The Robot Detective

"I sat down to write a story that would be a classic mystery and that would not cheat the reader - and yet would be a true science fiction story," Isaac Asimov states in the beginning of Caves of Steel.  And he succeeded.

It's difficult to write a science fiction book that creates a viable and breathing world; it's a completely different skill to create a world that is scientifically relevant 60 years later. In Asimov's Earth, humans live in enclosed, self-contained Cities of millions, live off of yeast rations and fear entering open air. Other planets have been colonized and warred with Earth for their freedom. His ideas pulse in worlds where daily things are made strange and miraculous; the crunchiness of an apple, the whispering sensation of wind, night falling. But I wouldn't expect any less from the man who coined the term "robotics."

In this strange future, Earth detective Elijah Baley has to solve the murder of a prominent man from the Outer Worlds, a Spacer. The City bubbles with anti-robot riots and churns with contempt for the occupying Spacers. To maintain the delicate balance of peace between the Spacers and Earthmen, Baley must solve the murder before his Spacer partner does. Daneel Olivaw, a robot, is his only aid as he investigates, interviews and instigates discord until something breaks. His friends, Spacers, his fellow officers, his robot partner, even his wife are caught up in the investigation.

Completely apart from brilliant time-tested science fiction, this novel stands up as a well written mystery. The reader can make guesses, but it's only in the last 5 pages, when Asimov decides, that the mystery unravels. All the twists, wrong guesses, turns and near misses crystallize into that moment of realization that makes a mystery worth the adventure. To those who say a good science fiction mystery is a contradiction in terms, I challenge them to read Caves of Steel. Upon closing the pages, you will not only be convinced, but addicted.

1 comment:

  1. I'm 'CatBar' not really 'Anonymous' but it's such a PAIN signing in etc, and things never work for me.
    Just to say I adored Asimov's Caves of Steel (and all his robot novels) and fell completely in love with Daneel and also Giskard and other robots.
    The Cities sound quite ghastly to live in: no sunshine or fresh air, they stank and the food sounds terrible! Most unhealthy.
    I'm the opposite of Elijah though: I'm more claustrophobic and hate being cramped. The thought of never going Outside appalls me as much as it did for Elijah having to go out in it.


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This work by H.E. Saunders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.