Robots of Dawn By Issac Asimov – Lessons for any Genre

Synopsis: A millennium into the future two advances have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the Galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together.
Detective Elijah Baley is called to the Spacer world Aurora to solve a bizarre case of roboticide. The prime suspect is a gifted roboticist who had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to commit the crime. There’s only one catch: Baley and his positronic partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, must prove the man innocent. For in a case of political intrigue and love between woman and robot gone tragically wrong, there’s more at stake than simple justice. This time Baley’s career, his life, and Earth’s right to pioneer the Galaxy lie in the delicate balance.



For the Writer: What a treat. A who-done-it roller coaster ride on two future planets, one being earth, which will convert the most hardened of sci-fi dodgers. The Robots of Dawn contains the most deliciously detailed and believable descriptive passages of advanced technology, planetary travel and sci-fi environments I have read in a long time, bar Tolkien. Forget that the novel is science fiction and read it for a demonstration of skill applicable to any genre.

The novel contains generous helpings of dialogue to move the action along and create suspense. Intermittent clues develop characters as you engage in the dialogue, which is a key technique in showing rather than telling and in layering character development as the story unfolds. The characters are so well drawn that by the end of the story you have left friends between the pages.

Here is an example of Asimov’s revelatory dialogue (Daneel is a positronic robot and Elijah is a New York City detective. They are on their way via spaceship to planet Aurora to investigate a roboticide):

“And you are now as much a prisoner as I am, aren’t you, Daneel?
“I am a prisoner,” said Daneel gravely, “only in the sense, partner Elijah, that I am expected not to leave this room.”
“In what other sense is one a prisoner?”
“In the sense that the person so restricted in his movements resents the restriction. A true imprisonment has the implication of being voluntary. I quite understand the reason for being here and I concur in the necessity.”
“You do,” grumbled Baley. “I do not. I am a prisoner in the full sense. And what keeps us safe here anyway?”
“For one thing, Partner Elijah, Giskard is on duty outside.”
“Is he intelligent enough for the job?”
“He understands his orders entirely. He is rugged and strong and quite realizes the importance of his task.”
“You mean he is prepared to be destroyed to protect the two of us?”
Yes, of course, just as I am prepared to be destroyed to protect you.”
Baley felt abashed. He said, “You do not resent the situation in which you may be forced to give up your existence for me?”
“It is my programming, Partner Elijah,” said Daneel in a voice that seemed to soften, “yet somehow it seems to me that, even were it not in my programming, saving you makes the loss of my own existence seem quite trivial in comparison.”
Baley could not resist this. He held out his hand and closed it on Daneel’s with a fierce grip. “Thank you, Partner Daneel, but please do not allow it to happen. I do not wish the loss of your existence. The preservation of my own would be inadequate compensation, it seems to me.”
And Baley was amazed to discover that he really meant it. He was faintly horrified to realize that he would be ready to risk his life for a robot. – No, not for a robot. For Daneel. [p.49]

If you want a guide in consistently and unobtrusively integrating technology, writing mounds of realistic dialogue, penning uncanny environmental descriptions, successfully plotting inter-planetary relationships, spicing your plot with political intrigue, and, if those were not enough, integrating an ideological debate – in this case about the evolving relationship between humans (including other human-like beings) and advanced humanoid robots – let Asimov’s The Robots of Dawn be your teacher.

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