Robots and Empire is a science fiction novel written by the American author Isaac Asimov and published by Doubleday Books in 1985. It is part of Asimov's Robot series, which consists of many short stories (collected in I, Robot, The Rest of the Robots, and The Complete Robot) and several novels (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn).
Robots and Empire is part of Asimov's consolidation of his three major series of science fiction stories and novels: his Robot series, his Galactic Empire series and his Foundation series. (Asimov also carried out this unification in his novel Foundation's Edge, and its sequels, thus unifying the three series of fiction into a single future history).
In the novel, Asimov depicts the transition from his earlier Milky Way Galaxy, inhabited by both human beings and positronic robots, to his Galactic Empire. The galaxy of his earlier trilogy of Robot novels is dominated by the blended human/robotic societies of the fifty "Spacer" planets, dispersed over a wide part of the Galaxy. While the Earth is much more populous than all of the Spacer planets combined, its people are looked down upon by the Spacers and treated as second-class citizens. For a long time, the Spacers have forbidden emigration of people from the Earth. But Asimov's later Galactic Empire is populated by many quadrillions of human beings on hundreds of thousands of habitable planets; and by very few robots (such as R. Daneel Olivaw). Even the technology to maintain and upgrade robots exists on only a few out-of-the-way planets. (R. Daneel Olivaw undergoes some of these upgrades, especially to his positronic brain, over a period of more than 10,000 years.) Therefore, Asimov's novel attempts to describe how his earlier Robot series ultimately connects to his Galactic Empire series.
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The Earthman Elijah Baley (the detective hero of the previous Robot books), has died nearly two centuries earlier. During these two centuries, the balance of forces in the galaxy has changed dramatically. Inspired partly by Baley's adventures in space (on the "Spacer" worlds of Solaria and Aurora), Earth-people have overcome their stagnation and agoraphobia, and embarked on a new wave of space colonization, using faster-than-light drive to reach distant planets throughout the Milky Way Galaxy, beyond the earlier "Spacer" worlds. These newly colonized worlds are clearly distinct from the earlier "Spacer" ones, and their inhabitants, calling themselves "Settlers" rather than "Spacers", revere Earth as their mother-world.
Meanwhile, Baley's memory remains in the mind of his former lover, Gladia Delmarre, a "Spacer", who has a centuries-long lifespan, as opposed to the seven or eight decades that Earth people (such as Baley) live. It is discovered that Solaria, the homeworld of Gladia, and the 50th-established of the Spacer planets, has been abandoned and has become empty of all inhabitants (except for millions of robot servants, which have been left behind). Gladia then meets a seventh-generation descendant of Baley's, Daneel Giskard (or D.G.) Baley, a Settler-Trader. He asks for Gladia's help in visiting Solaria, in order to unravel the mysterious destruction of several "Settler" spaceships making landings there, and also with the mission of reclaiming the abandoned robots. Gladia agrees to go, and is accompanied by the positronic robots R. Daneel Olivaw and R. Giskard Reventlov. R. Giskard has secret telepathic powers about which only R. Daneel knows. These robots are both the former property of their creator, Dr. Han Fastolfe, who bequeathed them to Gladia in his will.
At the same time, Daneel and Giskard are engaged in a struggle of wits with Fastolfe's bitter archrivals, the roboticists Kelden Amadiro and Vasilia Aliena, Fastolfe's estranged daughter. Whereas Fastolfe supported the expansion of the "Settler" population from Earth, Amadiro detests all Settlers - as do most "Spacers", who consider all Earthlings to be little better than barbarians. Amadiro wants to see the Earthlings destroyed, so that the descendants of the Spacers alone can inherit the Milky Way (There are no other intelligent beings in Asimov's fictional galaxy).
However, for many decades Amadiro has been continually thwarted in introducing an anti-Settler policy into the governments of the Spacers. These blockings of Amadiro's plans have been largely caused by the telepathic manipulation of key people by R. Giskard. Frustrated by his series of failures, Amadiro decides to accept an ambitious and unscrupulous apprentice, Levular Mandamus. Mandamus develops a cruel plan to destroy the population of the Earth, using a newly developed weapon, the "nuclear intensifier". Amadiro and Mandamus intend to kill the population of the Earth and to make the Earth uninhabitable for human beings by using radioactivity. They intend to use the nuclear intensifier device to speed up all of the natural radioactive decay processes in the upper crust of the Earth, thereby making the surface of the Earth massively radioactive.
While Amadiro schemes, R. Daneel and R. Giskard slowly assemble the pieces of the roboticists' genocidal plan for mass murder. The robots, sharing Fastolfe's humane vision of a unified Settler/Spacer Galaxy - or, failing that, a Galaxy where Settlers can thrive in spite of Spacer domination - attempt to stop Amadiro. However, Daneel and Giskard are hampered by the Three Laws of Robotics, in particular, by the First Law of Robotics,
"A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."
which prevents them from making any direct attack on Amadiro. Daneel, meanwhile, has formulated an additional Zeroth Law of Robotics:
"A robot may not injure humanity, or through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm."
Giskard thinks this might help them to override the First Law, and to save the population of the Earth. The robots must work their way through the ramifications of the First Law and the Zeroth Law, in a race against time, before they face a confrontation with Amadiro and Mandamus.
