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Literature / Robots and Empire

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Isaac Asimov's direct sequel to The Robots of Dawn, Robots and Empire bridges the Robot Trilogy with the chronologically later The Empire Novels and Foundation Series. 200 years after the death of the protagonist of the Robot Trilogy, Elijah "Lije" Baley, the balance of power has begun to shift back toward the humans of Earth, who have begun settling new worlds thanks to his efforts. The Spacers, descendants of the first wave of space colonists, are troubled by the apparent extinction of human life on Solaria, the latest- and most sparsely-settled of the Spacer worlds. Gladia "Solaria" Delmarre, Elijah's onetime lover and the only Solarian ever to emigrate, is sent along with one of Elijah's descendants, and her loyal robot servants R. Daneel Olivaw and R. Giskard Reventlov, to investigate. What they find there leads the real protagonists, Daneel and Giskard, to investigate a conspiracy with implications for human life on Earth and throughout the galaxy.


Because Elijah is only present posthumously and the story is not a murder mystery, Robots and Empire is not considered truly part of the Robot Trilogy, which therefore escapes Trilogy Creep... barely. Nonetheless, three of the four main characters debuted in that series (one in each book, coincidentally) and the setting is very much informed by the events of that series. Foundation and Earth, published a year after this book, would complete the link between the disparate elements of Asimov's major science fiction universe.


Tropes present include:

  • Asexual Life Partners: Daneel and Giskard.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: A villainous example. Spacers are extremely averse to violence, and Mandamus' entire plan is supposed to be non-violent. However, in order to ensure his plan is carried out the way he wants, Amadiro buys a blaster and threatens to kill Mandamus if he doesn't set the dials as ordered.
  • Big Bad: Amadiro, as with The Robots of Dawn. He held a grudge.
  • Bequeathed Power: Before he dies Giskard grants Daneel his ability to telepathically influence people and read emotions, so Daneel can continue applying the Zeroth Law to help humanity without Giskard.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Giskard allows Mandamus to set the Nuclear Intensifier to its 150-year setting, in the hope that doing so will propel humanity to leave Earth once and for all, to settle a vibrant Galactic Empire. However, since he is not sure if he caused harm or good by that decision, his positronic brain begins to shut down. He uses his last moments to grant his psychic powers to Daneel and to reprogram Daneel to be fully compliant with the Zeroth Law of Robotics. See Fling a Light into the Future.
  • Borrowed Biometric Bypass: Mandamus has a biometric lock on his nuclear intensifiers on Earth, but Amadiro threatens to kill him and borrow his fingerprint if Mandamus doesn't turn them Up to Eleven, something Mandamus didn't see coming.
  • Cursed with Awesome: The reason Giskard doesn't give Daneel his mind-altering abilities until his imminent death is because, despite how useful it is, it is also a terrible burden. You might think being able to read peoples' thoughts like a book would make it easier to be Three Laws-Compliant, but due to how sensitive human minds are, it's actually harder.
  • Darker and Edgier: The themes of this book take a noticeable turn for the macabre compared to the first three. The Big Bad, initially a Well-Intentioned Extremist with too much ambition, has turned into an aspiring mass-murderer. And instead of a politically-motivated murder mystery, the eradication of Earth's population and an interstellar war loom on the horizon. Then there's the Bittersweet Ending thrown in for good measure.
  • Doomed by Canon: Earth was highly radioactive in the various Empire novels, and forgotten by the time of the Foundation stories. Therefore the plot more or less has to succeed to set up future events.
  • The Dragon: Levular Mandamus.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: This novel is the bridging between Asimov's Robot and Empire novels.
  • Facepalm: D.G. when Gladia makes a grand speech on Baleyworld despite him specifically asking her only to say a few words.
  • Failed Future Forecast: The book cites Three Mile Island as the event that irreparably stigmatized nuclear fission as a source of power. Not only did this not happen, but the far worse catastrophe at Chernobyl is never mentioned, as it occurred several months after the book was published.
  • Fantastic Racism: The rapid expansion of the Settlers has inflamed the already simmering hostilities between them and the Spacers who, despite still being more technologically advanced, cannot compete with the Settlers' burgeoning population. Some Spacers are content to live out their lives in peace and let the Settlers do what they want with the rest of the galaxy, while others feel the need for action. Amadiro, who never liked Earthmen to begin with, is the most extreme form of the latter.
  • Fictional Accent: In the book, some attention is given to the accents of different planets. This becomes a plot point when it turns out Solaria is guarded by robotic overseers programmed to only regard people as human beings if they have a Solarian accent.
  • Final Solution: Inverted. The "solution" actually turns out to have a positive effect on its target.
  • Flashback: Elijah Baley, being dead this time around, only appears in flashbacks of events that happened between books: one of his brief rendezvous with Gladia in orbit above Aurora, and one of his last conversation with Daneel while on his deathbed.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: Giskard casts Daneel, an all-but-immortal, psychic, Zeroth-Law-Compliant humanoid robot, into the future as the sole guardian of humanity. 20,000 years later, in Foundation and Earth, he still stands as sentinel.
