The Caves of Steel
By Isaac Asimov
The Caves of Steel is a classic science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov and could be considered the first in the Robot series.
It has been about twenty years since I read this book first and ten years since I read it last. I've grown older and hopefully wiser since then and The Caves of Steel is creeping up on it's own 50. anniversary (it was published in 1954). The Caves of Steel is in my eyes Asimov's first go at a full length novel where Asimov does what Asimov does best, which mainly consists of telling a highly logical who-did-it story, set in a well thought out world, mainly populated with robots or characters who act as if they where at least partly robots.
An important thing to remember when reading SF is to make a note of when the book was written and then take this into account when reading the book, this will often make you understand the book differently. Just think about the books written during and right after the Vietnam war (like Ensign Flandry by Poul Anderson). But another fun little game that comes from reading old Science Fiction is the opportunity to make note of all the times the author errors and make omissions in prediction.
There is of course the near total lack of computers, but you will also find other small things like this one: "If there were one thing, Baley had once said solemnly, that had resisted mechanical improvements since Medieval times, it was a woman's purse. Even the substitution of magnetic closure for metal clasps had not proven successful". Last time I looked at a "woman's purse" it did in fact have a "magnetic closure", which I can prove by the number of credit cards my wife has destroyed. Then there's the population number of the mega city of New York which in the story is mentioned as a whooping twenty million, which is a lot of people, but maybe a bit on the low side, when you take into consideration that the population of the state of New York in the year 2000 was nineteen million people. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to find more faults like these. The important thing is that the errors don't ruin the story, but in fact add something, which makes the story even more valuable.
The Caves of Steel is a murder mystery where cop Elijah Baley is forced to work with a robot, in a case where a Spacer has been killed (the Spacers are humans, but living on one of the fifty colonised planets). Having no love for Spacers or robots, Elijah has to walk a thin line in a case that could easily blow up in his face and cause an … interplanetary political scandal. As I said, Asimov does some of his finest work when working with robots and the logic they dictate. Some of his finest work is to be found in his robot stories and this is no exception. The characters are a bit stiff at times (especially the women), but that doesn't change the fact that this is a great story.
Written on 1st June 2001 by TC .