“They” are stealing our jobs! Even a thousand years into the future, New Yorkers are in danger of having their jobs stolen out from under them by those who can work much cheaper, and don’t even require food or sleep. But, this time, it’s not another set of immigrants from abroad, or jobs being shipped overseas – it’s mankind’s greatest creation and greatest threat to the status quo: robots.
You can learn a lot from reading fiction. For example, I had no idea that the word “robot” came from the Czechoslovakian language. This novel is the second book in Asimov’s famous Robots series, but is the first written in novel length (the first book, I, Robot, is a collection of short stories, and thus, some people really consider this the first book). Asimov provides an entertaining and informative introduction and lets us know that he wrote this book in part to prove editor Jack Campbell wrong. Campbell said that Science Fiction and Mystery could not exist in the same story. Not only did Asimov prove him wrong, he helped create the idea of genre-blending (even if it wasn’t called that) as well as create huge demand for more robot novels (after the next book, The Naked Sun, published in ’57, Asimov ended up not being able to write another robot novel for 26 more years.)
The story is set in the far future and features themes of prejudice, murder, secret conspiracies and life in too crowded cities. Policeman Elijah Baley is assigned to investigate the murder of a prominent roboticist “Spacer” (a descenant of humans who has lived off world) and is assigned a new partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Baley doesn’t want to work R. Daneel, though, because the “R.” stands for robot. Elijah may not be the best detective – he jumps to several wrong conclusions and lets his prejudice against those job stealing robots cloud his vision – but is he’s very realistic and believable. After all, how many policemen over the years have either been crooked, or used their own prejudices to put a man in jail just because they don’t like the color of his skin? Like most great science fiction, this story allows us to look at our own society and our own prejudices through a story set in a future world.
We can forgive Mr. Asimov his (over)use of words like “jehosephat” and “gosh,” and for envisioning a distant future that still uses switchboards and actual film for storing images. One of the reasons I love old, classic sci-fi is that we not only see a possible future, but also a glimpse into the time when the story was written. If you like mysteries set in the future, or involving paranormal creatures and magic, check out our online reading list of Sci-Fi & Fantasy Detectives.
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