Thanks to the advent of electronic books, I've been reading more now than ever before...well, more books, that is. And saying that I've been reading more is an exaggeration, even then. I've actually been rereading more. I find myself buying and reading books I already own more often than I'm buying new books.
Case in point, I was ecstatic to find that they were finally releasing Asimov's Elijah Baley books. I preordered them so that they would show up on my Nook as soon as they were available. I remembered reading and loving these books as a teenager, and I was actively watching for their release.
Having reread them, I'm not sure why I was so taken with them.
Basically, they are science-fiction mystery books. The main character, Elijah Baley, is a detective on Earth. Assigned to solve various mysteries, he is accompanied by his unwelcome (at least, at first) partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. The R stands for robot. But Daneel is a special robot, even by robot standards, as he is almost unmistakably human-like.
The first book, The Caves of Steel, introduces the characters and their world, where Earth has been left behind by those who have settled fifty other worlds. Those settlers, referred to as Spacers, consider themselves vastly superior to their forebears on Earth, who have consolidated themselves in massive city complexes where thing like weather and even sunlight are all but forgotten. Baley, with Olivaw's help, must solve the murder of a Spacer with Earth's position in the galaxy in the balance.
The second book, The Naked Sun, takes Baley off Earth to the planet Solaria to solve the murder of another Spacer, reuniting him with Olivaw and introducing the dead Spacer's wife, Gladia. Once again, Earth's position in the galaxy rides on Baley's ability to solve what is essentially a locked room mystery.
Lastly, the third book, which I've been reading this week, is The Robots of Dawn, which takes Baley off-world again to solve another "murder", this time of a human-like robot in the service of a relocated Gladia. Not to sound like a broken record (shouldn't that phrase really be a scratched record?), but Earth's position in the galaxy depends on Baley's ability to solve the murder, as does his own position within Earth's police force.
In the first two books, quite a bit of time is spent with Baley making bad guesses about what was going on. For example, in the first book, he spends an entire chapter detailing Baley's supposition that Olivaw wasn't really a robot, when simply having Baley, a supposedly good detective, ask Olivaw, who must obey orders from humans, to prove his robotic nature would have shortened the book considerably.
The second book also spends quite a bit of time dealing with Baley's newly-discovered agoraphobia. Having been raised in the all-encompassing City on Earth, Baley hasn't spent any time out in the open. Asimov constructs many contrived situations that force Baley into the open, only to spend needless pages on the consequences. Baley supposedly can't solve the case without traveling to interview the witnesses instead of using a three-dimensional video phone, yet there's nothing in what he discovers that proves him right in that respect.
The worst, by far, is the third book. Firstly, Asimov uses this book as an opportunity to tie together all his previous robot books and short stories, by referring to Susan Calvin, and his Foundation novels thanks to continual references to psychohistory. In addition, there is a secret, mostly unimportant to the story, but leading up to the reveal, Asimov can't resist making little off-hand references to it, which on rereading come off as smug, almost as if Asimov needed to point out how much smarter he was than the reader. Lastly, he also breaks one of my cardinal rules of writing by making many references to a hard-to-find short story starring the pair. If you intend to spend pages referring to a short story, you might be better served just including the story.
These books are fine for what they are, but now I'd be hard-pressed to give them more than a passing grade. The first two are better than the third, but not by much.