The book opens with detective Elijah Baley on Earth, training with his son and others to tolerate the outside, in spite of their socially ingrained agoraphobia. He is ordered to go to the police headquarters.
There, he is told that the Spacer world of Aurora has requested through diplomatic channels that he go to Aurora. He is told that the mind of R. Jander Panell, a humaniform robot identical to R. Daneel Olivaw, has been destroyed via a mental block—"roboticide", as Baley later terms it.
The robot's inventor, Han Fastolfe, has been implicated. Fastolfe, who was last seen in The Caves of Steel, is the best roboticist on Aurora. He has admitted that he is the only person with the skill to have done it, although he denies doing it. Fastolfe is also a prominent member of the Auroran political faction that favors Earth. Implication in the crime threatens his political career; therefore, it is politically expedient that he be exonerated.
While en route to Aurora, Baley once again is partnered with R. Daneel Olivaw, as well as R. Giskard Reventlov, another of Fastolfe's robots.
On Aurora, he sets out to solve the crime. He interviews Gladia Delmarre (who first appeared in The Naked Sun; the Aurorans have given her the surname "Solaria" instead). Jander was a member of her staff before he was shut down. We find out that Gladia had a secret sexual relationship with Jander. She even considered him to be her husband.
Baley later interviews Fastolfe's estranged daughter, Vasilia Fastolfe (although she disdains the use of her surname and prefers to use "Aliena" instead). Vasilia claims that her father is a monster, and would do anything necessary to advance his theories of a science that can predict the future—psychohistory. This includes the murder of Jander, if it would help him observe Gladia's responses. Vasilia also makes clear her desire to own Giskard, who was her nanny.
Following that, Baley interviews Santirix Gremionis. Gremionis is an Auroran who is attracted to both Gladia and Vasilia. With each of them, he committed the Auroran taboo of offering himself repeatedly (sexually) after they had rejected him. Gremionis denies involvement in the murder, and says he has reported Baley to the Chairman (the executive of the Auroran Government) for slander. Vasilia subtly manipulated him into falling in love with Gladia, and he realizes it only after Baley asks him about it directly.
Next, Baley interviews Kelden Amadiro. Amadiro is Fastolfe's chief political rival and head of the Robotics Institute. He explains the Institute's political motivations—that they wish to see Aurora and only Aurora colonize the rest of the Galaxy. Humaniform robots are an integral part of their planned colonization, although Fastolfe is the only one who can construct them. The Institute has been attempting, futilely, to construct one.
On the way back to the Fastolfe residence from the interview with Amadiro, Baley's airfoil (a car that uses airjets to float slightly off the ground) is forced to stop. The air compressor has been sabotaged. Baley, suspecting that it was done by Amadiro in an attempt to kidnap Daneel, orders him and Giskard to flee the car. A few minutes later, several robots arrive and interrogate Baley. Baley tells them that he ordered Daneel back to the Robotics Institute, and they leave. Baley flees the car into the thunderstorm outside. His agoraphobia gets the best of him, and he falls unconscious.
He awakes in Gladia's home. He is told that they had stopped not far from her house. Daneel and Giskard fled there and quickly formed a rescue party, which recovered Baley not long after he passed out.
The next day, Baley goes to a prearranged meeting with the Chairman, who holds political sway over the entire situation, and is intent upon ending the crisis. Present at the meeting are the Chairman, Baley, Fastolfe, and Amadiro.
Baley confronts Amadiro with a question. During Baley's interview with him, Amadiro said that he knew of the relationship between Gladia and Jander. Baley asks him how he could have known of it, since it was a secret. Amadiro says he heard it from someone, but cannot remember who it was that he heard it from. Baley says that the only person he could have heard it from would have been Jander himself.
Baley then gives the solution to the mystery of who killed Jander. While Gladia was on her frequent walks with Gremionis, Amadiro took the opportunity to contact Jander via trimensional viewing (telepresence) and question him. The questions would allow Amadiro to understand how Jander was designed, which in turn would allow Amadiro himself to create a humaniform robot. Apparently, this created enough entropy in Jander's positronic brain to kill him.
The Chairman is satisfied with this explanation. Amadiro is forced to agree to support Fastolfe's policies, which are immediately put into effect. Earth benefits greatly from this.
Baley, however, secretly has another suspect in mind. During his investigation, he had noticed that Giskard many times had acted as if he had knowledge of what others were thinking. He confronts Giskard, who admits it. Vasilia unknowingly gave Giskard this ability during childhood experiments. Using knowledge derived from Han Fastolfe's mind, Giskard shut down Jander. This was to thwart Amadiro's attempt to build humaniform robots.
Giskard allows Baley to remember this knowledge of Giskard's abilities, but puts a block in Baley's mind that prevents him from revealing the secret.
Read more about this topic: The Robots Of Dawn
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