Robots And Empire by Isaac Asimov
This is a later book by Asimov. It brings together elements from his Foundation, Robots and Caves Of Steel series. The story takes place about 200 years after The Caves Of Steel. A galactic empire is still just a dream. Humans have perhaps 100 colony worlds - divided into two groups. There are the societies of what was known as "the spacers" in Caves Of Steel. These societies are on the decline - the people live their isolated lives tended by robots. They don't expand, they don't create. Meanwhile, some Earth people have begun establishing new colonies ("Settlers"). The Settler worlds don't like robots and their people don't have the long lives of spacers, but they imagine colonizing the entire galaxy.
Gladia lives on a spacer world. She has inherited the robots Daneel and Giscard. A descendant of Elijah Bailey convinces her to go to the world Solaria, where she was born. She knew Elijah Bailey who is revered by the Settlers. She's taken to speak at a ceremony on a Settler world. There she makes a speech which greatly impresses people.
Meanwhile a conspiracy is brewing back on the planet Gladia had lived. One of the most influential men there has a grudge against Elijah Bailey and those associated with Bailey – as well as considering Earth and the Settlers as a threat. Plus two younger spacers have plans also.
An important thread in the story has to do with the robots Daneel and Giscard. They have important roles in human history leading to this point and into the future. In addition, they have discussions of significance to Asimov’s series. They discuss the Three Laws Of Robotics and consider the idea of a Zero-th Law (that acting in the best interests of humanity as a whole should be the highest law of robotics). Giscard begins the idea of psychohistory and the need to guide humanity. They raise philosophic issues in these conversations.
The spacer plot against Earth provides some degree of mystery to the story. However, Robots And Empire isn’t really what I’d classify as an “SF mystery”. Even if it was, I wouldn’t rate it as good a mystery as The Caves Of Steel or some of Asimov’s other mysteries.
The book will appeal most to those fond of the Foundation series who would like another book related to the series. Readers who would like to see a few gaps filled in between Asimov’s Foundation and Robot series will get some satisfaction from having a few more pieces added to the puzzle. Other than that, the book isn’t bad, but its strength is more in its relation to other books than in itself as a separate novel.
An important element in the story is the robot Giscard’s ability to detect and influence people’s feelings at a moderate distance. There isn’t much explanation of how this works – we’re only told the ability was an unintended consequence of changes to the pathways in Giscard’s positronic brain. This doesn’t seem to be much of a basis for being able to exert some force capable of influencing emotions or of being able to manipulate that force so precisely to influence emotions to just the degree wanted in just the direction wanted.
Perhaps, more significantly, there are inconsistencies in what we are told about Giscard’s abilities. We’re repeatedly told he can only see and change emotions – not read minds. However, on at least one occasion he erases a person’s memories of specific events. But how can he selectively erase memories without being able to “see” what events are in an area of memory? In any case, these were memories, not emotions that were altered.