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Literature / The Robots of Dawn

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The third book in Isaac Asimov's "Robot Trilogy", written roughly 30 years after the first two. Elijah "Lije" Baley, now a leader in a movement encouraging humans on Earth to learn to live outside the confines of their domed cities, is summoned to the de facto capital world of the Spacers, Aurora, to solve a murder mystery. Once again he will partner with R. Daneel Olivaw (the "R" stands for "Robot") and once again will he face political intrigue alongside seemingly impossible circumstances to solve the crime and get his man.

Sequel to The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. The Robots of Dawn features a slightly softer brand of science fiction than the previous two books in the series. It also introduces the character of R. Giskard Reventlov, who would go on to star in Robots and Empire, the sequel to the Robot Trilogy and bridging novel between that series and chronologically later parts of Asimov's greater canon.

Tropes include:

  • Aerith and Bob: Auroran names mentioned range from Han and Fanya to Santirix and Rutilan.
  • Alliterative Name: The Earthpeople use names for the noise of the Cities like "Busy Buzz of Brotherhood" and "Hum of Humanity". Naturally, Baley misses it.
  • All Take and No Give: Gladia has a lot of problems because of this. She was raised on Solaria, a Sex Is Evil planet, and had a loveless marriage where her husband saw sex as purely the duty of a "good Solarian". She never had an orgasm or even desired sex as a result. Later she emigrated to Aurora, a Free-Love Future planet. But she remained unsatisfied because in her view sex on Aurora was merely a transaction, with much formality around it but no real lasting relationship. Then, with Jander, she did manage to have an orgasm, but she was only a Taker because a robot cannot Take in turn. So she has sex with Baley when he is near-unconscious with exhaustion, to experience the role of strictly a Giver, and finds she needs both Giving and Taking to have a fulfilling relationship. The sequel reveals she spent over a century married to Gremionis, so it can be assumed all this gave her the proper perspective.
  • Almighty Janitor: Giskard
  • Androids and Detectives: While the actual partnering aspect is downplayed in this novel, the dichotomy between Lije and Daneel (as well as Lije and Giskard) is still in full effect.
  • Always Murder: With the twist this time that the victim is a humanoid robot, like Daneel. The trope is subverted a bit: Lije Baley assumes that nothing but murder would be sufficient reason to allow himself, an Earthman, onto a Spacer world. While he might be willing to see this "roboticide" as a murder, due to his experiences with Daneel, for the Spacers it is nothing but destruction of property; a civil court matter that cannot lead to serious punishment. This is especially true in this case where the only suspect is the robot's designer, builder, and owner. He is unlikely to be punished at all, as people don't tend to get prosecuted for damaging their own property. However, there is a major political scandal being built around the incident, and that is what warrants calling in an investigator. Dr. Fastolfe goes to special effort to get Baley, who impressed him with his handling of the cases in the first two novels, but even that, as he admits, is mainly because no one could offer a better idea. And even so, without Giskard's manipulations Baley may never have been called in at all.
  • And Man Grew Proud: Fastolfe says that this is the way the Spacers, and Aurora specifically, are headed. They refuse to recognize their limitations and the value in diverse viewpoints.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "How is it that Dr. Amadiro knew that Jander was Gladia's husband?"
  • Artificial Human: Amadiro's ultimate objective for humaniform robotic technology. Since the Spacers no longer have the initiative to colonize new worlds, Amadiro wants to use Artificial Human robots to do it for them. This would entail not only building things like infrastructure but creating an actual society similar to that of Aurora. In order to achieve this, the robots would need to be so nearly-human that they would even be capable of simulating things like reproduction. Elijah muses that this could ultimately end up backfiring because, given enough time, such robots might come to decide that they are the real "humans".
  • Author Filibuster: Asimov (through Gladia) goes on at some length a couple times in the book on the nature of sex. Also (through Fastolfe) some veiled commentary on the dangers of social stasis emanating from a lack of eagerness to explore outer space.
  • Authority in Name Only: Zigzagged. The Chairman of the Legislature is officially the head of the state. He was intended to have purely ceremonial power and is even supposed have a vote only in case of a tie. However, the Aurorans' dislike for political conflict eventually gave the post a lot of real power - as a mediator in case of political disputes.
  • Big Bad: Kelden Amadiro, Fastolfe's rival, is extremely prejudiced towards Earth and even the other Spacer worlds, and intends to prevent them from ever colonizing new worlds.
  • Big Good: Han Fastolfe, though his demeanor is highly worrying. He does admit to having impulses to disregard certain sensibilities in the name of scientific research, but defends himself on the basis that he has not and would not have followed through on them.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Lije tricks Amadiro into stating he conducted experiments on Jander in front of witnesses.
