Author: Isaac Asimov | Page Count: 224
“Even as a youngster, though, I could not bring myself to believe that if knowledge presented danger, the solution was ignorance.”
The Caves of Steel was the first full novel in what would come to be known as Asimov’s Robot Series. Some people include I, Robot (1950) in the series despite the contradictions between the two works. I adore I, Robot but the bridge narrative structure keeps it from being perfect. The Caves of Steel has no such handicap, nor does it rely so heavily on direct speech for exposition, meaning it flows much more organically. The pace is also improved.
The Caves of the title are huge interconnected steel domes that house an ever-expanding human population. In contrast, the outer planets are populated by Spacers, people descended from colonists that left Earth centuries before. Whilst the Spacers embraced robots, the Earth people didn't. Resentment of Spacers runs deep, even in those whose job dictates that they should remain impartial.
When a Spacer is killed, Detective Lije Baley is tasked with finding the killer.
Baley is an Earth-man. When he’s partnered with a Spacer, the Robot Danell Olivaw, more than one of his prejudices get put to the ultimate test.
Asimov must've really liked R. Danell because he used him in subsequent novels, much more frequently than any of his other returning characters.
The world in Caves of Steel is beautifully fleshed out, with consequences that are far reaching. There are of course sci-fi concepts but if you strip them away you’ll find another of those puzzles that Asimov was so very good at. He doesn't use wild technology as a crutch, meaning resolution isn't reliant on some impossible science. Beneath the sheen it's a fully developed and deeply compelling detective novel that just happens to be set in the future.
5 diplomatic incidents out of 5