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 EDT