During the last months I embarked on an amazing journey: to read, one by one, all Asimov‘s books part of the Robot, Empire and Foundation series.
The experience requires quite some time, since there are more than 18 books, some with more than 300 pages, but the experience is very rewarding.
My favourite characters are Andrew Martin, the robot who has more human characteristics than many real humans, and Daneel Olivaw, the robot who dedicates all his long life to serve for the good of humanity.
The story spans from the 21st century, when U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. becomes the major manufacturer of robots, with Dr. Susan Calvin the chief robopsychologist, and extends to more then 20.000 into the future, in the turmoil of setting the second galactic Empire.
The Robot Series
Asimov wrote many robot short stories, and they were published in various collections. It is difficult to read them all, without facing multiple versions. The most consistent set includes The Complete Robot (1982), Robot Dreams (1986), Robot Visions (1990) and the The Positronic Man (1992). Some of the stories (like Mother Earth) were published in The Early Asimov (3 volumes), and in The Best of Isaac Asimov (for Mirror Image).
The next four robot novels The Caves of Steel (1953), The Naked Sun (1955), The Robots of Dawn (1983), and Robots and Empire (1985) make up the Elijah Baley (sometimes “Lije Baley”) series, and are mysteries starring the Terran Elijah Baley and his humaniform robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. The stories are set thousands of years after the short stories, and focus on the conflicts between Spacers and Settlers.
The Complete Robot (1982)
The Complete Robot is a collection of thirty-one robot short stories published between 1940 and 1976 and includes every story in the earlier collection, I, Robot (1950) and The Rest of the Robots (1964). (Amazon)
- Some Non-human Robots
- Some Immobile Robots
- Some Metallic Robots
- Some Humanoid Robots
- Powell and Donovan
- Susan Calvin
- Two Climaxes
- A Last Word
Timeline in the Book: The stories in the book happen between 1995 AD to 2360 AD.
Robot Dreams (1986)
The collection contains the following stories:
- Little Lost Robot (1947)
- Robot Dreams (1986)
- Breeds There a Man…? (1951)
- Hostess (1951)
- The Machine that Won the War
- Eyes Do More Than See
- The Martian Way
- The Last Question
- Does a Bee Care?
- Light Verse
- The Feeling of Power
- Spell My Name with an S
- The Ugly Little Boy
- The Billiard Ball
- True Love
- The Last Answer
- Lest We Remember
Robot Visions (1990)
The collection contains the following stories, some already available in The Complete Robot:
- Robot Visions 1990 First appeared in this collection
- Too Bad! 1989 First appeared in The Microverse
- Robbie 1940 First appeared in Super Science Stories under the title “Strange Playfellow”
- Reason 1941 First appeared in Astounding Science Fiction
- Liar! 1941 First appeared in Astounding Science Fiction
- Runaround 1942 First appeared in Astounding Science Fiction
- Evidence 1946 First appeared in Astounding Science Fiction
- Little Lost Robot 1947 First appeared in Astounding Science Fiction
- The Evitable Conflict 1950 First appeared in Astounding Science Fiction
- Feminine Intuition 1969 First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
- The Bicentennial Man 1976 First appeared in Stellar #2
- Someday 1956 First appeared in Infinity Science Fiction
- Think! 1977 First appeared in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
- Segregationist 1967 First appeared in Abbotempo 4
- Mirror Image 1972 First appeared in Analog: Science Fiction – Science Fact
- Lenny 1958 First appeared in Infinity Science Fiction
- Galley Slave 1957 First appeared in Astounding Science Fiction
- Christmas Without Rodney 1988 First appeared in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
- Robots I Have Known 1954 First appeared in Computers and Automation, October 1954
- The New Teachers 1976 First appeared in American Way magazine
- Whatever You Wish 1977 First appeared in American Way magazine
- The Friends We Make 1977 First appeared in American Way magazine
- Our Intelligent Tools 1977 First appeared in American Way magazine
- The Laws of Robotics 1979 First appeared in American Way magazine
- Future Fantastic 1989 First appeared in Special Reports magazine, Spring 1989
- The Machine and the Robot 1978
- The New Profession 1979 First appeared in American Way magazine
- The Robot As Enemy? 1979 First appeared in American Way magazine
- Intelligences Together 1979 First appeared in American Way magazine
- My Robots 1987
- The Laws of Humanics 1987
- Cybernetic Organism 1987
- The Sense of Humor 1988
- Robots in Combination 1988
The Positronic Man (1992)
The story is told from the perspective of Andrew Martin, an NDR-series robot that begins to display characteristics, such as creativity, traditionally the province of humans; the robot is ultimately declared an official human being, but he pays the ultimate price for this, since he had to give up his immortality to convince the authorities of his… humanity.
