Mar 2, 2018

Old, Timeless, Yet Still Relevant Today - Caves of Steel

An Old Story

Set a thousand years into the future, Issac Asimov imagines an overcrowded Earth where humanity is packed like sardines into large domed mega-cities with a ridged social structures. The huge population has created a strain on Earths remaining resources and in order to allievate that we set out to colonize the galaxy but this only created a bigger problem. Humanity has now split into two factions, those who stayed behind, Earthmen, and those who ventured out into the galaxy, Spacers.

Spacers have what Earthmen need, resources and Earthmen have what Spacers need, a large population needed for a work force. After utilising the positronic brain to create Robots and fulfil the need for a larger workforce, Spacers believe themselves to be far superior to the timid stay-at-home Earthmen. When Spacers return to Earth, 'take control' and release Robots into Earths workforce their already strained relations fray even further. Robots are cheap labour and are taking over the jobs of Earthmen putting them out of a job, but worse than that, if you have no job you have no social standing. And in a ridged class system like Earth this is intolerable. Robots become discriminated against and objects of violence.

Timeless (Almost)

When a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances a detective, Elijah Baley, is ordered to track down the killer, but things go from bad to worse when he learns that the Spacers have assigned him a Robot partner, who was made in the image and likeness of the murder victim.

I'm partial to a good mystery and regularly visit my Sherlock Holmes novels (along with any British murder/mystery TV show I can find) to get my fix. To have a mystery set this in a science fiction universe with Robots is a plus. While this would seem normal in the early 21st century, Asimov was the first author to do this which makes this book even more special. Asimov believed that science fiction is a style that can be overlayed onto any literary genre, rather than just being a limited genre in and of itself and I think he pulled it off with Caves of Steel.

Still Relevant Today?

Does this story age well for a book which was first released around 1954, or is it out of date? Surprisingly, it's not obsolete and provides much to think about. There are parts which will take you out of the narrative, like anytime Elijah Baley's son speaks (Well golly gee wiz etc,) and the protrayal of the Earth women as 1950's stereotypes, but the rest of the novel holds up well. The world he builds is very solid.

It's the jump off point for Asimov's Robots and Foundation series and think it's worth reading (or re-reading again).  Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?

Caves of Steel

(The Robot Series Book 1) 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!

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