  • The Butler Did It: A variation. The case is closed successfully, but nobody, except for Baley who figures it out shortly before leaving, finds out that Giskard was the one that shut down Jander.
  • Canon Welding: This book marks the beginning of Asimov welding the Robot stories with his Foundation series. Numerous references are made to developing the science of "psychohistory" and humanity creating a future "Galactic Empire." Also, for anyone in doubt as to whether the Lije Baily/R. Daneel Olivaw books have any connection to his other robot stories, references are made to Susan Calvin (in particular the short story "Liar"), as well as "The Bicentennial Man".
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Giskard came to Lije's rescue first during an agoraphobic panic attack on the spaceship approaching Aurora, even though he was outside and Daneel was inside the room at the time.
    • Gladia's strong resemblance to Vasilia proves important.
  • The Chessmaster: The murderer: R. Giskard Reventlov. He used his psychic abilities to prevent Amadiro from utilizing R. Jander Panell for his plan, subtly influenced Gladia, Fastolfe, and the Chairman to allow Baley to work on the case, and did it all while keeping himself beyond suspicion. He did this primarily to test and examine Baley to see for himself if Fastolfe was right in his belief that Earth's people are humanity's best hope in colonizing the galaxy and developing a less stagnant society than the Spacer worlds and the current Earth city culture. He allows Baley to discuss all of this with him and remember it, but he also puts a mental block on him so that Baley will never have the urge to tell anyone else what he has discovered.
  • Continuity Nod: Mentions are made to Asimov's previous short stories Liar and The Bicentennial Man.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Previous books have held up Aurora as a utopian society emblematic of the "superior" Spacer culture. After a relatively brief look on Lije's part demonstrates certain aspects of that culture, he (and likely the reader) comes to the conclusion that this is so much Cultural Posturing and hogwash. It is true that the Spacers' standard of living is much higher than Earth's, but apart from the lack of poverty, there is no real evidence that the Spacers are any happier for it.
  • Curse Cut Short: At the end, after Baley explains the situation to Gladia, she states that soon Gremionis will show up at her house again and she will have the pleasure to... at which point Baley stops her and says that Gremionis is a perfectly nice guy who had no idea what was going on.
  • Death Means Humanity: Subverted. Daneel attempts to convince Baley that the Aurorans' attitude toward their robots must mean they view robots as their equals. However, once it becomes obvious Daneel isn't even programmed to use the words "alive" and "murdered" when talking about the current case of a destroyed Ridiculously Human Robot, he realizes that his assumption is off-base and the reason for the treatment must be different.
  • The Determinator: Lije. Having to face his most crippling fears may slow him down, but they will not stop him.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Santirix Gremionis, first to Vasilia, then Gladia. They both reject him but remain friends with him for different reasons. The sequel reveals him and Gladia ended up Happily Married for a century and a half.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Sort of. Gladia initiates sex with Elijah while he is barely conscious, which makes it questionable as to whether he gave consent. Baley even thinks at one point that she "made" him do it, though this reads more as something of an excuse to assuage his guilt in (passively) participating in an act of adultery. He is a willing participant once he has recovered enough of his senses, though he remains essentially passive (he is exhausted both mentally and physically at the time). Their discussions the next morning treat it as a consensual affair between the two of them rather than a rape.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Giskard, though not really a villainous example (he had a good reason to shut down Jander). However, the truth remains only between him and Baley.
  • Epiphanic Prison: Fastolfe's and Giskard's opinion is that Earth's people are the ones who'll have to colonize the Galaxy... because they, at least, can see the walls of their prison.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Baley has a eureka moment three times just before falling asleep. Each time he forgets what it was he discovered by the time he is fully awake again. Fastolfe at one point suggests using a potentially dangerous mind probe device to try to help Baley remember what it was he realized, but Baley does not take him up on the offer. Giskard eventually admits that he used his telepathic powers to prevent Baley from remembering what he had discovered each time in order to protect the secret of Giskard's telepathic abilities.
  • Everybody Smokes: Subverted, since Elijah quit after the second book.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: The story of Baley's previous investigation was made into a "hyperwave drama" and shown on both Earth and all the Spacer worlds. Consequently, everybody who he meets Baley tells him that he doesn't look like the actor who played him (who was younger and more handsome). The actor who played Daneel was apparently a better match.
  • Fancy Toilet Awe: Toilets on Aurora can be equipped with holographic illusions that completely mask the actual appearance of the room, which gives Baley a lot of trouble when he has to use one unprepared.
