Book review: The Caves of Steel Isaac Asimov

Published January 27th 2021 (first published February 1954)


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. Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to the Outer Worlds to help track down the killer. The relationship between Life and his Spacer superiors, who distrusted all Earthmen, was strained from the start. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the “R” stood for robot- and his positronic partner was made in the image and likeness of the murder victim!

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

But now, Earthmen are all so coddled, so enwombed in their imprisoning caves of steel, that they are caught forever.

I don’t have much expertise in sci-fi, especially the classic one. Of course, I’ve heard about Isaac Asimov and The Three Laws of Robotics, but never actually read his novels. Until recently, when I decided to pick up I, Robot and thus my introduction into this fantastical world begun.

If I, Robot was a prequel and consisted of a collection of stories involving Robots and Men stuck in funny situations, The Caves of Steel is more strict and formal, combining a detective story and sci-fi, and taking place in the future. I would say that I enjoyed the lightness of I, Robot, but was impressed by the concept of Robots in this story. It was highly engaging to follow the interactions between the main character, who is human, and his partner, who is a Robot.

I often consider a future where Robots a part of our world. My picture is optimistic, as I see technology as part of our progress. Sometimes I think our progress is stuck on making new iPhones every year when there is a whole cosmos waiting for us. And Caves of Steel is a prophetic book, in a way. It reflects our world where two groups of people exist: the ones who strive for progress, and the ones who just want to get back to nature’s roots because they think technology is evil and Robots must be destroyed before they overrule us. Our society, especially divided in the last two years since the Pandemic, more and more resembles the picture Asimov draw in his Robot cycle, minus the Robots.

But I am here not to argue about our world (though the topic is highly engaging), but to admire and think about the intellectual questions this book raises.

“We can’t ever build a robot that will be even as good as a human being in anything that counts, let alone better. We can’t create a robot with a sense of beauty or a sense of ethics or a sense of religion. There’s no way we can raise a positronic brain one inch above the level of perfect materialism.
“We can’t, damn it, we can’t. Not as long as we don’t understand what makes our own brains tick. Not as long as things exist that science can’t measure. What is beauty, or goodness, or art, or love, or God? We’re forever teetering on the brink of the unknowable, and trying to understand what can’t be understood. It’s what makes us men.

Let’s find out in the next installment!

Highly recommended!

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