Book Review – Caves of Steel

This was the first book I’ve ever read on my phone using a reading app called Libby. I would have liked to have read a physical copy but there was nothing available at any of the libraries that we have been to (we were road tripping at the time). And since we didn’t know which town we would be visiting next, it was difficult to reserve a book. I could have reserved it at my local library (Hobart) so I could have read it when I got back but I really wanted to read it at that time.

So the main reason I wanted to read this book was because I was excited about the film Dune (story with a similar title written by Isaac Asimov and this book – Caves of Steel was written also by Isaac Asimov) and I was also into robots and AI (Artificial Intelligence) as I was reading Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro at the time.

Now onto the story…it’s a murder investigation set in a distant future on earth. In this future, humans are now living in cities (made of steel) along with another group of arrogant aliens called the Spacers. They inhabited the planet and are now living outside the cities in pods. Humanoid robots are also around but the earth-made robots are not that great (clunky and less ‘human’) compared to the robots made by the Spacers. In other words, the Spacers’ robots are so life-like that they could have been mistaken for their organic makers.

The characters are Elijah Baley (a New York human detective) who along with his new partner R. Daneel Olivaw (R. stands for Robot) have to solve Daneel’s maker Dr Sarton’s murder. Daneel was made in the image of and likeness of Dr Sarton.

Murder mysteries are not new but what I found interesting about this story is its setting. Although set in a millenium into the future, it feels very 20th century (1960’s to be precise – or whatever era Isaac Asimov wrote this in). The dialogue between these ‘future characters’ all sound very 1960’s American eg. the conversation between Baley and his son Bentley:

“Danger!” squeaked Ben in a sort of horrified pleasure. “What’s going on Dad? Huh, Dad?”

“Nothing, Ben. Now this isn’t any of your business. Understand? Get ready for bed. I want you in bed when I get back. You hear me?”

“Aw, gosh. You could tell a fellow. I won’t say anything!”

“In bed!”

“Gosh!”

And I guess, Asimov never predicted the internet or the technology we have now and so the machinery gadgets that he described in the book sounded ‘clunky’, ‘heavy’ and out of date. He did imagine how robots will be interacting between humans and so he created the three laws of robotics:

  • Law 1: A robot cannot harm a human being
  • Law 2: A robot must obey the orders given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law
  • Law 3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first law or second law

Overall, I enjoyed this book so I highly recommended it – in whatever format – as an ebook or analogue.

PS: A wonderful thing about reading an ebook is you could do a search easily on the pages (parts of the story) that you weren’t sure of or if you wanted to find out more. That’s a bit hard to do on hard copy books because most books nowaways don’t have indexes.

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