Isaac Asimov
The Caves of Steel (1954)
Reviewed: 1998-05-09

Asimov's first robot novel is a classic. Millennia in the future, Earth's population lives in giant hive-like Cities. The demands of feeding eight billion have raised efficiency to a prime concern, privacy and room are at a premium. Long ago, humans traveled to the stars and settled the Outer Worlds. Now the Spacers, as the descendants of those colonists are called, are an entirely different culture, with only a small, well-isolated diplomatic enclave on Earth.

Elijah Baley is a cop in the sprawling behemoth that is New York City. Like all people on Earth he has spent his entire live in the maze of enclosed corridors and rooms of the Cities, and he shares the strong anti-robot sentiment of most Earthmen, afraid that a machine might replace him at his job. When a murder occurs in Spacetown, the Spacers naturally think it must have been an Earthman who killed one of theirs, while Earth police is certain it must have been a Spacer. Baley is sent to investigate and finds himself settled with a Spacer partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. That's "R" for robot. Together they must solve the case quickly, before the political repercussions threaten the peace between worlds.

Foremost, The Caves of Steel is a mystery. A fair one, i.e. all the information is there and the reader can figure out the solution on his own. The idea of a pair of disimilar cops uneasily working together has unfortunately been reduced to a painful cliché by uncountable movies since. Speaking of movies, this novel readily lends itself to filming and I'm surprised that it hasn't been adapted for the screen.

A surprising aspect of the book is the convincingly portrayed culture clash between Spacers and Earthmen who are both removed in different ways from contemporary Western culture. Asimov isn't renowned for character development but it is interesting to see how Baley starts to question his formerly fast held beliefs in the customary ways of the world around him. As far as the robots are concerned, I suspect that once we get something working that approaches real AI, we will consider the cognitive skills of Asimov's robots ridicuously incongruous.

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Christian "naddy" Weisgerber <>