Caves of Steel – Isaac Asimov

This is the story of a detective Elijah Baley, who investigates the murder of a Spacer in a futuristic world with the help of an advanced humanoid robot, R. Daneel.


The story is set in a future time, when mankind has colonized outer worlds with the help of robots. But, the people of Earth despise robots and a lot of them are secretly Medievalists, who want to go back to a world of farming. And hence, the Spacers (humans who’re willing to co-exist with robots) suspect that it was some Earthman who must have killed the scientist (who was working on a project to produce the most advanced version of humanoid robot ever).

There are lots of twists and turns in the plot and who the murderer finally ends up to be was a surprising reveal. But, what I admire the most about Asimov is that if he sets a story in the future, he is able to add so much detail to it that it feels real and possible. He writes them in such a way that you feel even the scientifically advanced world is still the same Earth of today.

 – The discomfort and suspicion that the human detective Elijah has of the robot’s capabilities and how he gradually becomes comfortable with it. This is extremely similar to people’s reactions to any new technology that gets released (eg: Google Glass) We have “medievalists” even today. The ones who feel technology is taking over people’s lives and that man ought to disentangle himself from its evil coils.

 – The relational dynamics between humans and Spacers. This is very similar to racial problems of the current day. One group of people having animosity with another and feeling that the other group is inferior. (The Spacers in this case are scared of the Earthmen because the body of the Spacers is not immune to the germs of Earth. And hence they fear direct physical contact with an Earthman and get him sanitized before meeting him. This gets interpreted by the public that the Spacers think Earthmen are inferior.)

 – The highspeed pathways of different levels that people use to commute. And how youngsters use it for playing games that disturb the public and is considered illegal, as it also leads to injuries and death. Similar to incidents of road rage in the present world.

 – Based on their rank and ability in work, people are given grades which determines what kind of seat they get in the highspeed pathways, whether they get access to solariums (which are the current day equivalent for malls), what level of comfort they have in their homes etc. A merit-based system that rewards people who follow the system.

 – How people are not supposed to talk to each other in the common washrooms of the future. A dig at how people of the present day world living in apartments like to mind their own business.

 – The robot and human interactions. The clash of emotional or instinctive reactions of the human detective versus pure rational reactions of the robot. For example, the robot does not get offended or angry when any human insults it. It does not understand forgiveness or mercy. As per its programming, it has to ensure that law is enforced. And people who do not follow the law must be punished. The novel, however, ends with the robot saying “I forgive you” to the murderer, because it realizes that murderer truly repents the mistake and a greater good will come from it. This was the masterstroke for me.

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