The Caves of Steel

Posted by : atcampbell | On : December 22, 2009

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

Nine people gathered at the Milwood Library for this meeting. Our topic was The Caves of Steel, a classic robot sf/detective novel.  All of us had read Asimov before. We all started and finished this book.

Several of us liked the team of Elijah Bailey, the human cop, with R. Daneel Olivaw, a robot investigator. One person thought Daneel might have been the first robot cop depicted in fiction. They eventually learn to work together in the “buddy cop” tradition.

One reader had affection for the book. She found certain scenes were memorable. She didn’t think the writing was wonderful, but felt it was a good story. She thought it read well within both the mystery and sf traditions. The agoraphobic cave-dwellers seemed realistic. And she felt the attitudes toward robots in this book were eerily similar to the attitudes aimed at certain groups of humans in the 50s.

One person found the differences in protocols in men’s and women’s restrooms were hysterical.

A few noted Asimov’s lack of vivid visual descriptions, and a poor handling of female characters. Longtime readers informed us that these deficiencies in Asimov’s writing had always been recognized, even when this book was originally written.

Several of us felt this book just did not hold up well.  One reader found the writing clunky, and felt the future depicted in this book was too much like America in the 50s. Another felt the mystery was unsophisticated.  Yet another commented that it particularly suffered in comparison to the writing of Sturgeon, whose More than Human (from about the same time period) we read recently.

Despite our some of our misgivings, overall we were glad to finally read an Asimov book in our group. Near the end of the meeting, we talked about other robot books we’d enjoyed and other Asimov books (both fiction and nonfiction) that we liked. After the meeting, many of us had a nice dinner at Mangia.

—A. T. Campbell, III