Book Discussion: The Caves of Steel - Post here AFTER you've finished. SPOILER ALERT!

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Book Discussion: The Caves of Steel - Post here AFTER you've finished. SPOILER ALERT!

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1clamairy
okt 1, 2007, 8:29am

If you've clicked here by mistake and you're NOT done with the book, then AVERT YOUR EYES!!!!

:o)

SPOILERS ABOUND!!!!

PROCEDE WITH CAUTION...

2Atomicmutant
okt 1, 2007, 1:11pm

Okey Dokey. Just finished this.

Well, hmm.

Pretty good. Just pretty good.

Somewhat Sherlock Holmes-ian, I guess, it is interesting to have a newfangled scenario for an oldfangled story. But I couldn't get up the gumption to care too much about the whole proceedings. Not a bad read, but nothing spectacular from my point of view.

I just finished reading Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond, (I highly recommend it) and he talks in that book about the problems that increased population pressure will cause for the planet. Asimov's exploration of those issues was pretty fascinating, but as a Science Fiction writer he has the easy out of there being other colonized worlds. I am not certain that we'll figure that out before our own "Pale Blue Dot" is creaking under our own weight.

So, diverting, but not awe-inspiring. A "beach read" sci-fi book, to
my way of thinking.

As I recall in the voting, there was the choice of Rendezvous with Rama. I picked that up when getting Caves of Steel, and I thought that book was absolutely amazing, one of the best science fiction books I've read. So if you were thinking about that one, by all means give it a shot.

3drneutron
okt 1, 2007, 1:37pm

There two interesting aspects of the book for me - and the mystery story itself wasn't one of them. First, I was interested to see the differences between the Spacer and Earther cultures as Asimov portrayed them. I thought his imagining was pretty plausible. The idea of a creaking Earth while people go blithely on their way resonates with the global warming discussions today.

Second, I was interested to see the reaction of the people to robots - especially the idea that robots would take people's jobs. Now, I know that automation was a big bugaboo in the '50s when this was written, but it really reminded me of the current globalization concerns people have today. The language being used could have come out of the newspapers.

A couple of things made the book less enjoyable for me, though. The mystery itself wasn't much to speak of. In fairness to Asimov, he probably wasn't going for a whodunit, but a vehicle to talk about these two societies and their different reactions to robot technology. The other thing I thought was a distraction was the technology advances that he just plain missed. There's no way I can hold him accountable for that, but as I read, I kept thinking, "Well, he got that wrong."

Bottom line: a good read, but not the deepest book around. I'd recommend it to people, especially if they want to go through the whole robot series.

4littlegeek
okt 1, 2007, 1:39pm

I voted for Caves of Steel because I wanted something cheesy and hadn't read Asimov is so many years, I wanted to see if it held up.

well, um, it didn't. Cheese factor was high, tho, so that was good.

Don't get me wrong, it was entertaining in a left-brained kind of way, but the interpersonal relations, especially between husband and wife, were really cringe-worthy. I feel for Mrs. Asimov.

It is fun to see what seemed futuristic and what now just looks like a dorky idea. Moving sidewalks, for instance (although I liked the idea of the juvenile delinquents using them for competition).

The mystery part was amaterish. I actually figured it out on page 9. I was hoping the glasses were a red herring, but sadly, no.

5xicanti
okt 1, 2007, 9:40pm

#3 - The mystery itself wasn't much to speak of. In fairness to Asimov, he probably wasn't going for a whodunit, but a vehicle to talk about these two societies and their different reactions to robot technology.

That's exactly what I found, and it's one of the reasons I was leery of tackling Asimov again. I tried the Foundation books five or six years ago, and was really put off by the way that character and plot took a backseat to his ideas about science and society.

I think it worked better here. The Caves of Steel may nominally be a sci fi mystery, but I'd say it's far more about the society than the murder. Asimov's used it as a vehicle for his ideas about futuristic living. Normally, I shy away from stories that are more about ideas than people, but this one hooked me in. I'm a sucker for an interesting setting, and this one is nicely developed. Some of the stuff is cheesy and some of it is pretty unlikely, but it's interesting nonetheless.

And a semi-related diversion, now: this is the second book I've read recently that's mentioned putting eyeshadow on the ears. Is this some weird fashion thing that I've somehow completely overlooked until now, or have two authors just come up with the same oddball makeup idea for their far-removed society?

6Arctic-Stranger
okt 1, 2007, 10:48pm

Heinlein did a story called "the Roads Must Roll." I read it in high school, so I dont remember where I read it, but it had rolling "sidewalks" too. I wonder who came first?