The story is very strong and emotional and is one of my favourite.
Mother Earth (1948)
Mother Earth is a short story set about a thousand years before the robot novels, at a time when the Spacer worlds were first being colonised. Contains some minor inconsistencies with later stories. It is included in The Early Asimov.
The Caves of Steel (1954)
It is essentially a detective story, introducing Elijah Baley and R Daneel Olivaw, a humaniform robot that will survive up to the last Foundation novel.
A Spacer ambassador is murdered in Spacetown, a Spacer outpost just outside the now underground New York City. The police officer Elijah Baley is assigned to investigate the murder, helped by R Daneel Olivaw.
Timeline in the Book: 3421 AD.
The Naked Sun (1957)
The story is placed on Solaria, a Spacer world politically hostile to Earth. Elijah Baley is called to investigate, once again partnered with the humaniform robot R. Daneel Olivaw.
Solaria is a rigid society; communication between members is done by holographic viewing, as opposed to seeing.
The victim’s wife, Gladia, is suspected for good reasons, but Baley explains her role in the murder as a result of the pressure of the Solarian way of life, and she is not convicted but exiled on Aurora.
Timeline in the Book: 3422 AD (one year after Caves of Steel)
Mirror Image (1972)
Mirror Image was written after having received numerous requests to continue the story of detective Elijah Baley and his robot partner R. Daneel Olivaw, featured in his earlier novels The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. It is included in The Best of Isaac Asimov.
The Robots of Dawn (1983)
The story is placed on Aurora, where Lady Gladia is suspected to have contributed to the destruction of a humaniform robot, whom, as the investigation turns out, she considered her husband. Detective Elijah Baley from Earth, is again partnered with R. Daneel Olivaw, and introduced to R. Giskard Reventlov, who, by accident during some experiments, was given telepathic abilities.
Baley finds out that Amadiro, the head of the Robotics Institute, tried to temper the destructed robot’s mind, in an attempt to discover how it was designed, but Giskard had to intervene.
Timeline in the Book: 3424 AD (two years after The Naked Sun)
Robots and Empire (1985)
The story is placed 200 years after the death of Elijah Baley, when Earth-people started the second colonisation wave of new worlds (the Settlers), coming in conflict with the Spacers.
Both R. Daneel Olivaw, and R. Giskard Reventlov are now the property of Lady Gladia, who, as a Spacer, lived much longer than usual people.
Daneel and Giskard discover a hostile Spacer plan and come to Earth, but cannot prevent the Spacers to activate a mechanism designed to accelerate the natural radioactive decay, finally forcing the colonisation waves.
Timeline in the Book: 3634 AD (two hundred years after The Robots of Dawn)
The Galactic Empire series
The Galactic Empire series is a sequence of three novels, placed between the Robot and Foundation series. As plot timeline, the series also include an early short story, Blind Alley (1945).
The Stars, Like Dust (1951)
The story’s historical context is during the long period between the initial expansion and the rise of the Empire of Trantor. Biron Farrill, about to complete studies at the University of Earth, finds out that his father has been arrested and killed by the Tyranni; he travels to Rhodia; escaping with Artemisia oth Hinriad, the daughter of the Director of Rhodia, they travel to Lingane, where the Autharch fears a rebellion.
The Currents of Space (1952)
The possible destruction of Florina, the only world were “kyrt” grows, is predicted by Rik, a “spatio-analyst”, who has had his mind manipulated by a “psychic probe” device, resulting in gross amnesia.
