The Caves of Steel

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As mentioned before, I've been working through The Good Doctor's (Isaac Asimov's) science-fiction novels, in chronological publication order. I'd forgotten how good this one was. It's his first "robot mystery" novel, and it worked well for me.

It's set on Earth, in a future where mankind has locked itself into huge domed megalopolises, living a beehive existence. Going outside is simply unheard of. And nearly nobody sees anything wrong with this. A small branch of humanity, the "Spacers", have colonized a handful of worlds, and they have a city of their own on Earth, "Spacetown", near New York.

Terrans view Spacers with hostile suspicion. Spacers live in fear of (literal) contamination, by Terran bugs. While both heavily use robot technology, the Terrans view robots with Luddite suspicion. Spacers (on the other hand) use robots for nearly all functions. The sustainability of all this is very much in doubt.

Things kick off when Detective Elijah Baley is summoned to work on the grisly homicide of a Spacer roboticist. Delicate Terran/Spacer relations are at stake, and he's forced to accept a partner that only looks human, but is a dead ringer for the murdered roboticist: R. Daneel Olivaw, where the "R" stands for "Robot".

I liked this significantly better than Asimov's classic Foundation trilogy: the characters here are believably flawed, and have recognizably human relationships. The action/talk ratio is higher. While the imagined future isn't that (technically) believable, it's painstakingly constructed, and the book's events flow believably from it.

I noticed something I missed in previous readings (decades ago): Gene Roddenberry owed a lot to Isaac Asimov. Spacers are uncannily similar to Vulcans, and the Next Generation cyborg, Data, is pretty close to R. Daneel.

Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:48 AM EST

Born Yesterday

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Directed by George Cukor, adapted from a play by Garson Kanin, starring William Holden, Broderick Crawford, and (above all) Judy Holliday, who won an Oscar for her performance. And nominated for four other Oscars. So, objectively speaking, you'd say this is a pretty good movie. And you'd probably be right. But I was more like eh, and it's my blog, so: two and a half stars.

Mr. Crawford plays Harry Brock, a scrap metal dealer, junkyard magnate, thug, and lout. Ms. Holliday is his arm candy, Billie Dawn. They've blown into Washington D. C.: Harry's trying to get a teensy bit of corrupt legislation passed that will further feather his nest, and has purchased himself a cheap Congressman. Intrepid investigative reporter Paul Verrall (Bill Holden) is on his trail; Harry's not too worried.

Harry's a little put out by Billie's obvious inability to make the smallest of small talk with Washington's elite. So, in a not-too-believable plot twist, Harry hires Paul to educate her in history and literature. But—whoa, didn't see this coming—Paul and Billie fall for each other.

Judy Holliday is great, Holden is OK, and people tend to forget that Broderick Crawford was pretty good in his day too. And I don't usually mind that much when a movie is utterly predictable. But (unfortunately) it's more than a tad boring. Worse, it's stupid. When Paul is trying to woo Billie away from Harry, here's one of his arguments (spotted by one of Jonah Goldberg's correspondents):

“The whole history of the world is the story of the struggle between the selfish and the unselfish. All that’s bad around us is bred by selfishness. Sometimes selfishness is a cause, an organized force, even a government, and then it’s called fascism.”
The movie's sixty years old, but it's hard to believe this wasn't derided as unacceptably brain-dead even back then.

Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:48 AM EST