7dchaikin
Redigeret: okt 2, 2007, 9:40am

I liked it, but I took some things out to judge and gave other things a pass, just kind of left them as they were. It felt to me like the point of the book was to explore the possible relationships between humans and robots. So, the details of the futuristic world and the mystery (and the goofy Enderby character) were secondary. But, this wasn't designed to be a complete novel that covered every angle, where the author really thought everything through and reconstructed it in several different ways to make sure everything works. The novel only created an environment suitable to keep us reading and thinking about where robots might go. If the futuristic world doesn't hold up, I don't think that kills the story.

And, there are a few things to think about, like the biblical references and the religion-robotic relationships. And the ideas of how we can appreciate a robot for being more than just a machine.

I found the structure interesting. Asimov kept the suspense not so much by the mystery but with Baley. He's an oddball unpredictable character, capable of incredible stupidity... at least that is how I interpret the scene early on where he accuses Daneel of being human without actually doing any fact checking, or even simply testing Daneel a little. So, we never really know what Baley is up to, or what he is going to do, or even whether he is really "good" or "bad". His morals aren't ours and there are several ways he could have turned out.

8dchaikin
okt 2, 2007, 9:36am

#4 littlegeek
- Just curious, did you only figure out the who the murderer was by page 9, or did you understand the whole event? I'm usually clueless, but early I thought it likely the broken glasses were related to the murder, I just couldn't figure out how.

Also, about that cringe-worthy husband-wife thing - that was intentional, no? It added to the dystopian feel - all that patting and lack of communication and surficial affection.

9littlegeek
okt 2, 2007, 10:52am

#8 Of course I didn't figure out all the details on page 9! I just picked out the who of whodunnit. Since he really didn't introduce too many other characters, there wasn't much to figure out, mysterywise. The mystery wasn't really the important part of the story, tho.

About the cringe-worthiness, part of that was the '50's-ish attitude in a "futuristic" setting. Just one of those "got that wrong" kind of things, which are especially amusing when they miss a social change about to happen in the next decade IRL.

Can anyone tell me why they had that biblical discussion? It just seemed thrown in there. Like Asimov forgot which book he was writing.

10dchaikin
okt 2, 2007, 1:23pm

How conservative and/or religious were the 1950's? The Caves of Steel dates from 1954, a time I would think would be super conservative. But then On the Road was written in 1951. Ok, wait, this is way off topic, forget I asked.

As for the biblical discussion, I think he was experimenting with humanizing the machines. I think he took an issue that has some emotional (and literary?) charge and threw it in there to see what would happen. Also, I think he was curious how religion would fare in a time where the earth is very very small.

11Choreocrat
okt 2, 2007, 9:15pm

In some ways to me it seemed that he was trying to write a noir sci-fi B-movie, and then added the social stuff to make it deep. The visuals he gave (describing the Spacer differences from the Earthers, the strip-running, the final countdown at the end) made me think of a less worthy version of Bladerunner (yes, I know, nothing like that existed then, but that's the style I pictured it in). The strip running was the most intense visual for me - it seemed like it would become an important feature of any film of it (did they use it in I,Robot?) as an action scene.

I enjoyed reading it (more than I expected, given I didn't make it through Foundation), but I enjoy reading a lot of trash and don't always notice the difference.

OK, that was rather disjointed. Now I see why I almost failed English in first year uni...

12readafew
okt 2, 2007, 10:08pm

Just finished again, I read it years ago in middle/high school. I remembered who did it and how they did it and even why, what I didn't remember was all the hoops Baley jumped through and false starts and HOW he actually got the perp.

Reading it this time the big thing that kept making me shake my head was his population figures. 8 billion. we're almost there now 50 years later and this was supposed to be 3000+ years in the future, hmmm.

Many things you need to forgive being written in the 50's. I do find it interesting that he designed a the 'Moving sidewalks' and had them be a central part of the world and even gave it some legitimacy by giving little bits of culture surrounding it, like the lost and found and the strip racing. Even though to much thought and it made them seem almost impossible to implement.

Asimov's stories are all fun and have interesting ideas to think about and lots of I guess 'cheese'.

13maggie1944
okt 3, 2007, 9:40am

Finished. I had thought we were waiting until mid-Oct. to start the discussion so I am impressed with myself for being able to step up the reading. So little time, so many books. OK, I know you've heard that before.

I enjoyed being reminded of some of the main threads of thinking in the 1950's. The Biblical references remind me of the whole anti-communist pro-individualism Western thought movement easily recollected by thinking on Barry Goldwater's run for the Presidency. There were some radical right-wing organizations (The Minutemen, maybe?) then and one of Goldwater's famous quotes was something like - extremism in the defence of liberty is no crime. Also, the whole overpopulation thing was big in the collective mind. People were very serious about "zero population growth".

But clearly Asimov was not afraid of the robots. I liked it that robots were not all bad. I even kinda liked R. Daneel, maybe I'd be willing to take him for a spin especially if he could remember all those names and dates I keep forgetting.

