Although it is no longer Robot Month at Fandomania, the trek through Isaac Asimov’s novels and stories about robots continues. It’s actually not a bad bridge from robots to dystopia — throughout the Robot Novels, Asimov focuses on the conflict between the people of Earth and the Spacers, in which each side fears the influence of the other and strives to preserve its own world and prevent the descent into a dystopian society, as would surely happen if the other side were allowed too much influence.
In Asimov’s third Robot Novel, The Robots of Dawn, Elijah Baley is summoned once again to a Spacer world to help solve a seemingly impossible puzzle, but this time it is not only his professional reputation on the line, but the fate of the entire population of Earth. He is reunited with his robot friend R. Daneel Olivaw on the planet of Aurora to discover what really caused Jander, the only other humaniform robot in the world besides Daneel, to suddenly and completely stop working, with no possibility of repair. Daneel’s and Jander’s creator, Dr. Han Fastolfe (whom Baley met on earth in the first novel) has been accused of the roboticide and he admits that he is the only one who could have destroyed Jander while at the same time vehemently denying that he had anything to do with the deed.
It turns out that the destruction of a humaniform robot is actually secondary to a major political conflict between Fastolfe and his supporters, the Humanists, and their political rivals, the Globalists, over future space exploration and colonization. The Globalists want to further Auroran society by allowing only Aurorans to explore and colonize new planets, those Aurorans being humaniform robots that can find new worlds and make them habitable and comfortable for humans so that when humans do arrive, everything will be just like it was at home on Aurora. The Humanists, on the other hand, wish for space exploration to be open to any and all humans, particularly Earthmen, who with their shorter lives have less to lose and a greater sense of community than the inhabitants of Aurora, Solaria, or any of the other Spacer worlds. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Globalists have not yet figured out the secret to making the humaniform robots and Dr. Fastolfe, who has made two of them, will not share his expertise.
Early in the novel, Fastolfe observes to Elijah, “I’m a creature of the irrational fears of my society.” In this case, he is referring to the Spacers’ fear of contracting diseases from Earthmen to which they have no immunity. Elijah can very well identify with the statement, as he struggles throughout the book with his great discomfort at being outside, with open air and nature around him instead of the comfort of the dome and walls and people that normally surround him in the City culture of Earth. This quote is really the theme of the novel — of the prior two as well, really — and Asimov gives us contrasting views on many topics in which we can identify the fears and conflicts of our own society. Some of the biggest are: the politics of exploration (of space and otherwise), individualism vs. community, genetic testing and selective breeding, societal and personal attitudes towards sex and marriage and, not least of all, humanity’s relationship with technology (as always, represented by the robots that are commonplace, necessary, and accepted as a matter of fact on Spacer worlds but feared for their ability to possibly replace humans on Earth).
I now look forward to reading the last Robot Novel, Robots and Empire. I am eager to see if and how Asimov’s major themes play out and in what sort of setting. See you again soon for that discussion and a wrap-up of Asimov’s Robots.