A Murder. Elijah and Jezebel. A Dangerous Political Situation. Robots. Underground Cities. Overpopulation. Increasing Unemployment. Riots. Yeast. Medievalists.
Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel is like a peanut butter cup for the geek mind, combining the two great tastes of science fiction and mystery. Oh, how fun! The novel was original published in 1953 as a serial and in 1954 as a book. It is the first novel in the Robot Series and introduces the character of R. Daneel Olivaw, who appears in many novels in the Foundation Series.
Briefly, the novel takes place in the future, where the people of Earth live in underground cities and unemployment is an ever-present concern. The relationship between the Spacers—descendents of space colonists—and the people of Earth is not good. When a leading Spacer scientist is found murdered, there is fear that it could lead to retaliation. Lije Bailey, a police officer, is called in to investigate. Like most of the people of Earth, he is not fond of robots, but the Spacers insist that he be given a robot partner, the newly created R. Daneel Olivaw. As Lije works to overcome his prejudice against robots and solve the murder, he finds himself in potential danger from both the Spacers and the Medievalists, a back to the past movement. Despite a number of wrong turns, Lije and Daneel solve the murder and form a bond.
The Caves of Steel isn’t great literature, but it is very enjoyable storytelling. I love to try to follow the threads of a mystery. The novel felt real to me, with a well thought out setting and interesting characters. While the style might be simpler than that of current novels, the plot is perhaps even more credible than it was over half a century ago. Many of us feel vulnerable in a fragile economy. Instead of blaming robots, present day people blame immigrants. Groups protesting the current political situation are becoming more common. A growing population was recently in the news. I also think that an explosion in robotics is just around the corner. While The Caves of Steel is not a must read, I definitely recommend it to science fiction fans.