Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Books: The Caves of Steel

Overcrowded urban dystopias are a science fiction staple, but when you really think about it, they're sort of a lazy way of depicting the future. After all, there's no fundamental reason why an increased population would lead to human misery; there are more people living in the city of Tokyo than were alive on the entire planet 8000 years ago.

"The Caves of Steel," written by Isaac Asimov and first serialized in Galaxy Magazine, is one of the few works that paints a neutral view of a future megacity (in this case a New York housed in an enormous underground dome). It's also the first novel pairing the agoraphobic NYPD detective Lijah Baley with his robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. Both would become fan favorites for decades to come.

In the novel, Baley is tasked with solving a baffling assassination while fighting through anti-immigrant sentiment (in this case, the immigrants are Spacers, humans who have returned from far-off interstellar colonies). In true politico-screwing-the-cop-on-the-beat fashion, Baley's new partner for the case is Daneel, an emotionless Spacer android who may have his own agenda.

The story takes place entirely within the "caves of steel," enormous warrens of humans so closely packed that having a better seat at a cafeteria is considered a luxury. Despite the close quarters, people still manage to get along with each other, children still play, and the streets aren't lined with starved corpses. The overpopulation is a problem, and the eventual resolution of the mystery does suggest a solution (and no, it's not Soylent Green).


At 11:05 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I read it junior high and again just recently. It 's a good read.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Mulliga said...

Weirdly enough, I started reading the "Robot" series almost at the end, with "The Robots of Dawn." It took me awhile to find a bookstore that had "The Caves of Steel," and even longer to find one that had "The Naked Sun."


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