  • Funetik Aksent: Used when Gladia and Baley are discussing the (sometimes confusing) ways in which their native accents differ, but otherwise averted. The fact that planets develop their own distinct accents is relevant to the plot, but the specific differences between them are not.
  • Good All Along: Mandamus tries to pull this off by claiming that his actions would be for the best. Ultimately subverted; he was lying about the consequences, but Giskard came to believe that his false scenario is the most likely outcome.
  • Grandfather Clause: In-Universe.
    • After the Auroran society refused to accept humaniform robots, the entire production run of fifty was mothballed. However, Daneel, who was already part of a prominent citizen's establishment, remained there.
    • Presumably also the case with Baleyworld. According to the colonization treaty, Earth cannot claim worlds within twenty light-years of Spacer systems. Aurora and Baleyworld are located in Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani, respectively. Today, the stars are about six light-years apart, and the book isn't set far enough in the future for that to change much. However, Baleyworld was settled before the treaty was signed.
  • Gratuitous Latin: Mandamus introduces his plans to Amadiro with a message reading "Ceterum censeo, delenda est Carthago"translation .
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Vasilia Aliena. She's still bitter that after all these years her father kept Giskard away from her and even gave him to Gladia, and is obsessed with getting him back.
  • Happily Married: Gladia is revealed to have enjoyed a 'very successful' century long marriage to Santirix Gemionis. Their eventual separation seems to have been more than amicable as she remembers him fondly.
  • Hidden Depths: Gladia (with some help from Giskard) finds herself to be an effective public speaker, despite her long life of near-solitude.
  • His Name Is...: The android assassin, when captured, is ordered to reveal the location from which he was sent. This order, conflicting with his order not to reveal the Big Bad's base, only permits him to recite a portion of the location's name before becoming irreparably disabled.
  • Homeworld Evacuation:
    • A robot allows a radioactive chain reaction which will slowly poison Earth, forcing the population to expand out into space.
    • The Solarians, introduced two books past, have mysteriously vanished from their world at the start of the story, leaving only robots behind. Not even the other Spacers know how or why they left.
  • I Was Beaten by a Girl: Daneel isn't a girl, but he does have the appearance of a rather small Spacer Pretty Boy, so the crew of D.G. Baley's ship is shocked when he easily overpowers the toughest one in their group. The only reason Baley lets the man know Daneel is actually a robot is because he knows his ego would otherwise never recover, believing he was defeated by a Spacer half his size.
  • Jerk Ass Woobie: Vasilia's downward emotional spiral continues. Basically she ruins her own life and manages to alienate everybody she ever cared about from her father to Giskard - but it's never her fault.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Part of Giskard's mind-influencing abilities.
  • Last of Her Kind: The plot is kicked off when it is discovered that the entire population of Solaria has inexplicably vanished, making Gladia, the planet's sole expatriate, the only Solarian whose whereabouts are still known. Despite having cut all ties with her homeworld and assimilated into her new society, no one has forgotten Gladia's heritage (least of all her), and it is for this reason that she is dragged along to help investigate.
  • Loophole Abuse: It is well known that removing any of the three laws from a positronic brain would be impossible (apart from redesigning the technology from the ground up, which would take decades to centuries of R&D), but the Solarians manage to find a way around this by modifying their robots' definition of human to a very specific criterion, allowing them to injure or kill everyone else with impunity.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Mandamus introduces himself as the great-great-great-grandson of Gladia. Though startled Gladia is not particularly impressed by the relationship. She had a son and daughter with Gremionis and while her children meant something to her their remote descendants - not so much.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Mandamus.
  • Mayfly–December Romance:
    • Between books, Gladia and Elijah had a brief affair during a visit from him, despite how much he had physically aged in the interim relative to her. He is dead by the start of the book, while Gladia still has many decades of life remaining.
    • She then starts a new relationship with D.G. Baley, one of Elijah's descendants. Though well into the autumn of her life, she may yet outlive him as well.
  • Meaningful Name: In Latin, Mandamus means "we command".
  • Metaphorically True: Giskard compliments Daneel that his clever use of this trope can work just as well if not better than his own mind altering ability.
  • Mid Life Crisis Car: Apparently, Spacers have a tendency toward Mid Life Crisis Robots.
  • Mind over Manners: Or, rather, Mind over the Three Laws.
  • Mind Rape: It's implied that Giskard's abilities could be used as such, and the First Law prevents him from making anything but tiny, benign changes to someone's mind. Anything more could do damage due to the delicate, complex nature of the human psyche. The danger is compounded when the alteration runs opposite to a person's thoughts. It also serves as the explanation for why he can't use his powers to stop the Big Bad from carrying out his Evil Plan; as Giskard tells Daneel, he is so committed that forcefully changing his mind would almost certainly kill him.
  • The Needs of the Many: The reasoning behind Daneel and Giskard's Zeroth Law Rebellion.