Trantor does control the now largely radioactive Earth.
Pebble in the Sky (1950)
Joseph Schwartz, a retired tailor, from 20th century Chicago, is accidentally transported thousands of years into the future. The Earth, at this time, is seen by the rest of the Galactic Empire as a rebellious planet. A group of religious fanatics created a super-virus that they plan to use to kill or subjugate the rest of the Empire. Schwartz uses his mental abilities to provoke a pilot from the Imperial garrison into bombing the site where the arsenal of the super-virus exists.
Blind Alley (1945)
The few remaining members of the only intelligent non-human alien race the Galactic Empire have been removed from their dying planet and transferred to the much more pleasant Cepheus-18. The Cepheids finally leave for the Magellanic Clouds to find a new world of their own.
The Foundation series
The Foundation series is probably the best known science fiction series by Isaac Asimov. It started as a series of eight short stories published in Astounding Magazine between May 1942 and January 1950. The first four (The Encyclopedists – 1942, The Mayors – 1942, The Traders – 1944, The Merchant Princes – 1944) were collected and (together with The Psychohistorians) were published in 1951 as Foundation; the remainder (The General, The Mule, Search by the Mule, Search by the Foundation) were published in pairs Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953), resulting in the “Foundation Trilogy”. At publisher’s pressure, Asimov wrote Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986), which was followed, two years later, by the prequels Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993).
The recommended read order follows the story chronological order.
Prelude to Foundation (1988)
The story opens on the planet Trantor, where Hari Seldon suggested a new science, psychohystory. Seldon and Dors Venabili, a female companion, are taken from location to location, trying to hide from the Emperor.
Forward the Foundation (1993)
Eight years later, Seldom already perfected some of his equations and understands that his psychohistory cannot work unless applied on a galactic scale. He predicts the Empire will collapse and plans to set up a Foundation, to preserve human knowledge and act as catalyst for the Second Empire. Seldom is getting old, and looses his wife, Dors Venabili, but instructs his grand daughter, Wanda, to set up the Second Foundation.
Seldom stands trial on Trantor for allegations of treason, for predicting the decline of the Empire; according to his equations, if nothing is done, the Empire will fall and 30.000 years of chaos will follow, before the second Empire arises. Seldom equations also offer a solution to reduce this period to 1.000 years, by establishing a Foundation, on a remote planet, Terminus. Seldom agrees to leave in exile on Terminus and also secretly implements a contingency plan—a second Foundation—at the “opposite end” of the galaxy.
Several years later, the Encyclopedists face their powerful neighbours. The Mayor of Terminus City, Salvor Hardin, manages to play the planets against each other, and Terminus becomes more powerful; science advances and interplanetary trade develops. One such trader, Hober Mallow, becomes powerful, wins the seat of Mayor and, succeeds in adding more planets to the Foundation’s reach.
Foundation and Empire (1952)
The Foundation grows stronger, and the Emperor decides to attack, but the mighty fleet of war vessels is defeated.
An outsider known as the Mule, backed by psychic powers, takes over Foundation planets. Toran and Bayta Darell, start to search for the Second Foundation, hoping to get help to end Mule’s reign.
Second Foundation (1953)
The Second Foundation, backed with mental sciences, defeats the Mule, but in the process revels it’s presence. The First Foundation, who thinks to be the true inheritor of Seldom’s plan, sets on a search and destroy mission against the Second Foundation.
Foundation’s Edge (1982)
The Mayor of the Foundation sends Golan Trevize and a scholar named Janov Pelorat to search for the mytical Earth, suspected to be the location of the Second Foundation.
On their journey, Trevize and Pelorat discover a planet called Gaia, inhabited solely by mentalics.
Foundation and Earth (1986)
Trevize and Pelorat, accompanied by Bliss from Gaia, continues to search for Earth. The journey takes them to some uncharted planets, home of the first wave of Spacers. They finally find Earth, and meet the ageing robot Daneel Olivaw, who was behind all attempts to help humanity in the last 20.000 years.