  • Fantastic Racism: Spacers generally despise Earthmen. Amadiro in particular keeps saying that he personally has great concern for the welfare of Earthmen while doing everything he can to confine them to their planet.
  • Fairplay Whodunnit: Similarly to the rest of the series.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The politeness of Amadiro when Baley meets him first is just creepy, and makes it clear that he is up to no good.
  • Found the Killer, Lost the Murderer: As in the other novels of the trilogy, an inversion. Baley succeeds in his mission to prevent the political damage to Dr. Fastolfe and convince Aurora to allow Earth to colonize new planets, but he fails to bring the actual murderer to justice.
  • Foreign Cuisine: Baley has trouble stomaching Auroran coffee and some of the sandwiches. Some of the time it's subverted, but Dr. Fastolfe prefers to serve him meals closer to traditional Earth cuisine.
  • Free-Love Future: Aurora is a completely sexually open society, so much so that (according to Gladia and Gremionus at least), sex is a boring transaction with no emotional component. Dr. Fastolfe insists that Gladia exaggerates (as she originally came from a Sex Is Evil society), and that in reality sex is not taken that lightly. He, himself, is considered somewhat weird for being exclusive while married. On the other hand his 'current wife' is completely invisible throughout the crisis as he sees no reason to inflict his troubles on her - which pretty much shows how shallow marital commitment is on Aurora. The fact that his refusal to have sex with his own daughter after raising her himself is seen as weird even by the doctor is another hint that things are a Aurora.note 
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Played with. At one point Doctor Fastolfe states that he would have been aborted had his facial deformities been detectable at the time. Elijah Bailey replies that humanity would have lost one of its best scientists if that were the case.
  • Grand Theft Prototype: It turns out the entire incident with the robot's deactivation was secondary - the real plot rotated around Amadiro's attempts to reverse engineer Jander.
  • Guile Hero: Lije, of course. He's a detective and has very little in the way of resources to work with, so he plays hunches and bluffs a lot.
  • Ice Queen: Dr. Vasilia Aliena, Fastolfe's estranged daughter. She's cold, calculating and dismissive of most people, including harboring a deep disdain for her father. The only one she softens around is Giskard, who was both her robot nanny and childhood friend.
  • I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Lije to Gladia. He tries to convince her to give Gremionis another chance and asks Giscard to give her a push in that direction. The sequel reveals that it worked - Gladia and Gremoionis marry and stay together for a century.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Amadiro slips up when he refers to Jander as Gladia's husband since Gladia kept how she viewed her relationship with Jander well-hidden, and she was not on speaking terms with Amadiro. The only other person who could have told him was Jander himself.
  • Ironic Name: The Spacers. Despite their proud claim to the name and heritage, most Spacers never leave the planets they are born on, even though they live for centuries. In fact, they have become so risk-averse and unwilling to tolerate any discomfort that they are wholly incapable of carrying out further space exploration or colonization. They know it too, which is why Amadiro is so hellbent on creating new Spacer worlds colonized entirely by humaniform robots.
  • Irony:
    • Vasilia accuses her father of being a monster who will do anything to advance his studies of the human brain. Her boss, Amadiro, has her full loyalty despite all the measures - including subjecting the agoraphobic Baley to a storm - he is willing to take in order to have the opportunity to study Jander's and Daneel's brains. At the same time her beloved and praised Giskard arranged the entire chain of events in order to study Baley's brain.
    • The Globalists are accusing Fastolfe of working on a way to quickly destroy the brain of any humaniform robot. A prominent Globalist, the very same Vasilia, did create such a method about a century ago, not that she knows it.
  • Lampshade Hanging: When Baley meets Gladia the first time in this novel, he says "Jehoshaphat!" (the usual thing he says when he is surprised). Gladia's reaction is:
    "I knew that when I met you again, Elijah, that would be the first word I would hear."
  • Legacy Character: The Chairman of the Legislature of Aurora. It is stated that, in order to represent the continuity of the office, he is never addressed as anything except "Mr. Chairman" officially. There might be individual holders of the office, but "The Chairman" always exists.
  • MacGuffin: The Big Bad wants control of Daneel, the first humanoid robot, in order to discover how to make more.
