The Big Continuity Error in Asimov Robot Series - The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn

The Big Continuity Error in Asimov’s Robot Series

Asimov’s loyal readers may have noticed that there is a rather significant continuity error between his two robot novels, The Naked Sun (1957) and The Robots of Dawn (1983). Let me explain.

TL;DR

In a nutshell, one of the key points in Asimov’s The Naked Sun is that the Solarians cannot distinguish R. Daneel Olivaw, a humaniform robot, from a real human. The Solarians have completely cut off face-to-face interaction; instead of “seeing” each other in person, they engage in “viewing” each other in a virtual, three-dimensional manner. They find “seeing” highly unpleasant, even disgusting. The story’s climax relies on the Solarians’ aversion to “seeing” and their inability to differentiate R. Daneel Olivaw from a human.

However, in the later novel The Robots of Dawn, it is emphatically stated by R. Daneel Olivaw that no Spacer (humans who originated from Earth and colonized 50 planets, subsequently severing ties with and becoming hostile towards Earth) would ever mistake a humaniform robot for a real human, no matter how perfect the robot is, and that Solarians, who are the most advanced in robotic technology, would certainly never make such a mistake.

Let me explain further.

Warning! This post may contain spoilers!

The Big Continuity Error between the two Robot Novels of Asimov

The Naked Sun [1957]

“The Naked Sun” is a science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov, first published in 1957. It is the second book in his Robot series, following “The Caves of Steel.” The novel is set on the planet Solaria, where humans live in extreme isolation, interacting with each other primarily through holographic “viewing” rather than in person.

Detective Elijah Baley is sent from Earth to solve a murder case involving an Auroran humaniform robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, as his partner (Aurora is the biggest and most powerful of the Spacer worlds). The story explores themes of social isolation, robotics, and the ethical implications of artificial intelligence. “The Naked Sun” examines the cultural and psychological differences between Earth dwellers and Spacers, particularly focusing on the Solarians’ aversion to direct human contact.

Isaac Asimov: Robot Series The Naked Sun
My copy of Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Naked Sun’. It is the second novel in his Robot series, after ‘The Caves of Steel’.
  1. On page 23, plainclothesman Elijah Baley, traveling to Solaria on a spaceship belonging to the Solarian fleet, realizes that the Solarian robot assigned to serve him on the ship thinks R. Daneel Olivaw is human. Through a sharp piece of reasoning, he concludes that the Aurorans wouldn’t try to influence a simple Solarian robot and that even the Solarian captain himself doesn’t know Daneel is a robot. Therefore, the Solarians are unaware that the Aurorans sent a robot to follow the murder case, and they believe R. Daneel Olivaw is human.
  2. On pages 40 and 41, Elijah has his first “viewing” with Hannis Gruer, the Head of Security on Solaria. During this interaction, he notices Gruer disapprovingly looking at R. Daneel Olivaw for standing next to an Earthman. From this, confirming his earlier insight on the spaceship, he concludes that Gruer does not know that Daneel is a robot. Elijah also notices that Daneel is trying to keep a certain distance from him. “Of course,” he thinks, “if he stood too close, Gruer would find it too unbelievable and might suspect that Daneel is a robot.”
  3. On pages 42 and 43, Elijah notices that Gruer casts furtive glances at Daneel while discussing the murder case, as if hesitant to discuss certain details of the murder in the presence of someone from Aurora, the most powerful planet in the galaxy. As we will see later, the murder will be linked to a conspiracy with the potential to alter interplanetary power balances.
  4. On page 45, Elijah notices that Daneel is also eating to avoid arousing suspicion from the robots serving them.
  5. On page 68, during a viewing session with Gladia Delmarre, the wife of the murdered Rikaine Delmarre and the prime suspect, Gladia asks Elijah if they are in the same room as Daneel, using the term “your friend.” She does not realize that he is a robot.
  6. On pages 86 and 87, during a viewing session with Baley, Gruer reveals the first clues about the conspiracy he suspects is behind the murder, mentioning some secret organizations on Solaria. However, before doing so, he addresses Daneel as “Mr. Daneel” and uses a flimsy excuse to get him to leave the room. He is surprised at how easily he accomplishes this. After Daneel leaves, Gruer says, “I couldn’t speak freely with him (an Auroran) present.”
  7. On page 89, Gruer talks a bit more about the conspiracy he suspects, stating that the entire human race, including Earthmen, is in danger. He asks Baley not to share this information with the Auroran (referring to R. Daneel Olivaw). He expresses his suspicion that Aurora might also be part of the conspiracy. Gruer suggests that the reason Aurora sent an Auroran detective (Daneel) to investigate the murder case on Solaria could be that they wanted someone trustworthy of their own on the scene.
  8. On pages 114 and 115, [After Hannis Gruer is poisoned], during a viewing session with Corwin Attlebish, a member of Solarian security and Gruer’s subordinate, Attlebish mentions that he wants to close the case and send Elijah back to Earth. Elijah refuses, citing the conspiracy Gruer suspected to be behind the incident. He lies, claiming that Gruer had also informed Daneel about the conspiracy, and thus Aurora is aware of it as well, forcing Attlebish to abandon the idea. Although Daneel realizes that Elijah is lying, he remains silent. Elijah goes further by stating that from now on, he will communicate with people not only through virtual reality (viewing) but also face-to-face (seeing). Despite Attlebish’s objections, Elijah says, “Tell him, Daneel,” prompting Daneel to explain that they are there to investigate a serious crime on Solaria, and seeing is essential for their work. He assures him that they will be as careful as possible and try not to disturb the Solarians they meet. Attlebish never suspects that Daneel is a robot, not even for a moment.
  9. On page 121, Elijah asks Daneel, “Are you really a robot?” Daneel responds, “You suspected this before and saw that I am indeed a robot.” Daneel is referring to a scene from the first robot novel, “The Caves of Steel.” In “The Caves of Steel,” during another murder investigation, Elijah had doubted that Daneel was a robot. In response, following an order from his creator, Han Fastolfe, Daneel had opened his body to show Elijah his metallic mechanisms. Elijah then says, “I know that Daneel Olivaw is a robot. Are you R. Daneel Olivaw? Couldn’t they have sent a human who looks very much like Daneel?” Daneel replies, “No, I am R. Daneel Olivaw.” Elijah then asks, “So how is it that the Solarians, who are so advanced in robotics, cannot tell that you are a robot?”
  10. On pages 254 and 255, as the murder case reaches a tragic conclusion, Elijah sends Daneel to arrest Dr. Jothan Leebig, the mastermind behind the conspiracy that could bring about the end of humanity. Leebig, who is the most important roboticist on Solaria after Rikaine Delmarre, is mortally repulsed by the idea of face-to-face interaction (“seeing”). This idea frightens him so much that he chooses to confess everything rather than face Daneel, whom he believes to be human. In the end, even one of the most prominent roboticists on Solaria cannot discern that Daneel is a robot.

