Reiterated Plots and Themes in the Robot Novels: Getting away with Murder and Overcoming Programming

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Author: Donald Palumbo
Editor: Scot Peacock
Date: 2002
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 10,802 words

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Just as the Robot stories and novels exhibit the same chaos-theory concepts as does the Foundation series, but in a somewhat different way, so too do the Robot novels exhibit the same fractal quality of duplication across the same scale as does the Foundation series in their reiteration of a different plot structure and additional themes. While this similarly recycled Robot-novel plot structure is quite distinct from that single plot revisited six times in the Foundation Series, its key elements and motifs also resurface repeatedly in both the Empire novels and the Foundation Series as well, and are echoed too in several of the Robot stories, just as those Foundation Series motifs most closely related to Seldon's concept of psychohistory are, likewise, also reiterated exhaustively in the Robot and Empire novels. Moreover, at least two of the themes developed initially in the Robot novels--victory snatched from defeat and the "dead hand" motif--become even more prominent in the Foundation Series.

All four Robot novels employ the same basic plot; however, a few nuances involving Baley recur only in the three Baley novels--The Caves of Steel (1954), The Naked Sun (1956), and The Robots of Dawn (1983)--as Robots and Empire (1985) occurs some two centuries after Baley's death. Incompatible protagonists are forced into an uncomfortable alliance, must race against time to solve an apparently insoluble mystery (in the Baley novels, a "murder" mystery) involving Spacers and one or more experimental robots, and are victims of frame-ups or assassination attempts while pursuing each case. Failure to solve the mystery will result in Earth's loss of status or eventual destruction, but success always propels Earth further along the unlikely path leading to a revival of galactic colonisation and the long-term survival of humanity. (Echoing this dynamic on a far smaller scale, in each Baley novel failure would also mean a catastrophic loss of status for Baley, while success always brings professional advancement.) Earth's champions always snatch victory from defeat at the last possible moment--and always, while in an extraordinarily disadvantageous position, by badgering a smug antagonist into losing his composure--but are able to do so only after each has overcome his or her initial programming (literal programming, for robot protagonists Daneel and Giskard; phobias and prejudices, the metaphorical equivalent, for human protagonists Baley and Gladia). Yet the true solution of each mystery is never publicly revealed, and the actual perpetrators of whatever crime has been committed are always allowed to escape prosecution (if not poetic justice).

Each novel features a protagonist who must ally with one or more characters against whom he harbours a deep prejudice. In the three Baley novels this prejudice encompasses the "murder" victims as well, and in Dawn it also extends to the suspect whom it is Baley's task to defend. Initially as bigoted as any other Earthman against both robots and Spacers, bitterly resentful plainclothes detective Elijah Baley is forced in Caves to accept as his partner R. Daneel, a robot who looks like a Spacer, in their Earthbound investigation of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420044190