My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s been many years since I’ve read/listened to any of Isaac Asimov’s work. I listened to “Nighfall” when I was a freshman in high school and enjoyed it. I tried to listen to “Foundation” and couldn’t really get past the first 10 minutes of the reading – more on that in a future post. I didn’t pick up Asimov again until I was a junior in college and read “I Robot” (this was well before the movie came out). First of all, I was surprised that it was actually a compilation of short stories instead of being a novel, but enjoyed it immensely.
I’ve always been curious about Asimov’s famous Robot series, but never got around to actually listening to it until 2012. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect from the series. I knew that there was a humanoid robot (like Data from Star Treck) in it, but I didn’t expect the robot to take on a secondary role.
Caves of Steel begins a series of novels about a Detective Elijah Baley. Though there are many robot related plot points and questions raised, the main story is first and foremost a detective story. Baley is tasked to solve the murder of a “spacer” before his assigned robot partner, R. Daneel Oliaw has the opportunity to solve it first.
Two of the primary emotional themes of the book are “am I smarter than a robot” and “will robots take my job?” (The funny thing is that humans continue to ask these questions today in 2013 as our technology becomes smarter and faster than humans.) Baley also has to deal with the emotional distress of having to work with a robot that can not only potentially make him obsolete but deal with the fact that this robot looks so human that people mistake him for a human being. This causes Baley distress because he’s used to treating robots like machines and not like people.
Asimov poses the question very poignantly for Baley and forces him to do a top job to solve the murder. Baley is delightfully logical and methodical about how he goes about solving the murder, what makes it even better for me as a reader is that he makes several mistakes due to insufficient information. This throws him for a loop, but he persists in his duty.
The Earth that Asimov creates in these books is well-rounded and relevant to today’s imagination. He creates his world in few words and, though he occasionally appears to go on tangents, every detail is used to further either character development or plot. Everything the main character feels is based on the experience of his version of Earth, where humans live in vast enclosed cities and rarely if ever sees the light of day. Every bit of Baley’s environment affects who he is and how he acts, which gives me a great appreciation for Asimov’s world building.
I am continually amazed by the artistry that this father of science fiction is able to weave to keep you interested in what he has to say. No wonder many of the terms he made up such as “hyperspace” and “positronic brain” are still used in science fiction today. Amazing!
Not many “hard science fiction” can be recommended for the non-SF reader, but Issac Asimov’s Cave’s of Steel is certainly one novel that I can recommend. The emphasis in the story is Baley and how he deals with solving a difficult murder case and not on the high-tech of the world. It’s Baley and his struggle that is most compelling and keeps one’s interest. The environment that surrounds the murder is just a stroke of genius.