The Caves of Steel (Elijah Bailey 1) by Isaac Asimov

caves of steelJehoshaphat! It’s tremendous…!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

In the far distant future, Earth has become vastly overcrowded and the strain on resources has forced humanity into living cheek by jowl in massive closed in cities – the caves of steel of the title. They no longer ever venture into the outside world, having basic robots to do any outside work that’s needed. Living accommodation is small – meals are taken in huge communal kitchens and bathing and toileting facilities are all contained in the Personals, again communal and with strict social rules to preserve some semblance of privacy. The Outer Worlds are inhabited by Spacers, the descendants of people from Earth who colonised some of the planets thousands of years earlier. Spacer worlds are the opposite of Earth – underpopulated and disease free. Spacers no longer allow immigration from Earth, guarding the comparative luxury of their lives, along with their health. Naturally, they are resented by the people of Earth.

Spacers have developed much more advanced robots and, with the agreement of the government of Earth, are introducing them into Earth society. The robots are hated since people see them as a threat to their jobs, and loss of a job can mean loss of the few privileges that people can still have – their own washbasin, the right to an occasional meal in their own home. So when a Spacer robotocist is murdered, it seems obvious the culprit will be an Earth person. Elijah Bailey, C-Class Detective is called in to investigate and, to his horror, is partnered with a Spacer robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, so advanced that he can easily pass as human.

Now, for you non-sci-fi-fans out there – yes, it’s sci-fi… but it’s also a great murder mystery. Proper crime with all different kinds of motivations at work, clues, detection, departmental politics, the works! Asimov wrote it after someone challenged him by saying sci-fi and mystery were incompatible genres. Asimov’s own view was that sci-fi can incorporate any literary genre (I agree), and this is his proof. Lije Bailey and R. (for Robot) Daneel Olivaw are one of the great classic detective duos, and this is your opportunity to sample sci-fi without ever having to leave Earth!

Which one is the robot?
Which one is the robot?

Along with the mystery Asimov creates a fairly chilling view of a possible future if Earth’s population continues to increase. It’s fairly easy 60 years on to pick holes in some of the things he foresaw, and didn’t, and personally, doing that is one of the great pleasures for me. I love that he could create something as sophisticated as the positronic brain – still being used by sci-fi writers as the basis for robots and androids today – but didn’t think of the mobile phone, so that poor Lije has to go out to phone boxes in the middle of the night. I love that he claimed that women still stuck to traditional clasps on their purses rather than adopting new-style magnetic catches. (We finally made it, Mr Asimov! We advanced that far!) I love that he came up with a kind of method for information retrieval that sounds not unlike the old punch-card system, but couldn’t take the extra leap that would have led him to computers. I love that people happily use all kinds of nuclear devices, cheerfully spraying radiation around as they go. He almost comes up with an e-reader… but not quite…

But the basic idea of an over-populated world where every human activity is carefully regimented and controlled to make best use of dwindling resources is very well done, and the resentment of humans over machines taking over their jobs has proved to be pretty prophetic. The Medievalists who look nostalgically back to a time not unlike the 1950s have more than a little in common with our more fundamentalist back-to-the-earth green groups of today.

Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov

One of the other things I love about the Elijah Bailey books is that, although the world is thousands of years older, all the people are stuck in a ’50s time-warp. Gee, gosh, the language is simply tremendous! Lije’s favourite exclamation is “Jehoshaphat!” – I always find myself using it for weeks after I’ve read one of the books. The women stay at home, try to look pretty for their husbands, and bring up the children, which is all their limited brains and talents are really fit for, while the men go off and do manly things, like science and running about the streets with blasters and such like. So you not only get a look at how Asimov saw the possible future, but you get a real picture of ’50s American attitudes thrown in for free.

The plot is great and totally fair-play. Lije’s detection methods are a bit on the slapdash side, I admit – basically, he decides whodunit, accuses them, is proved wrong, and then decides it was actually someone else… and so on. But each accusation adds something, both to his future guesswork, and to the reader’s understanding of the society he’s operating in. And Jehoshaphat! When the solution finally comes, it’s a good one!

Golly gee, I hope you read this book. It may be a bit dated, but it’s still loads of fun and with plenty of interest to either sci-fi or mystery fans. Jeepers, you’ll be sorry if you don’t…

(Now, I know that Data was inspired by R Daneel Olivaw, but d’you think Neelix might have been inspired by Asimov’s sideburns…?)

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

54 thoughts on “The Caves of Steel (Elijah Bailey 1) by Isaac Asimov

  1. I love Isaac Asimov. A college friend was a total freak about him. From the first moment I was engaged and did not stop until until I read his works. A truly amazing man. I read his work on writing. One of the things he wrote was that he was such a prolific writer was because he was focus to the extent of shutting himself in a dark room and ignored everything else.

