One of the earlier books in this series was set on an over-crowded, anti-robot Earth. The other was set in an under-crowded, overly-robot-dependent “Spacer” world, called Solaria. The humans that colonized new planets are quite different than the humans that remained on Earth.
This book is set on the planet Aurora, which seems to strike the happy medium between Earth and Solaria.
The conflict in this book arises because new planets need to be settled. The “Spacers” (humans that moved off Earth many generations ago) are more technologically advanced than Earthmen. However, settling new planets is difficult and uncomfortable and the Spacers live a comfortable luxurious life. The Spacers also have a low population compared to Earth’s much larger population. These issues create two competing camps.
The first thinks new planets should be settled by robots who will prepare the planets for future Spacer colonization. The second camp thinks planets should be settled by Earthmen. For various reasons that aren’t completely believable, the first camp requires human-shaped robots to do the initial colonizing. Such robots are only made by Dr Fastolfe, who is a firm supporter of the second camp. As such, Fastolfe refuses to release the secret of creating human-form robots and such is the conflict that creates this story.
It’s another great detective story (which is particularly impressive since 25 years passed between this book and the previous one in this series). The ending is quite good as well.
Nevertheless, it’s the ethical issues that are most interesting. We begin to see a major weakness in the laws of robotics. The laws would seem to prevent a robot from harming a human even if harming said human would help millions more. The robots in the stories are also becoming much more advanced and interesting.
More after the next book.