  • Mad Scientist: Fastolfe. Vasilia describes her father as one who would do anything to study the human mind, including using a psychic probe on Baley (which is a dangerous process and can damage one's mind). She blames what she views as his unnatural raising of her (and his refusal to accept her sexual offer) as being permanently damaging to her psyche. Fastolfe admits that his study of the human mind was the reason he raised Vasilia himself, and also the reason for his building humaniform robots. But while he admits this was his motivation, Fastolfe also shows real concern for Vasilia and a desire to reconcile with her.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Played with. Dr. Fastolfe does indeed have a beautiful daughter, but they are estranged, and though Baley appreciates her beauty she is prejudiced against Earthmen and is therefore not a potential love interest.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Baley and Gladia discuss the problems with this sort of relationship several times. Gladia at one point offers to come to Earth, where she is sure she will die of Earth diseases not too long after Baley. In the end, Baley decides Gladia will be happier with a fellow long-lived spacer.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Vasilia states that, while looking for reasons her father might have rejected her advances, she briefly considered whether he preferred male company.
  • Mythology Gag: Fastolfe tells Baley about an incident involving a robot that, through some glitch during the production, became psychic, and ended up with his brain fried when he was caught in a paradox where, whatever he did, he would harm someone. This incident is from "Liar! (1941)". Serves as a Chekhov's Gun when it turns out that Giskard is actually psychic, although due to experimentation rather than construction.
  • Nobody Poops: Baley views a lot of book-films about Aurora in order to get familiar with the culture. Yet he has a lot of problems with local etiquette, especially things concerning the use of Personals (bathrooms), since the book-films do not concern themselves about such trivialities.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Dr. Falstofe refuses to share the secret of humaniform robots with other roboticists, and the plot hinges on whether he willfully destroyed one of the two prototypes. Baley realizes that Daneel, as the only remaining humaniform robot, could be examined in enough detail to allow more humaniform robots to be created. Amusingly this thought apparently never occurred to Fastolfe.
  • Psychic Powers: A legend about a psychic robot is mentioned by Fastolfe as an example of a robot becoming inoperative due to brain lock when it realized it could not continue to exist without harming a human, in violation of the laws of robotics. The final plot twist is that Giskard is both the real killer and a psychic robot. He puts a lock on Lije's mind, preventing Lije from ever revealing Giskard's powers, even accidentally. This is also what makes this book softer science fiction than its predecessors.
  • Parental Incest: Vasilia offered herself to her father once she became old enough. Incest is not taboo on Aurora because children are raised in communal nurseries by professionals rather than by their biological parents. Most children don't know (and don't care) who their parents are, and considering how long-lived Aurorans are it's quite possible for children to become sexually involved with their parents or siblings. note  Fastolfe was unusual in choosing to raise Vasilia himself, and both Vasilia and Fastolfe believe it was a mistake for him to refuse her, and blame that as the start of the rift between them.
  • Post-Scarcity Economy: Everyone on Aurora has a home and at least one robot servant (part of the public welfare program), and never worries about where their next meal is coming from. Gremionis has a much more humble establishment and far fewer robots than Dr. Fastolfe, but he does have them.
  • Raised by Robots: Vasilia, which accounts for much of her misanthropy as well as her extreme sense of possessiveness towards Giskard, who was her childhood caregiver.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: All the power of the Chairman stems from the fact that he is supposed to be the Reasonable Authority Figure in settling disputes. The current Chairman is considered a person most successful in that task and certainly acts that way during the climax of the story.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Daneel is humanoid in appearance and somewhat in behavior, but unlike on Solaria and Earth, where such a robot would be unimaginable, the Aurorans are not fooled in the least.
  • Robotic Spouse: Examined. Gladia comes to think of Jander as her husband but keeps it secret. Despite Aurora's sexually libertine culture, robots are looked at as purely tools, and an emotionally intimate relationship with one is strange enough that Gladia fears being stigmatized for it. It doesn't help that the Auroran legal definition of marriage is based on the desire of the two spouses to have children, and Jander isn't nearly that advanced. Every Auroran who is told about how Gladia felt towards Jander finds the idea ridiculous.
  • Running Gag: People, on first meeting Baley, keep mentioning how he looks nothing like the actor who played him in that hyperwave drama. He's getting tired of it, especially since the whole thing was produced over his repeated objections.
  • Sabotage to Discredit: Basically, that's the main accusation against Fastolfe, supposedly because he disapproved of certain plans for robots like Jander. He doesn't help his case by confirming at every opportunity that he's the only roboticist in existence skilled enough to have performed this type of sabotage, as well as claiming it must have been a random glitch.
  • Secret Test of Character: Giskard engineers basically the entire plot to test Lije Bailey's mettle, and through him the mettle of all Earthmen. He is pleased with the results, especially Bailey's willingness to brave a great storm despite crippling agoraphobia.
  • Sex Bot: Unlike the Robotic Spouse trope, no Auroran ever raises an eyebrow upon learning Gladia used Jander as one. When it comes to sex, anyone has the right to whatever happiness they want, so long as another person's feelings aren't an issue, and if using robots is unusual, it's only to the extent that suitable robots are unusual. Vasilia even states outright that no normal Auroran woman would have hesitated before having sex with such a human-like robot given the opportunity.
