Book Review: The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov Skip to content

Review: The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

Book Review: The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

“A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together. Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to the Outer Worlds to help track down the killer. The relationship between Life and his Spacer superiors, who distrusted all Earthmen, was strained from the start. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the “R” stood for robot–and his positronic partner was made in the image and likeness of the murder victim! ”

Book Review: The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

What I thought:

Well, this smashed my expectations! For reasons I can’t explain now or then I was reluctant to start this. It was so. good. friends.

If this is our future, friends, it’s bleak. I think I’d be with the Medievalists on this one and shout ‘Back to the soil!’ (quietly, in my room where no one can hear me because I’m too socially awkward to do it in public) but then again maybe that’s just because I don’t know anything else. It’s hard to imagine a future where people don’t remember what windows were used for.

In The Caves of Steel, every aspect of life is planned for you. Depending on your social status defined by your job level, you might eat in a soup kitchen every night and shower in a communal bathroom. Resources are too tight to use all the water you want, or buy as much fresh produce as you want. Not that there is much fresh produce; even meat is mass-produced using chemistry. Barely anyone can afford the real thing, but once they do it’s a privilege they’d rather not lose.

Baley wouldn’t commit himself, but now he wondered sickly if ever a man fought harder for that buck, whatever it was, or felt its loss more deeply, than a City dweller fought to keep from losing his Sunday night option on a chicken drumstick – a real-flesh drumstick from a once-living bird.

Cities aren’t like we know them now but gigantic steel caves, shielding the people inside from fresh air, actual sunshine, and the night sky. In fact, people have become so used to living inside their domes, that the idea of walking outside for any length of time seems impossible.

Elija Baley lives inside such a City, and like most Earthmen he is deeply suspicious of robots. So he’s not impressed when his boss asks him to solve a murder with a robot as his partner – but not just any robot. Daneel is a Spacer robot, and if there’s one thing Earthmen despise more than robots its Spacers.  Earthmen see Spacers as terrible snobs, while Spacers see Earthmen as filthy residue. So, when I say he’s not impressed…

Daneel looks more real than any robot Baley has ever seen. It’s not long before Baley suspects Daneel of being the murderer. And he really wants to crack this case, too, because if he does he’s promised a higher social rank and therefore more privileges (like actual, fresh meat every now and again)

City culture meant optimum distribution of food, increasing utilization of yeasts and hydroponics. New York City spread over two thousand square miles and at last census its population was well over twenty million. There were some eight hundred Cities on Earth, average population, ten million.

Each City became a semiautonomous unit, economically all but self-sufficient. It could root itself in, gird itself about, burrow itself under. It became a steel cave, a tremendous, self-contained cave of steel and concrete.

I love how this book looks back on our time now in such a nostalgic way. I’m truly amazed with what Asimov did here. His vision for the future was so vivid reading this, and I think that was one of my worries; that this would just be another scifi book talking about flying cars and robots who are superior in every way, but it’s not like that at all. Baley even points out once or twice why robots aren’t that superior. It all feels so believable, so well thought through. And it becomes even more incredible when I remember that this book was written in 1954, when all this must have been even more astounding.

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