The Caves of Steel Review – Isaac Asimov (1954)
“We’re forever teetering on the brink of the unknowable, and trying to understand what can’t be understood.”
Set in a future Earth, Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel is a mix between a science fiction and detective novel.
In the distant future, human society lives in the massive domed cities of Earth and the use of artificial intelligence and robots is strictly controlled, the people being prejudiced against machines. On the technologically superior Outer Worlds, however, colonists and robots live side by side.
After an Outer Worlds ambassador is found dead, New York detective Elijah Baley is paired up with R. Daneel Olivaw, an advanced Outer Worlds robot, in a tenuous partnership to solve the case and find the killer.
They uncover a subversive group of anti-robot activists embroiled in the crime and their partnership is put to the test when Baley suspects a conspiracy and none other than his robot partner of committing the crime.
An interesting blend of Sci-fi and crime, The Caves of Steel is just as much an intriguing detective tale as it is a commentary on future tech-centric societies. The balance between these isn’t perfect; at times I wished the story would move on instead of diving into the background socioeconomic history of this fictional Earth and Spacer society, but it does give the novel a dystopic sense of realism. We see a stagnated Earth afraid of the new advancements in technology put forward by the Spacers, namely robots capable of blending into the population and taking up work.
Asimov’s constructed contrast between the robot-hating Earthmen and the tech-centric Spacers highlights the atmosphere of this future Earth being nitty, gritty, and intensely industrial. We learn that overpopulation has caused governments and authorities to have a stricter control over resources and allowances such as private showers and home-cooked meals.
The animosity between the people of Earth and the Outer World spacers plays a major role in creating tension within the novel; the reader is right there with Baley as he navigates the uneasy political landscape between the two.
~Giuseppe Gillespie December 2022