Fastolfe's brilliant daughter Vasilia has long coveted the valuable Giskard, and she finally determines to take him away from Gladia. Then, when Vasilia deduces that Giskard has telepathy, she confronts him with this fact. Giskard is compelled to manipulate her mind telepathically in order to make her forget about his telepathic powers. This leaves the two positronic robots free to deal with Amadiro.
The two robots locate Amadiro and Mandamus on Earth, where they find the two Spacers debating the best way to use the nuclear intensifier for their ghoulish purposes. (They just happen to be at the site of Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania). After Amadiro admits to the robots their plans to carry out mass murder on the Earth, Giskard decides that it is necessary to tamper with Amadiro's brain (using the newly created Zeroth Law). Unfortunately, the way that Giskard does this causes irreversible damage to Amadiro's brain - and thus harm to him, as is forbidden by the First Law. Giskard is mentally "skating on thin ice" in this regard - and he is not far from suffering the consequences of such action.
Now standing alone with the robots, Mandamus claims that his intentions regarding the nuclear intensifier were more benign than Amadiro's. Mandamus wants to draw out the radioactive catastrophe over many decades, rather than the mere years that Amadiro wanted, so that Amadiro could draw evil pleasure from the destruction of the Earth's population within his own lifetime.
Giskard decides that it would be best for humanity to abandon the Earth, hence he allows Mandamus to adjust the settings of the nuclear intensifier. He extends the time scale of the radioactive catastrophe to 150 years, allowing humanity to evacuate the Earth (though a significant population still dwells there at the time of the novel Pebble in the Sky).
Next, Giskard tampers with Mandamus's mind as well, ensuring that Mandamus will have no memory of what has happened. Giskard predicts, correctly, that by forcing humanity's hand into leaving the Earth, vigor will be reintroduced into mankind and the new Settlers will spread out across space at a rate never before seen. This will continue until all the governments of the interstellar colonies decide to unite into one "Galactic Empire".
However, by allowing Mandamus to proceed with his original plan, Giskard becomes instrumental in creating a very radioactive planet Earth, and hence placing the inhabitants of Earth under grave threat of death. This contradicts the First Law of Robotics. The Zeroth Law does not prove to be enough, to Giskard at least, to justify harming humans for the sake of a hypothetical future benefit. Under the stress of changing the course of humanity, R. Giskard himself suffers a cascading and soon-fatal malfunction of his positronic brain. This is because he is not sure whether his actions will bring about an ultimate victory for the Spacers, leading to the final death of humanity.
However before R. Giskard's brain freezes, he confers his telepathic ability upon R. Daneel, and Daneel takes on the heavy burden of guiding the entire burgeoning Galactic civilization.
In his memoir I. Asimov (1994), Asimov explained that following his commercial and critical success with The Robots of Dawn, he decided to write Robots and Empire with the intentions of making Daneel, "the real hero of the series," the novel's protagonist; and that Robots and Empire would create a bridge to the later volumes of his future history. About this second aim, Asimov said that he was persuaded against it by Lester del Rey and Judy-Lynn del Rey, his long-time friends and the editors of Del Rey Books, who thought that the fans of Asimov's series of novels would rather that Asimov kept the Robot and Empire/Foundation universes separate. On the other hand, his editors at Doubleday Books - his hardcover book publisher - encouraged Asimov to do what deep-down he wanted to do. From then on, Asimov proceeded with his plans for unifying the two series.
Asimov wrote Robots and Empire in a nonlinear fashion (other examples of nonlinear plot-structuring in Asimov's novels can be found in The Gods Themselves and Nemesis). Flashbacks by the major characters alternate with the present-time storyline. The story starts on the Spacer planet Aurora, where the heart of Amadiro's conspiracy against Settler civilization is developing. Meanwhile, aboard a starship, Gladia, Daneel, and Giskard visit the planets Solaria and Baleyworld before reaching the Earth, where this novel's climax takes place.
Asimov used this planet-hopping itinerary most notably in most of the volumes of the Foundation series from Foundation and Empire onward. Unlike the detective fiction methods of the previous Robot novels where Baley assembles the clues to a crime that had been committed, in Robots and Empire, a murderous conspiracy developing against the Earth, and its discovery by the robots, keep pace with each other right up through the final confrontation with Amadiro on the Earth. Then, the robots have only moments to spare in terminating Amadiro's evil plan for a quick death to all Earthlings.
As well as linking the two series into a single future history, the present book served to address a criticism leveled against the largely radioactive Earth as depicted in Pebble in the Sky and mentioned in several other books. Though not explicitly stated, there was the clear implication the world being mostly radioactive and humans precariously surviving in the uncontaminated areas in between was the result of a nuclear war hundreds or thousands of years before the time of the plot. This would have made "Pebble in the Sky" part of the post-nuclear war sub-genre common in the 1950s. It was, however, pointed out by critics that such an extensive use of nuclear weapons as to leave persistent and widespread radiation even after centuries would have completely destroyed all life on Earth at the moment when it took place. Therefore, in the present book Asimov provided a different origin for the future Earth's radioactivity.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license