I found the ending a bit tedious. OK, lets explain the mystery....ta da ta da ta da.... I confess mysteries in general are in my blind spot. I very seldom read any "who done it".

In the end, I enjoyed the book but it was not gripping. I look forward to our next endeavor.

14JPB
okt 3, 2007, 2:10pm

Good grief, I read this book when I was 11, and part of the charm of reading it was trying to see how well it held up. I also know where Asimov went with his writing (into non-fiction), and some of his biography.

Well, his primary goal in writing this book was to prove that you could put a traditional mystery (think: Ellery Queen pulp magazine) in a sci-fi setting. To that degree, he succeeds - because he shows the format is possible. The mystery itself is secondary to his playing with his robots, and yes, in the 1950s, with B-movie monsters, it was probably very refreshing to see robots that were not the bad guy, and that the robot creators had more morals than Dr. Frankenstein.

In this book, Asimov created the environment he preferred. He wanted to stay indoors, and have a whole society that shared his phobias and nervous ticks about travel and the outdoors. (He didn't fly because there was too much 'space' around him - he wanted to stay on the ground. Note that people travel underground or on very fast expressways here.)

Yes, the story is a moderately good 'easy read'. But that's all I really thought it would be, and that's all Asimov's writing really is. He was the best first-draft-writer in the business, but he rarely went beyond that first draft. (I think his The Gods Themselves transcended his other work by a mile, but that's a different story.)

As to the behavior between husband and wife, Asimov was used to writing for puritanical editors, esp. Campbell. His stories suffered from this training for decades.

As to Rama, as posted elsewhere, I think that is by far a better book, but to me, the point of "Classic SF" is to read something that would be all about rockets and robots and computers, and be at home in the pulp magazines.

15Jim53
okt 3, 2007, 10:14pm

It's hard to think of much to say about this book. The idea that people couldn't go outside the city enough to go around the wall was interesting. I thought the wife's motivation ("you took away the naughty aspect of my name, so i guess I'll have to go join a reactionary group") was hilariously bad and pretty pointless except as a distraction. Everything took a back seat to logic, a it usually did with IA. I would have liked to care about something, but I never did get drawn in. Bailey was the only character anywhere near rounded, but his actions often seemed disjointed and not connected to any guiding ideas. I wasn't expecting anythng close to say, LeGuin or even Kress for characterization, of course, but this was pretty much a Saturday morning cartoon.

16dchaikin
okt 4, 2007, 10:12am

Tossing out a random idea I came across this morning from Plato's "Myth of the Cave." I had never heard of this until I read about this morning (in Sophie's World). The myth goes something like this: there is a group that lives in a cave and only looks inward. There is a wall, and hidden on the other side of this wall is tons of interesting activity, illuminated by a fire. All the cave dwellers can only see the wall and the flickering shadows on the ceiling from the light of the fire. One person goes over the wall and discovers all the wonders and color. When they return and try to tell everyone they get executed (the reference is likely to Socrates).

So, is there a relationship here? Is the New York City cave of steel Plato's cave?

17readafew
Redigeret: okt 4, 2007, 10:19am

You know, I've never heard Plato's cave in that format, but I never thought of the title Caves of Steel in relation to it. VERY interesting and I can see where it could have influenced Asimov. Did he ever write about that?

Added: I mean did he ever say Plato's Cave was an inspiration?

18dchaikin
okt 4, 2007, 10:23am

readafew, Can you enlighten me? In what format have you heard about Plato's cave? (I have never read it)

19readafew
okt 4, 2007, 10:40am

Here's a quick version

Imagine prisoners who have been chained since childhood deep inside a cave. Not only are their limbs immobilized by the chains, their heads are as well so that their eyes are fixed on a wall. Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way, along which men carry shapes of various animals, plants, and other things. The shapes cast shadows on the wall, which occupy the prisoners' attention. Also, when one of the shape-carriers speaks, an echo against the wall causes the prisoners to believe that the words come from the shadows. The prisoners engage in what appears to us to be a game—naming the shapes as they come by. This, however, is the only reality that they know, even though they are seeing merely shadows of images.

Suppose a prisoner is released and compelled to stand up and turn around. His eyes will be blinded by the firelight, and the shapes passing will appear less real than their shadows. Similarly, if he is dragged up out of the cave into the sunlight, his eyes will be so blinded that he will not be able to see anything. At first, he will be able to see darker shapes such as shadows, and only later brighter and brighter objects. The last object he would be able to see is the sun, which, in time, he would learn to see as that this it is that provides the seasons and the courses of the year and presides over all things in the visible region, and is in some sort the cause of all these things that they had seen.