  2. Great, enthusiastic and funny review. Did you ever see the American TV show which was sci-fi ish and detective – Alien Nation. It was wonderful, and I was deeply addicted (possibly about 20 years ago, it turned up I think late night Channel 4) Tempted to track down DVDs

    • Thank you! 🙂 I remember the name but don’t think I ever watched it. It’s amazing really how much of sci-fi of the last half-century has its roots in Asimov’s books. They do read a bit dated now, but they’re full of ideas that other people have run with and updated, and I can’t think of any robots that aren’t recognisably based on his original ones. In fact, his Three Laws of Robotics have become a kind of industry standard…

    • Oh, do Lady F. I got them from Amazon and they still stand up. There’s a film as well, with Mandy Patinkin as Francisco…..

      • Big Sis – you must be psychic – I have just spent part of the afternoon on tomorrow’s post (not, I’m afraid, Alien Nation) but, still, on the wonderful Mandy Patinkin. I have been minded to revisit a CD and some You Tubes of the original Broadway Production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday In The Park With George, starring the very very excellent Mandy! (American Boys names, eh!)

          • I fancy doing a flanking action with Big Sis and marching you off towards further buyings. You might be safe from me for a little while though tomorrow’s post, heavily featuring Mandy Patinkin and a lot of singing doesn’t involve reading a book. Wednesday’s post may go one way or another, and what is most likely to belong to Friday probably won’t be one for your either. And I might want to start the March/April Woolf quite soon……………

            • Apart from today’s Toibin, I think you’ll be pretty safe from me for a while too – I seem to be reading either stuff you’ve already read or crime, primarily. Still, the good news is probably neither of us will run out of books…!

            • Well, that’s just as well, as the five second hand books, market place sellers, I ordered over the weekend have all now been despatched, and I’ve drawn 4 books out of the book case to be re-read. Is it any wonder I can’t get further through the century with all you bloggers waving your wares? You know Toibin will be a must. I missed the NG handout, but I will gladly shower Toibin with my pennies, sure fire pleasure is I would think guaranteed

            • It’s not a new Toibin – one of his back catalogue which I’m still slowly working my way through. I’m trying so hard not to acquire any more books, but it’s just not working!! I’m nearly finished In the Woods. It’s… nah, I’ll leave you in suspense!

            • Ooooh I can’t WAIT to meet you when you come out of the woods (cue for another Sondheim musical post I think. Into The Woods is a gorgeous musical.

              No, I knew it was an OLD Toibin, but wrongly assumed maybe it had been reissued. And…you have reminded me I have the back catalogue The Master on my own bookshelf, waiting to be reached. And, it’s Toibin, and it’s Begorrathon months (adds another book to the pile) At least buying isn’t needed…….

            • Goodness! It’s a long, long walk out of those woods, though – I’m pretty sure I’ve got blisters!

              I think The Master will be by next Toibin too, but it might be next Begorrathon before I manage to fit it in. And by then no doubt he’ll have written another! *runs madly on the spot*

  3. I’ve never read an Asimov book! What a thing. So, I’d say it’s the chap on the right who is a robot. Robots don’t wear sweater vests, see.

    Wait. I thought purses had zippers? I could be very wrong, tho.

    That fellow on the right is Asimov! He’s sporting some interesting sideburns, he is.

    • Yeah, I think it’s him too! He’s too sleek to be human. You haven’t? Well, I’ll add them to your TBR then, ‘cos you must! He only wrote about 500 books I think, so you’ll get through them in no time!

      You are – very wrong. And a little old-fashioned, I’m sorry to say. You really must try harder to keep up with women’s fashions… *chuckles*

      *laughs* I think Neelix looks incredibly like Asimov! Look at the nose, and the shape of the cheekbones. The Star Trek creators must have done it deliberately, surely!

      • Unless he’s on a diet, you know. Or starving himself daily! 500 books? Oh no. I can’t read that many. Better not to read any, see.

        *laughing* Seriously? Hmm. But then again, I shouldn’t ever need to worry about keeping up with such things since the professor will never buy a purse, of course.

        I bet you’re right. It makes sense. Plus, they probably liked the brute.

        • Poor soul – no taste buds! Chocolate is wasted on him. *shakes head sadly at the tragedy of that thought* Nonsense! Once you’ve read the first 200, it won’t feel so bad!

          Oh, one day you’ll have to buy one for your version of Giselle…

          • I eat chocolate here and there. And sometimes. That’s sorta like a record, you know. Muffins are better. *nods* 200?! I probably haven’t read 200 in my life!