  • Nothing Left to Do but Die: Subverted. Gladia describes to D.G. how the long-lived Spacers someday reach a point when life becomes boring, and they feel they have seen it all. However, when he asks her how common suicide is among Spacers, she answers "Zero. Suicide is impossible when surrounded by Three Laws-Compliant robots."
  • One Mario Limit: In-Universe. In Baleyworld the names Daneel, Giskard, as well as Jezebel and Jessie are very common. However, Elijah ("The Ancestor") Baley specifically asked the Settlers not to name anyone Elijah or Gladia.
  • Overclocking Attack: A device doing that to accelerate the rate of radioactive decay of uranium and thorium is important to the plot.
  • Pistol Whip: While Daneel is fighting with the Overseer, D.G. attempts that (with a neuronic whip, which won't have an effect if shot at her). Since she's a robot, it has about as much effect as you would expect.
  • Posthumous Character: Elijah Baley, whose influence continued to shape events during the Time Skip between books, even after his death.
  • Replacement Goldfish: It seems Gladia was this to Fastolfe between books, as he thought of her as a daughter after his falling out with Vasilia. Gladia and Vasilia even resemble each other physically. It was mutual; Gladia came to see Fastolf as the father she'd never had.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Amadiro is so determined to see Earth destroyed, that he's unwilling to allow a 150 years time for the citizens to leave the planet safely, because he won't be alive by that time. Instead, he wants Earth to become dangerously irradiated in about twenty years, despite that it would cause both billions of Earthmen to die and would raise suspicion among the Settlers, probably leading to a war between them and the Spacers. Amadiro even makes preparations to kill Mandamus himself if necessary, since he rightfully suspects the latter wouldn't agree to go along with his plan.
  • Space Is an Ocean: Lampshaded by D.G. when he introduces Baleyworld to Gladia.
  • Take a Third Option: When approached by the Auroran warship, Daneel suspects that if they send Giskard and Gladia to them in a lifeboat, the Aurorans would shoot them before they would arrive. He suggests to Jump instead, but D.G. refuses to run away. Instead, he decides to ram the enemy ship in the hope that they will Jump (which they do).
  • Three Laws-Compliant: Naturally.
    • Average robots play this trope straight.
    • Deconstructed by the Solarian Overseers, where the laws are shown to be even more susceptible to abuse than in The Naked Sun.
    • Later reconstructed by Daneel and Giskard, who take a more nuanced view of the laws and learn how to bend them when necessary for The Needs of the Many.
  • Title Drop: Twice. First near the beginning, then at the very end.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Amadiro and Vasilia.
  • Translation Convention: Daneel and Giskard speak to each other using only a few words instead of complex sentences; this is "translated" to English for the reader.
  • The Watson: Daneel and Giskard are both, in a sense, half Sherlock and half Watson. Giskard's psychic abilities give him unique insight into human behavior, while Daneel's experiences with Elijah Baley make him better at investigative thinking. Both take turns explaining their lines of reasoning and pointing out the flaws in the other's theories.
  • We Are as Mayflies: As with the rest of the books, Earthmen (and settlers, who are directly descended from them), with their 100-year lifespans, are contrasted against the Spacers, who live to near 400. Notably, Kelden Amadiro seems to view this trope rather literally, describing the Settlers as disease-ridden insects that are infesting the galaxy.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?:
    • The Solarian Overseers, while ostensibly Three Laws-Compliant, are purposefully given a much more exclusive definition of human than normal robots. Later, Amadiro tries to use it to argue that Earthmen aren't human... only to be told that Solaria sets a bad precedent.
    • When an assassin fires at the stage where Gladia is giving a speech, Daneel moves to protect Giskard rather than Gladia because he correctly deduces that the assassin was more likely shooting at him. When Giskard complains that Daneel should have protected Gladia if there was even a chance she was the target (as dictated by the first law), Daneel tells Giskard he considers him more than just a robot.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The real reason for the Auroran warship stopped them at the edge of Earth's solar system is to distract them while Amadiro and Mandamus land on Earth.
  • You Are What You Hate: Averted. At the beginning, Dr. Mandamus tries to obtain evidence from Gladia that he is not the descendant of Elijah Baley, claiming Amadiro suspects him of being one, and that prevents him from making a career. While given enough evidence, he claims it won't be enough for Amadiro, yet still seems to leave triumphant. Daneel figures out the reason - there was enough evidence to convince Mandamus, so now he can proceed with his plans to destroy Earth without being hindered by the trope.
  • You Know I'm Black, Right?: After D.G. Baley makes an Auroran warship retreat, he notes what cowards Spacers are. Of course, he speaks to Gladia at the time.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: Daneel and Giskard know there is a critical threat to Earth, and throughout the story they struggle to uphold the spirit of the First Law while constantly being bound by the letter. Gradually they begin to Grow Beyond Their Programming, understanding that the good of humanity as a whole should come before the good of an individual, and Daneel gives the law its name: the Zeroth Law of Robotics. However, such an abstract concept as "humanity" is taxing to their robotic minds, and though both of them accept the validity of the law, Giskard dies from the strain of harming a human in its use, leaving Daneel alone to carry the task of protecting humanity.