Steven Peterson's Reviews > Robots and Empire

Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov
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Sep 08, 09

Read in January, 2008

In some ways, this novel, which clearly and explicitly links three of Isaac Asimov's series--Robot, Foundation, and Empire--is the development of a new law of robotics. Of course, all fans of Asimov know the three laws:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;
2. A robot must obey orders given it by humans except where such orders would violate the First Law;
3. A robot must protect its existence unless such behavior would violate the first and second laws.

This novel introduces a critical new law, what R. Daneel Olivaw (the classic Asimov robot) referred to as the "Zeroth Law." This law reads:

"A robot may not harm humanity, or by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm."

And this introduces a tension into the first three laws. This novel shows the implementation of this new law, by Daneel's friend (a telepathic robot), R. Giskard Reventlov.

In some senses, the actual plot of this work is not so central. It is indifferent, in fact, as a mystery, compared with the first three Robot novels (as well as short stories). Elijah Baley, who had worked with Daneel in earlier mysteries, has been dead for a couple centuries; Daneel is now on his own (with Giskard). But it represents an effort by Asimov to begin to link his three mighty series: Robot, Empire, and Foundation. The Zeroth Law is what begins to link these, with Daneel as the key player. One would have to read later novels in the Empire and Foundation series to understand the profound consequences of the Zeroth Law in his hands.

Anyhow, this is not a very good mystery on its own, but it is an important work beginning to link the three series, answer questions that had heretofore not been answered.
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