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The Caves of Steel Paperback – April 19, 2018
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Isaac Asimov’s ROBOT series – from the iconic collection I, ROBOT to four classic novels – contains some of the most influential works in the history of science fiction. Establishing and testing the THREE LAWS OF ROBOTICS, they continue to shape the understanding and design of artificial intelligence to this day.
In the vast, domed cities of Earth, artificial intelligence is strictly controlled; in the distant Outer Worlds, colonists and robots live side by side.
A Spacer ambassador is found dead and detective Elijah Baley is assigned to find the killer. But with relations between the two cultures in the balance, the Spacers insist that he work with a partner of their choosing – a robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw.
Baley has never seen a robot like Daneel before – almost indistinguishable from a human – and soon, though the Three Laws of Robotics should render the crime impossible, Baley’s partner becomes his prime suspect.
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- ASIN : 0008277761
- Publisher : HarperVoyager (April 19, 2018)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780008277765
- ISBN-13 : 978-0008277765
- Item Weight : 7.1 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.08 x 0.67 x 7.8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #141,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #1,164 in Hard Science Fiction (Books)
- #3,833 in Space Operas
- #5,590 in Science Fiction Adventures
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on October 10, 2021
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The world-building in this series of novels is very deep and detailed. All citizens of Earth are given the necessities to live, but only just enough. You get basic food, a place to sleep, and a little bit of access to recreational services. Everyone is classified according to their jobs and contributions, and the higher a classification you have, the more you are entitled to. Higher classifications get better and bigger apartments and a wider selection of food. And with food being served in cavernous cafeterias, sometimes one even gets to occasionally prepare their own meals in their own kitchens, if their rating is high enough. Bathrooms are rarely in the apartments assigned to citizens, and instead are large and sprawling communal areas where different societal norms have taken hold. Women tend to chat and socialize extensively in their "Personals", while men, in an attempt to afford each other privacy, have developed a deep aversion to acknowledging in any way other residents (never look at someone, and never ever speak inside a Personal). The difference between the two sexes almost seems a bit sexist, but in reality just reflects some of the views towards the sexes that exist even to this day. Later books in the series where life is shown on Spacer worlds shatter these conventions and seem foreign to our protagonist. All in all, it's a fascinating background in which the story unfolds.
And the story is a simple murder mystery. Elijah Baley is a detective in NYC's police department. NYC, incidentally, has grown over the centuries, and grown so large that cities like Trenton, NJ are considered boroughs and are part of the enclosed city-structure. There is a settlement of Spacers called Spacertown outside of NYC, and a prominent roboticist has been murdered. This creates a bit of a political crisis. Spacers have advanced their technology and can enforce their will upon Earth and Earthlings, who have been content to just live in their covered cities. Spacers tend to strongly dislike Earth, and there is a very real and substantial fear that Spacers may take control of Earth. Having one of their prominent citizens murdered will only enhance this, and it's up to Detective Baley to resolve this murder. He is assigned a partner in the form of R. Daneel Olivaw, a humaniform robot (one so lifelike it's hard to tell apart from a human). Daneel is one of only two robots in existence who are like this. Baley must get over his inherent dislike of robots that all Earthlings feel and work with Daneel to find the murderer and quell the rising unease between Earth and the Spacers.
Isaac Asimov is not exactly a poet with his writing, but he's very effective and clear and professional, and his world-building is superb. His attention to details draws the reader in and makes for a very effective mystery. Like all good sci-fi writers, he doesn't lose sight of the story during the process of introducing the reader to the science. By the time the story is resolved, the reader does enjoy Baley and Daneel, and has the pleasure of looking forward to reading more about them in the two follow-up stories, "The Naked Sun" and "The Robots of Dawn". Those two take place on two different Spacer worlds, and in some wonderful writing, the differences in those worlds is as dramatic as the difference is between the futuristic Earth of "The Caves of Steel" and our own present Earth. If you enjoy science-fiction that introduces new advanced concepts and worlds and ideas, but still enjoy being not so far removed from our own world that everything is unfamiliar, this is a wonderful story in which to indulge.
And think the future of AI and human.
Classic is permanent.
And there are two more story!!
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.”
This was my first go and foray into the world of Isaac Asimov, which is a pity because I have been missing out for years. Asimov’s The Caves of Steel is one of the novels in his Robot Series, and the novel’s title is sort of a metaphor to describe the basic structure of these “mega” cities with vast populations. I think most notable about the novel is the way Asimov can visualize, create, and set up with society and world, with the humans, robots, and Spacers. Likewise, the novel sprinkles in various thinking points and philosophical questions that make for a thought-provoking read.
Interestingly, the novel is set up as both a mystery/crime as well as a science-fiction. The basic premise involves veteran New York City police detective Elijah Bailey being assigned the investigation of a suspicious murder of one of the prominent Spacers. As part of the investigation, Bailey teams up with a robot, R. Daneel, to help him search for the suspect and solve the crime.
