Nutshell: superstar earthling detective imported to dyslibertopian planet to investigate murder.
Libertarian dystopia is Solaria, a planet of 20,000 human persons who live on separate estates, worked by 200,000,000 robot slaves (28-29). The libertarian individualism is so complete that humans don't "see" each other, but merely "view" on television (63). Names are not used on more than one person (55). Their excess is sufficient "to devote a single room to a single purpose": library, music room, gymnasium, kitchen, bakery, dining room, machine shop, &c. (37-38)--all for only one person per estate, even spouses live on separate parts of the estate and rarely "see" each other. The viewing proceeds through a baudriallardian hyperreality device, allowing the "mistaking for reality" (45). The only regulation of human affairs is that marriages and reproduction are arranged via careful genetic governance.
FTL magic: "It lasted an instant and Baley knew it was aa jump, that oddly incomprehensible, almost mystical, momentary transition through hyperspace" (16).
Some bad lay interpretation of law: Elijah notes that a robot is incompetent to testify on Earth (80), and Daneel suggests that "a footprint can" despite being much less human than a robot. Under our rules of evidence, however, a footprint is also incompetent to testify, and requires a sworn witness to authenticate it. Similarly, Elijah's investigation insists that "murder rests on three legs," the standard lay position regarding motive, means, opportunity (81). Criminal law requires none of that, technically, requiring only a killing with specific intent or during the course of a felony, or whatever.
Cool foreshadowing of the zeroth law in Elijah's "it is as much my job to prevent harm to mankind as a whole" (125).
Absolutely grand dialogue between Elijah and a sociologist regarding the parallels of the robot economy to Sparta (133-51). Asimov's at his most engaging in this type of scene. Nifty that the "human-robot ratio in any economy that has accepted robot labor tends continuously to increase despite any laws that are passed to prevent it. The increase is slowed, but never stopped. At first the human population increases, but the robot population increases much more quickly. Then, after a critical point is reached [...] the human population beings actually to decline [...] approaches a true social stability [...] the humans are the leisure class only [...] the end of human history" (150). So, it's marxism's organic composition of capital argument regarding the falling rate of profit leading inexorably to the self-destruction of capitalism, but transformed into the robotic composition of capital, falling rate of human birthrate, leading inexorably to the self-destruction of human labor power, and Hegel's end of history in veblenic bliss. All based on robot slavery, of course. No wonder the robots in The Terminator
, The Matrix
, and Battlestar Galactica
commit genocide against their former owners. It's Toussaint l'Ouverture up in this bitch.
We are into [b:Brave New World|5129|Brave New World|Aldous Huxley|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327865608s/5129.jpg|3204877] territory when the investigation carries Elijah to a fetus farm (157-75).
The third great conversation of the novel is with a robotics theorist (187-99), especially with respect to creating violations of the three laws through carefully worded instructions.
Recommended for those who are logical but not reasonable, readers who feel neither sympathy nor patience for queasy robots, and persons for whom the distinction between seeing the person and viewing the person's image is all the difference there is.