The Robots of Dawn [1983]

Isaac Asimov’s “The Robots of Dawn,” published in 1983, is the third novel in his Robot series, following “The Caves of Steel” and “The Naked Sun.” The story reunites Earth detective Elijah Baley with the humaniform robot R. Daneel Olivaw as they investigate a high-profile “roboticide” on the Spacer world of Aurora. The victim is R. Jander Panell, a humaniform robot similar to Daneel, who has been rendered inoperative in what appears to be a deliberate act.

Set in a future where humans and robots coexist, the novel explores themes of artificial intelligence, ethics, and political intrigue. It examines the complexities of human-robot relationships and the broader implications of robotic advancements. As Baley navigates the sociopolitical landscape of Aurora, he uncovers deep-seated prejudices and hidden agendas.

Isaac Asimov: The-Robots of Dawn
My copy of Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Robots of Dawn’ – A tale of intrigue and ingenuity, marking a transformative moment in the Robot series and its inextricable ties to the unfolding narrative of the Foundation universe.

On pages 50 and 51, while aboard the spaceship bound for Aurora, Elijah suggests to Daneel that those who destroyed R. Jander Panell might have thought he was human, implying that it could be a “homicide” rather than a “roboticide.”

Daneel disagrees, asserting that no one on Aurora would ever mistake a robot for a human, no matter how human-like the robot appears. When Elijah speculates that perhaps it was another Spacer, Daneel firmly states that no Spacer would confuse a human with a robot. According to Daneel, all Spacer worlds are familiar with robots, especially the Solarians: he even lists Solarians as an example of people who are exceptionally familiar with robots, and who would be least likely to make the mistake. So, such a mix-up is impossible, according to Daneel.

Therefore, while Asimov based an important part of the story (and even its tragic ending) in “The Naked Sun” on the assumption that Daneel could be mistaken for a human, he seems to have forgotten this in “The Robots of Dawn.”

Despite this continuity error, both novels are books that I still thoroughly enjoy reading.

Sources

M. Özgür Nevres

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