Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review - The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

Short review: A spacer is killed and it is up to a robot and a human to solve it. Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics come up a lot.

A spacer gets killed
A robot to help solve it
And Earth is dirt poor

Full review: The Caves of Steel is the first and best of Asimov's Robot mysteries. Essentially an exploration in novel length of the ideas introduced by Asimov in his various Robot short stories, the novel details human detective Elijah Baley, an Earth native, and his partner, spacer robot R. Daneel Olivaw (the "R." stands for robot) as they try to solve the politically sensitive murder of a spacer ambassador.

While the mystery is more or less a classic closed-door mystery that is well-written and interesting, the book mostly revolves around showing an overpopulated impoverished Earth in which everyone lives in giant underground cities (the caves of steel of the title) and the arrogant wealthy spacer culture that is contrasted with Earth. The book, as with most Asimov books featuring robots, is concerned with the effects of the Three Laws of Robotics, which, of course, prove to be the key to unraveling the murder.

The book is the first introduction of R. Daneel Olivaw, a character who, I believe, appears in more Asimov books than any other - although his appearances in later books are somewhat of a disappointment. The book also introduces a fairly common theme in Asimovian fiction - the poverty of those on Earth compared to those who have ventured out into space. This is one of my favorite Asimov books: The mystery is good, the characters interesting (although a bit too much time is spent obsessing over bodily functions), and the competing cultures described are both plausible and frightening.

Subsequent book in the series: The Naked Sun

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  1. Great review. I had a similar response to the book when I read it years ago.

  2. @Julia Rachel Barrett: Thank you. I put my review of The Naked Sun up today. The Robots of Dawn will go up tomorrow. After that I need to figure out what order I'm going to do the Foundation books in. I'm thinking probably publication order, but I'm not sure yet.

  3. Yes, Caves of Steel is the best of Asimov's mysteries. I really love this book and his collection of short stories...though I think Foundation is his best book.

    And...a very good review! This review reminded me of my old favorite and also has given me a few tips on writing my own reviews!

  4. @I, Writer: I just posted my review of the first Foundation book. I hope you enjoy it!