As mentioned earlier, it is interesting to see how the robots and humans coexist with each other and must live in the same society. We see this in Bailey’s natural distrust and dislike of the robots. His skepticism about his robot partner is one of the conflicts we follow, and this is explored more deeply as we move along in the novel. Bailey’s negative attitude about his fellow robots seems to be a microcosm of angst brewing within the general populace. One key scene early on that illustrates this is a near riot at a store that Bailey and Daneel get called to investigate. Human resentment over robots taking jobs in the work industry is one such factor in this friction.
And, while the mystery itself might be pedestrian (that is, until the final few chapters where the book seems to hit another gear), all is forgivable because the book is such an engaging and compelling read in various other ways. The idea and set up of society that Asimov projects is quite fascinating and imaginative. He spends quite a bit of time giving background and context to how things work and the basic history of where we are. One point illustrating this is when Bailey must cross lines and had into Spacetown with Daneel as part of his investigation. Bailey’s point of view and perspective sheds light on how things operate in Spacetown.
I thought both the science fiction and mystery elements were fused together nicely and worked in tandem with each other. The momentum really picks up in the final chapters as we head towards the conclusion. I also thought it was effective how Asimov does enough to give the book a sense of closure, yet also keeps the door open by setting up the next installment in the series.
Asimov’s descriptive writing style and fantastic world building makes this a real treat and a glimpse and true literary perfection in every sense.
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His insight into the "human condition" and what motivates mankind to evolve/excel/invent/revolutionise is nothing short of remarkable.
In this novel he gives us a vision of what earth might look like in 1,000 years with an ever burgeoning population - a strain on Earth's resources along with a sort of inevitable erosion of some of the forces that had previously driven mankind through the millennia to expand. He sees a risk-averse, conformant homogenised society - ring any bells with modern globalisation and our very present "health and safety" risk-averse society we can see 'blossoming' before our very eyes? This, he identifies, is the problem with earthmen of 1,000 years plus. Consider this ... would Christopher Columbus ever have set sail if he's had the "health & safety" brigade doing risk assesments on his "project proposal" to set off into the unknown to discover a hypothetical 'new world'?
He develops this theme into how mankind can get out of this sociological 'cul-de-sac' in an intriguing and thought provoking way.
I like the idea of Medievalists who oppose the spread of robots and technology in general. The commissioner's use of a disguised window is one example. I found the idea of Spacers a little unclear. At first, I wondered if they were robots, but they just use robots as useful tools. They are in fact the original descendants of earth. They are the ruling elite who keep the new settlers in megacities, ration food and enforce a classification linked to privileges. These people fear robots will come and take their jobs away resulting in de-classification.
The murder mystery element of the book is a little forced in the sense that it does not flow smoothly. The clues to the identity of the murderer and their motives are in the book and there is a logical revelation at the end, but it lacks the sophistication readers may expect.
I think Asimov, like Huxley, is a brilliant scientist but lacks literary technique in the modern sense of the word. His novels will be read for their insightful ideas, not for their literary brilliance.
Ok, that's the gripe about the synopsis over and done with.
Earth, thousands of years into the future. Massively overpopulated ever everyone loves in one of 800 Cities - enormous structures that protect their population from the outside, the feed them, Clothe then and nurture them. There is nothing wrong with the outside, it's just that people have been closeted in the Cities for so long that they simply don't go outside. On the outskirts of New York is Spacertown. A reminder to earth that it lost the war against is one time colonies of in the stars. Spacertown is where the ever arrogant and superior spaces stay when visiting old Earth. And now one of them is dead. Murdered. A major diplomatic incident needs to be avoided as any such week price very costly for dear old Earth. Plainclothesman Elijah Baley , C5 rated, of the New York police department is assigned the case along with a partner from the space community. Solving the case will save Earth and will also save Elijah Baley and his family , because fake is not an option.
I've always loved the good doctors books and these books that start what turned into the Robots and Foundation series, a massive conglomeration of a lot of his scifi works, are among my favourites of all. If you can find 'I, Robot' and 'The Rest Of The Robots' these will give you a great background info the Asimov Robots, robots built upon a foundation of ethics, the laws of robotics. a more modern collection is 'The Complete Robot' anthology.
With this book and is follow ups ('The Naked Sun' and 'Robots Of Dawn') we meet one of Asimov's most loved characters, Elijah Baley. An Earth detective called on to solve the most difficult of crimes - murder. Elijah is human, fallible and capable in equal measure. He has to offer come his feelings and failings as he feels into the complicated world and lives of the Spacers.
Surely one of the best characters ever created. Elijah Baley seems to blunder around the problems accidentally finding the solution to the tricky problems with which he is faced. He is so completely human, timelessly so. Thrown into situations that no school could ever prepare him for, he's so it off his depth and comfort zone. But somehow he finally sees the core, the one thing that let's him solve the problem.
Alongside our good detective is his Space partner, Danieel Oliver, their to smooth ruffled father's and explain the Society and technology that no man of Death could ever hope to understand otherwise.
The characterisations are brilliant and the stories are well crafted for all that they were created and published back in 1950.
As per the book, good classic Asimov, always great writing, great stories