            I don’t want a Giselle. Relationships are problems.

            • It’s been ages since I had any chocolate, I’ve just realised. Must fix that quickly! Chocolate muffins are the best. Oh, I bet you’ve read 2000!

              *tries not to laugh* That sounds heartfelt…

            • You haven’t had chocolate in ages? Haha. Yes, you’d better. Put some in your coffee, I say. 2000. Really? Now I’m the sudden proud.

              It is! Not that I’ve got experience. I just notice what others go through, see.

            • Seriously! They’ve redesigned the supermarket and I no longer have to pass the chocolate section to get to the cat-food section. It’s devastating! I never remember to detour till I’m home…

              *laughs* But there are good bits too…

            • Haha. I hate when they do that sort of thing. Throws off the groove. Get chocolate cashews next time you decide to detour. And…send them to me. Thank you and maybe one please.

              No there isn’t!!

            • It should be banned! I don’t think I’ve ever seen chocolate cashews, but I might get chocolate brazils. (And eat them all myself… *runs off*)

              *chuckles* Cupid has his work out, but he’ll get you in the end…

  4. I’m so very glad you liked this one as much as you did, FictionFan! I couldn’t agree more that it’s a really well-written mystery story. Yes, as you say, it’s sci-fi, and with some not very comforting commentary about the future of humanity. But I do like the character development for the most part (I must say it bothered me that the character of Lije’s wife, Jessie, is not, well exactly lifelike). Interesting solution to the puzzle, too…

    • I love the Elijah Bailey books, and it’s years since I read them so I couldn’t properly remember the plot, so it was like reading it for the first time. Haha! Yes, poor Jessie doesn’t come over terribly well, does she? One wonders what Mrs Asimov thought of the books…

  5. I’l have to try this. I’m in the mood for a good sci-fi murder mystery. Love the genre blend! Isaac Asmiov has tons of stories on robots! I can’t help thinking of his I, Robot stories.

    • Oh, do, then – I’m sure you’d enjoy it! Yes, he kind of brought all his different robot series together in the end, in the Foundation series. It’s so long since I read them all, I’ve sort of forgotten them – I was a huge Asimov fan as a teenager. But really, he’s had such an impact on sci-fi, especially robots, ever since…

  6. I don’t generally gravitate toward sci-fi, but I might have to make an exception for this one. Combining mystery with sci-fi sounds like a fascinating experiment, and I’d like to see how Asimov did it. Not only that, but a trip back to the ’50s? Cool, man!

    • He does it so well – it really stands up as a good well-plotted mystery as well as being proper ‘hard’ sci-fi. And his writing style is so easy to read – I find them real comfort reads. If you decide to go for it sometime, I hope you enjoy! 🙂

  7. Amazing! Only a man could create a futuristic plot and leave women in the kitchen cooking. I, for one, plan to have multiple robot wives to handle all of life’s unpleasantries. Bring it on! (Without all that apocalyptic messiness, of course.)

    • Hahaha! I know, right? I found myself wondering if he’d got his wife to read it before it went to the publishers – Elijah’s poor wife Jessie is… well, let’s just say a little intellectually challenged! But she’s awfully good at applying make-up… Now that’s an excellent idea! I’ve always wanted a robot husband (with an off-switch) to deal with those unpleasant little plumbing emergencies and such-like, but a robot wife sounds very appealing…

    • You should!! I was a huge fan in my teen years and love revisiting them from time to time. If mystery and sci-fi doesn’t appeal, then you could try The Gods Themselves – my favourite aliens of all time, great plot, and a really lovely kinda love story…

    • The Spacer worlds sound like they might be OK though, so the secret is to get on one of the first ships! I do hope you enjoy this – I love this slightly old-fashioned style of sci-fi before it got too mixed in with fantasy.

    • Yes, and though he’s not the most literary writer in the world (or should that be universes) his style is so easy to read. If your husband’s read any Asimov at all, I bet he’ll have read this one – it’s sort of where the whole robot thing began. Glad to hear the next generation is following in his father’s footsteps – Asimov is also extremely suitable for teenagers, IMO, though he might find it a bit out-dated.

  8. I took a sci fi and fantasy class in college because I thought it would be “cool,” but I actually had no idea what to expect. I love the old stories! I agree that the best part is comparing the authors’ ideas to what exists. For that reason, I don’t enjoy a lot of new sci fi or fantasy.

    • So much modern sci-fi is mixed with fantasy it’s quite hard to track down ones that are ‘proper’ sci-fi, I find. But the old ones tend to be looking much more at humanity than aliens which is why I like them. That, and the gadgets!

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