Murder mysteries are a staple of literature, so much so that it is becoming harder for authors to come up with original twists on how it was done. Created in 1957, this one remains as original now as it was when written. Set in a time where mankind has expanded out into space but split into several distinct and mutually antagonistic societies, it is those social forces that provide the uniqueness of the story. Earthman Elijah Baley, a plainclothes detective with a sterling record, is called upon to travel off-planet to Solaria, a planet where the inhabitants abhor physical contact with other humans and where a murder has been committed. Baley is also paired with a robot, Daneel Olivaw, who passes for a human and has come from a third planet Aurora. Baley's instructions are to solve the murder and gather any information that he can about the Solarians, so that the leaders of Earth can better judge the threat that they pose. I found the murder investigation to be of secondary interest to the social mores of the two societies. Asimov creates two societies with diametrically opposite social customs and Baley is forced to deal with his own fears as well as the rigid exclusiveness of the Solarians. That interplay and how human nature manages to still be present is what makes the story so entertaining. Even though the culprits and their motives for the murder are very standard fare, the backdrop is so interesting that I did not mind that well-worn portion of the plot. This is an excellent murder mystery with a setting of social structures that provide the real story and is how a science fiction mystery should be constructed. The mystery itself is largely a backdrop to the science fiction components.
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About the reviewer
Charles Ashbacher (CharlesAshbacher)
Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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A millennium into the future, two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the Galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. On the beautiful Outer World planet of Solaria, a handful of human colonists lead a hermit-like existence, their every need attended to by their faithful robot servants. To this strange and provocative planet comes Detective Elijah Baley, sent from the streets of New York with his positronic partner, the robot R. Daneel Olivaw, to solve an incredible murder that has rocked Solaria to its foundations. The victim had been so reclusive that he appeared to his associates only through holographic projection. Yet someone had gotten close enough to bludgeon him to death while robots looked on. Now Baley and Olivaw are faced with two clear impossibilities: Either the Solarian was killed by one of his robots--unthinkable under the laws of Robotics--or he was killed by the woman who loved him so much that she never came into his presence!