Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Caves of Steel: Isaac Asimov

This is the second book by Isaac Asimov that I have read this month, and I am hooked on his writing. I am not new to Asimov, but it has been a while, and my tastes have changed. I found that his story telling abilities still keep me interested. His characters are a little less compelling, but are fleshed out as the stories proceeds.

Summary from the back of the paperback edition:
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.
The novel blends science fiction and mystery. This was the goal of the author as stated in the introduction in my edition of the book: "I sat down to write a story that would be a classic mystery and that would not cheat the reader — and yet would be a true science-fiction story."

Our hero is New York City police detective Elijah Baley. His boss, the Commissioner of Police, has instructed him to go to Spacetown to investigate a murder, a very unexpected request.


I was captivated by the descriptions of the world Asimov has invented. The introduction to Spacetown is especially well done. I liked the chapter titles, such as "Introduction to a Family." There the reader learns not only Baley's family life, but also living conditions in the City.

This novel presents a picture of a very overpopulated earth where the basics of life are regulated to be able to support the huge population. The relationship between the earthlings and the Spacers was not immediately clear and Asimov reveals this gradually throughout the book.

As the investigation moves along, Baley makes a couple of false guesses about the identity of the culprit, and each time we learn more about the overall situation in his job and family life and the prevailing culture on earth. As new facts are revealed to him, he fights against the logical conclusions because it challenges his view of life on earth.

The story raises philosophical issues: How the regular residents of earth react to the perceived superiority of the Spacers, and why they are fearful of robots. A big issue is robots taking over jobs of humans, and in today's world, that is still a concern.

This review at SF Reviews.net describes it well:
The Caves of Steel goes beyond the boundaries imposed by genre convention. More than merely an entertaining whodunnit, this novel is ultimately about humanity's need to overcome the fears and prejudices which senselessly prevent our own betterment as a species. For 1953, it was a revolutionary idea. Today, it might seem old hat, but, if ongoing racial strife is any indication, it's an idea we still sorely need.
I read this book as a part of the 2013 Sci-Fi Experience at Stainless Steel Droppings.
Check out the Review Site for the Sci-Fi Experience here to see other blogger's reviews and related posts.

I am also submitting this post for The Vintage Science Fiction Month not-a-challenge at the Little Red Reviewer. For that event participants will be "talking about time travel, laser guns, early robotics, first contact, swords and sorcery, predictions for humanity and the authors who came up with it all. Haphazardly, the defining year for 'vintage' is 1979."

Both Margot at Conversations of a Mystery Novelist... and Sergio at Tipping my Fedora recommended this novel to me. I am grateful to both of them. Margot has an In the Spotlight post on this novel, which goes into much more detail.

16 comments:

  1. Tracy - Oh, I am so pleased that you liked this as much as you did! And you've hit on something really salient about the story: the issues it raises. Asimov used the novel to ask some important questions about our future as a species and our assumptions and values. And yet I never felt as though the novel was a sermon. You've done a top review here for which thanks. And thanks for the very kind mentions too :-)

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    1. Thank you, Margot. It was a great book. Another thing I meant to mention was that this is the first of a series of books. But the post was too long anyway so just as well. I have heard that the other books in the series are not as good, but plan to read them anyway. At least the 2nd one.

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  2. I've never read any of this writer, but when I used to run a second hand book stall in Greece for charity, there were always plenty books by this author. He clearly had a following in Greece! Your review made me wish I'd picked one up to read.

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    1. A second hand book stall in Greece. Now that sounds exotic.

      I have been surprised at how well he has held up for me since reading his books in my twenties (a long time ago). He also wrote at least two mystery novels, I think. One is Murder at the ABA, which I have and intend to re-read. And a lot of mystery short stories, which I have not read.

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  3. I haven't read Isaac Asimov for a while and your reviews and the fine covers are goading me into reading more of his stories, a couple of which are in the two sf anthologies I have. I think one of the leading questions that science fiction poses is — why? Philosophy may have some of the answers.

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    1. I think I want to try some of his short stories too, both mystery and sci fi. But I am not a lover of short stories, so it make take a while. I do love the questions that science fiction novelists ask.

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  4. I'm glad that you still find Asimov compelling as your tastes have changed. I didn't come to his work until about 8 years ago and I immediately took to it and continue to enjoy the new to me books I pick up. I LOVE his robot short stories and have been told by friends that I need to read these longer mystery/sf novels. Glad to hear that this one is so worth while. Gotta remember to snag a copy of this next time I am at the used bookstore.

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    1. I am also glad that I am enjoying Asimov's books. And there are so many to read. My son just loaned me the Foundation trilogy, although I will probably wait until later in the year to start it.

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  5. I've been slowly making my way through the Robot series for a while now. I enjoyed the short stories more than the novels, because they were more concise. Asimov is masterful storyteller but for me, his writing becomes a bit too straight forward at times. However, he does have a kind of charm and as you've said, the descriptions of the world he has invented are intriguing. I have been told I would enjoy the Empire & Foundation books a lot more, so, though slowly, I'm getting there!

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    1. I have to try some short stories by Asimov. I am glad you are enjoying Asimov also.

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  6. One of my favorite reads last year was his stand alone novel The End of Eternity. If you haven't put it on your list both that novel and The Currents of Space are worth adding.

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    1. I did read The End of Eternity this month, and I loved it. And my husband purchased it based on your description (I think in your favorites of 2012 list) and I did not even have to pay for it.

      I am glad you mentioned The Currents of Space. I had read a review of The Stars, Like Dust at Dabs of Darkness and the review of The Currents of Space there also, and am interested in both of those. So I will put them on a list that I won't forget. (My book buying budget is blown for a while.)

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  7. Have never read Asimov because I am not that fond of SF but this novel with its mystery element seems to be pretty interesting.

    I have given up on NOT finding new authors or books to read. :)

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    1. I know what you mean. There are always so many new and old authors that show up.

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  8. From my recollection (and recent reviews by others seem to support this), The Stars Like Dust is one of Asimov's less polished offerings and is one of his weaker offerings. The Currents of Space reminded me of the kind of space opera I grew up reading and still enjoy today.

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  9. I loved your review too. Looking forward to read other books in the series. Thanks for stopping by!

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