Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Caves of Steel

The Caves of Steel
© Isaac Asimov 1953

I finally found a copy of The Caves of Steel this week. I’ve been looking for this book since the beginning of November, but my libraries have been unable to procure a copy that isn’t lost. The Caves of Steel is a detective story set in the future -- roughly around the 23rd century. Earth’s cities have become “Cities”: enclosed structures where people are not exposed to the open here. People move from place to place through moving “strips” -- a la Jetsons ? -- and no longer live and eat as separate families. Suburban sprawl has been replaced by sectional “boxes”. Each sectional building is divided into sections, and each section has apartments for families to live in. These apartments do not include kitchens, laundry room, or bathrooms, though -- those are all communal.

The main character is a man named Elijah Baley, a plainclothes detective working for the City government. His City is New York, and it is now the second-biggest city in the world, the first being Los Angeles. Baley is tasked with finding out who killed a Spacer sociologist. A Spacer is a resident of one of the fifty Spacer worlds -- fifty worlds settled by Earth with very little population density. The Spacers have created for themselves “C/Fe Societies”, wherein humans (carbon-based) and robots (iron-based) work together. The Earthers, being conservative, are very much opposed to robots, and such is the environment that Baley has been raised in.

When Baley is asked to solve this murder, he is also asked to take on a robot partner. We would call this partner an android, for he looks like a human and has been programmed to mimic human behavior. Baley is at first aghast at the prospect of working with his new partner -- R. Daneel Olivaw -- but grows accustomed to him by book’s end. The book is the story of their efforts to find the murderer. Asimov’s writing seems to be even better than I’m used to, but anticipation may have heightened my enjoyment. I enjoyed learning about the world he created, and I think he did a good job. He thinks about the impact living in these apartment-boxes has on people, including taboos and so on. I found the book to be excellent reading, and I will enjoy reading more in the series.

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