I’ve written before about my affection for Asimov: entertaining stories that make you think; always clever and thought-provoking. The Foundation series in particular is a favorite. I don’t remember what led me to it, but I saw a post about the links between the Foundation series and the Robot series; quite a lot of Asimov’s SF novels are the same “universe” so to speak. So, I thought I would fill in the gaps in my reading history per this post on suggested reading order.
This book is the first two “Robot novels,” first published in the 1950’s. (The cover image is a bit puzzling – the big thing about Asimov’s robots in these stories is how human-like they are.) Both are murder mysteries – one on Earth + a few thousand years, the other on a colony world called Solaria – and both are tied together by the same protagnist, NYPD detective Elijah Baley.
The Asimov cleverness as mentioned above is not in the somewhat-meh plots, nor is it really tied to robots. Rather, it is in the interesting look at future human society. On Earth, mankind has retreated from the open air into vast enclosed metal megacities – the titular “Caves of Steel.” Crippling agoraphobia has become a universal trait and everyone is used to the lack of privacy and freedom that exists when close-in, communal living is the norm. On the other end of the spectrum, Solaria (the planet that Baley visits in The Naked Sun) was colonized as a luxury world for the uber-elite class. After taking exclusivity and ultra-consumption and pampering to the max for a few generations, Solaria has ended up with a society where everyone lives alone in vast mansions with armies of robots to tend to their every whim. The physical presence of another human is unsettling and embarrassing at best and horrible/worse than death in other circumstances.
In seeing some of the absurdities present in Solarian society, Baley recognizes the weaknesses of his own Earth society and resolves to try to break the stagnation. Thus represents the human drive and willpower which eventually leads to further out stars and Empire.