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Friday, August 26, 2016

Caves of Steel

My latest book was Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov.  Next up are Unbroken, The Sun Also Rises, and The Naked Sun.

I liked this book.  Caves of Steel was the first novel of Isaac Asimov's Robot series, which consists of 5 novels and 38 short stories published over several decades.  Many of these stories, Caves of Steel included, combine the science fiction Asimov is known so well for with a classic whodunit mystery.

Asimov underestimated both  the rate of population growth and the planet's ability to support it.  Set three thousand years in the future, the population getting up to eight billion means that the vast majority of the Earth's surface has to be used to grow yeast for sustenance, forcing everyone to move to completely enclosed, incredibly dense cities, hence the "caves of steel".  By this time, the Earth has colonized fifty planets which, with low population density, live in comparative luxury.  The inhabitants of these worlds are generally known as Spacers by those who live on Earth, who generally despise and envy them.  A big reason for this is that the Spacers are increasingly pushing for robots to be used on Earth, and this is seen as a cause of rising unemployment.

Amidst this political and economic tumult, a member of the Spacer delegation on Earth is murdered.  If the murderer can't be discovered, the reprisal by the Spacers could be catastrophic.  Elijah Bailey is assigned the case, but with an odd condition.  Not only does he have to partner with a Spacer, that Spacer is a robot.  One might expect the book to proceed into good cop/bad cop cliches and miscommunication due to a robot unable to grasp idioms.  There's not much of that.  Elijah doesn't like or want to work with the robot, but he generally does his job and works with him.

I haven't read many murder mysteries, but Caves of Steel seems to hold up well on that front.  There was a solid structure and reasoning.  The clues may not lead one noticing them inevitably to the proper killer, but they definitely support the conclusion once explained.  It also holds up well as a science-fiction novel.  I'd recommend this to anyone who likes mysteries or science fiction, as long as you can at least tolerate the other genre.

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