A thousand years earlier, mankind had split into two groups who now hated one another with a visceral prejudice born out of fear and a complete lack of cultural understanding of one another. Spacers, those who had seen their destiny in the stars, left earth with the assistance of positronic robot technology and colonized fifty worlds scattered throughout the galaxy. One world in particular, Solaria, was so thinly populated that the inhabitants had simply evolved away from the habit of personal contact. Birth was strictly controlled as a means of population replacement and achieved only through artificial insemination; child rearing was managed with the assistance of robots; communication, when it was deemed necessary at all, was via 3D holographic imagery; and personal contact of any kind, let alone sexual, was considered abhorrent. The taboo was so deep-seated it was capable of provoking nausea if the topic was frivolously mentioned.
So when a leading scientist was bludgeoned to death, the citizens of Solaria were quite incapable of even imagining that anyone other than the scientist's spouse was guilty. But since it had also been determined that she had no weapon, the only possibility that remained was that he had been killed by his own robots, a possibility that, of course, was absolutely impossible because of the three laws of robotics that governed all human-robot interaction. Solaria had no choice but to ask for Earth's assistance in solving the problem. Only an Earth detective would have the intuitive understanding of interpersonal relationships and what would prompt someone (or perhaps a robot?) to violence and murder. And it was well known from his recent performance solving the murder in "The Caves of Steel" that Detective Elijah Baley was the only detective who could stomach prolonged contact with Spacers and Robots. So Elijah Baley was on his way to the scene of the crime on Solaria.
What an incredible novel!
Asimov outdoes Agatha Christie herself in concocting a compelling futuristic version of the impossible "locked room" mystery whose solution is based on an understanding of the profound differences of three imagined but superbly developed cultures - two human and one robot - all of which respond in profoundly different ways to the same stimulus. He takes a page from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's brief and has his detective quote the famous aphorism about the solution, however improbable, being all that is left after one has eliminated the impossible. Asimov takes his obvious admiration of Doyle's work one step further allowing Baley to emulate Sherlock Holmes' personal vision of justice by indulging in a debate over the distinction between legal guilt and moral guilt and how the consequences for the two ought to be quite different. And, of course, in the tried and true fashion of cozy mystery detectives ever since the first cozy mystery was written, all is revealed in a showdown drawing room setting with the master confronting all of the possible culprits as he reveals his subtle chain of logic and the now obvious solution.
But only a master of the sci-fi genre of the caliber of Isaac Asimov could turn what might have been a mere 200 page murder mystery into a deeply moving philosophical essay on his imaginings for the future and survival of humankind and even what it means to be human.
Highly recommended indeed for all lovers of science fiction, classic or contemporary.
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