  • Shoot the Dog: Giskard induced Jander into stasis to prevent Amadiro from completing his experimentation on him, which would have lead to Amadiro learning how to produce more humaniform robots.
  • Three Laws-Compliant: As is usual with these novels. Again, there are no mis-programmed robots.
  • True Love Is a Kink: Exclusivity in Aurora is considered weird even for married people. However, Gremionis is in love with Gladia and dreams of a monogamous relationship with her:
    Gremionis: I don't want anyone else... How should I know why that is? I want Gladia. It's a—it's a kind of madness, except that I think it's the best kind of insanity. I'd be mad not to have that kind of madness.—I don't expect you to understand... Imagine having your mind out of whack and wanting it to stay out of whack. Any mentologist would put me in for major treatment.
  • Unwanted Assistance: The robots (especially Giskard) want to intervene every time they think that Baley is being uncomfortable being outside. Baley thinks this as rather annoying and would rather accustom himself to such situations than be helped out by robots.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Amadiro doesn't much care who gets hurt in his quest to populate the Galaxy with Aurora colonies indistinguishable from the original. Though he does draw the line at actual murder.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Amadiro thinks that the only viable future is that the Aurorans colonize future worlds with the help of humaniform robots and that Earthmen should be confined to Earth. Once his attempts to create a humaniform robot fails (even with the help of many other scientists), he tries to win by undermining his opponent's reputation.
  • What Have You Done for Me Lately?: Baley is asked that at the beginning of the book. He got the Spacer outpost on Earth dismantled, he got the Spacer to review the terms of trade with Earth, but that was two years ago, and he, as a simple police officer, had little opportunity to do something global scale since.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?:
    • Amadiro and Baley discuss this trope in their talk of the "robot colonies" that Amadiro's faction proposes. Robots designed to produce a planet perfect for humans would need to perfectly mimic human desires, needs, and life patterns - including aging and reproduction. Baley wonders how, exactly, a planet of such robots would differ from a planet of humans. Or how long it would take for the robots to decide that they are the real humans, and biological humans are less important. Amadiro states that even if it will happen, he would prefer a galaxy of robots to one of Earthmen, so long as these are Auroran robots.
    • Baley also discusses the trope with Fastolfe. Though he was told before he came to Aurora that human and robot society there was completely integrated, Baley points out many obvious instances of Aurorans treating robots like, well, robots; including forbidding them from entering "Personals" note  and every Auroran building having built-in niches for robots to stand in while not being used instead of having them sit and participate in conversations with their human masters. Plus, there is the Aurorans' refusal to call the destruction of Jander "murder". He comes to believe that Aurorans would be no more ready to accept completely humaniform robots than any other human society, despite their protests to the contrary.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: While Amadiro is clearly the bad guy, and is motivated in part by anti-Earthmen prejudice, he is a Well-Intentioned Extremist at worst. He does what he does, not for power, but because he honestly believes it's the best solution for his beloved homeland. He might be willing to go to great lengths to gain the secret of creating humaniform robots, including covert conversations with Jander, attempting to "kidnap" Daneel for long enough to Reverse Engineer him, and causing psychological harm to Baley, but he would not stoop to murder. He also is innovative in trying to encourage cooperative research among Aurorans again.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: It appears that the long life of Spacers has its own disadvantages. Mostly it makes them individualists. For example, since scientists have enough time to achieve their goals on their own, they have no motivation for cooperation with each other. They mostly keep all their discoveries to themselves until they feel their work is complete, slowing down scientific advancement considerably. When Fastolfe manages to create humaniform robots but refuses to use them for the purpose Amadiro wants to, Amadiro founds the Robotics Institute to begin making cooperative research possible again.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Baley has gotten better at being outdoors since his last appearance, but he is still nervous about it from time to time, and when he faces what the Aurorans describe as a typical thunderstorm he almost completely falls apart.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Amadiro attempts this in his quest for the secret to creating humaniform robots. It doesn't work out for him.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: Ye Originale Example. Giskard engineers the events of the novel because he decides that he needs an Earthman's brain to examine in order to determine if his creator is correct that Earth humans should colonize new worlds without the help of humaniform robots, as the "Globalist" Aurorans want. Robots and Empire reveals that his thoughts along this line lead him on to the formulation of the Zeroth law. He determines that being too protected by robots is bad for mankind. So he quietly arranges things so that humans have to do without robots for a while (as in, tens of thousands of years), even if it means individuals are going to face danger.