Isaac Asimov, the Grand Master of Science Fiction, brings us another detective story set in the Robot series: The Robots of Dawn. Some two years after the events of The Naked Sun, police detective Elijah Baley is called upon to investigate a crime on the Spacer planet of Aurora. He is accompanied again by the humanlike robot Daneel Olivaw. After the events on Solaria which have been turned into what amounts to a "movie" in this setting, Baley is famous which has caused his superiors on the police force to be resentful. This new case is one which will have deeper consequences than discovering truth and justice: if he does not succeed in clearing Dr Falstofe of roboticide then Baley's career will be destroyed and the opportunity for Earth to ever reach for the Stars again and colonize the Universe will be eliminated as a powerful group of Spacers (those humans who have already colonized several planets and now will not permit Earth to take to space again). In short, it is imperative that Baley succeeds. Dr. Falstofe has been accused of causing one of his own robots, the humanform Jander, to "mind freeze" and render the robot useless. The accusation is given on the presumption that the Doctor did this so that the Spacers who are against Earth would be discredited. By his own admission Dr. Falstofe is the only human alive with the intellectual capacity and knowledge to be able to force a robot into "mind freeze". He also maintains that he is innocent. While there is no "crime" in the sense of breaking a law, it is a "crime" in the sense that being guilty would discredit Dr Falstofe and Earth would suffer the consequences.
The Robots of Dawn gives the reader a further sense of the culture shock of being in a place where everybody is just like you, except that they are nothing like you culturally. Things that Elijah Baley fears are commonplace on Aurora, and they fear or have distaste for the things of Earth. The main thrust of the story, however, is a mystery. If the good doctor is the only person who could have committed the crime and the good doctor did not commit the crime, then who did? And why? The reader is led through the story by Baley's investigations and we are certainly invited to make our own guesses based on the information at hand. Asimov does an excellent job of having Baley ask all the questions that provide us with all the information and we, as well as he, are left to figure out the solution. The formal inquisitive nature of Baley does force the language and writing to be somewhat stilted and, well, formal. The novel has an unemotional feel to it, and not just when the robots are speaking or on the page. There is a certain formality to everybody and while it may fit the narrative, it can make for reading that is a bit dry.
As a standalone science fiction novel, The Robots of Dawn has not aged especially well. The characters are not very well developed and there is little to distinguish the characters from each other besides their names. The story itself does not have sufficiently high stakes to be truly compelling, or at least the stakes do not feel as if they are truly important. For Earth, the stakes are quite high as well as for Baley, but somehow this does not come across on the page. With all of this said, The Robots of Dawn is worth reading for those reading through Asimov as the Robot series flows into the Empire series which flows into the Foundation series. All of these novels bridge together to give a vision of the future as imagined by Isaac Asimov. I do feel, however, that Asimov works better as a short story writer than a novelist, but there are many novels of Asimov that I haven't read.