta series, is the robot Daneel Olivaw, who is driven by a vision from his friend and partner Elijah Baley that will see its final fruit in the last Foundation books. Still, Robots and Empire is more solidly a Robots novel, featuring Elijah Baley (in flashbacks) and his other associates, the Solarian woman Gladia and a telepathic robot named Giskard, who has his own role to play. It reminds me much of Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation, both in style and in the measure that I enjoyed it.

This is an obvious recommendation to anyone who has enjoyed Asimov's various series. While having read the rest of the books isn't a requirement, catching the multitude of little references added to my appreciation. I would suggest reading the Robots novels (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn) first, since the relationship, history, and culture differences between Earth and the Spacer worlds provide the central conflict here. 

No comments:

Post a Comment