Once thus enlightened, so to speak, the freed prisoner would no doubt want to return to the cave to free "his fellow bondsmen". The problem however is that they would not want to be freed: descending back into the cave would require that the freed prisoner's eyes adjust again, and for a time, he would be inferior at the ludicrous process of identifying shapes on the wall. This would make his fellow prisoners murderous toward anyone who attempted to free them.


Though in general many take the story to be we see what we want to see and miss out on the rest of the world and will fight to keep from having to change our beliefs. To many of us it's the shadows which are real.

In today's culture he might have used a movie screen with the audience stuck in their chairs...

20dchaikin
okt 4, 2007, 10:48am

#19: Wow, I was way off. Thanks!

21Busifer
Redigeret: okt 5, 2007, 7:38am

So. Finished yesterday, but when I started to write LT went down. And as it was late I turned the computer off and went to bed instead ;-)

I don't know if I remembered the who of whodunnit from previous readings ages ago or if I took my guess from blank brain, but I knew right on. What drove me on was interest in his discussion of the ideas rather than anything else. Length of story was appropriate - had it been longer odds are I had not finished.

The book I read right before this one was Downbelow station and I was amazed as how well they played together; reading The Caves of Steel immediately after made me see how early Cherryh works fits in the tradition. The whole setting of earth/spacer reminded me of Company/Union, in a way.
And while the details may be way off I think he had the general picture right.

I had no memory of the religious undertones going through. Probably because it did not register when I was 13. Today it registered and its presence annoyed me. Hard to put the finger on why - as he had to tell the relevant stories probably means he did not think the original audience would know about them by mention of name alone. At the same time he implies most people on the planet would know in 3000 years.
I'm not finished thinking about this, and I'm not sure a novel like The Caves of Steel merits a big share of my "thinking time". Anyway, no one else has mentioned this so I thought I do so.

*Edited for new try on touchstones. Didn't work this time either :-( *

22reading_fox
okt 5, 2007, 7:29am

Interesting comparison to C J Cherryh's Alliance universe. Never thought about that. Cherryh's early work is 70s? Compared to Caves, which was 50s?

*mild spoiler*
later on the empire sequence those initial 50 robot worlds become pariah's much like the Union is/does although I don't know if there is a period of war?
*end*

The concept of different expansions producing differently "normal" populations particularly earth/spacer but also different spacer is quite popular though. My favourite take is Alistair Reynolds various versions.

grr. dead touchstones again.

23Arctic-Stranger
okt 5, 2007, 5:53pm

As to the Biblical references:

Elijah took on the prophets of Ba'al in the book of Kings. (Elijah Baley...get it?) This was the story where he set up an altar, challenges the prophets of Ba'al to set up an altar, and the first god to smoke their altar won.

Think of Elijah as conserving the traditions of Israel (This is a northern Kingdom story) and the prophets of Ba'al representing radical change.

Jezebel was of course the wife of Ahab, and was on the prophet's side...even threatening Elijah's life when he had the prophets killed. (On Mt. Carmel...rhymes with Daneel?)

Anyone want to run with any of this?

24Arctic-Stranger
okt 5, 2007, 5:56pm

Oh, and after Elijah has the prophets killed, he runs from Jezebel, and holes up in a cave. (Not of steel, but a cave.) There he "hears" the voice of God, that comes, not in the wind, nor in earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the "still, small voice" (literally in Hebrew the "thundering silence"). He is transformed by his time in the cave, comes out, and reestablished his ministry as a prophet.

25Busifer
okt 5, 2007, 6:29pm

Yes, but what is Mr Asimov trying to say?
I have no problem seeing the likenesses, I just wonder if he had some issues with christians and partly wrote the story as a polemic piece?

26dchaikin
okt 8, 2007, 1:35pm

#23 - I tried, but I can't make any sense out of it.

27JPB
okt 8, 2007, 1:58pm

#25 - Well, Asimov was very transparent in his autobiographies. He wanted to do three things with Caves of Steel, if I remember rightly.

First, he wanted to show he could write a novel-length robot story.

Second, he wanted to show he could write a science fiction "traditional whodunnit mystery" (they really didn't exist before him).

Third, in the world, he wanted to describe a world that HE would like to live in - and he always wanted to live underground in a huge city.

Asimov was rather simple that way...

28Busifer
okt 8, 2007, 2:39pm

#27 - And so he wanted to live in a world I would call a dystopia.
Good thing not everyone is alike ;-)

29clamairy
Redigeret: okt 8, 2007, 3:16pm

Really, I'm with Busifer. He wanted to live in that world? It sounded awful to me! Something like college dorms in an over-crowded city must be. LOL

I did enjoy the book, but I can't say I'd be recommending it to anyone except as a study of what SciFi 'used' to be like.

I also figured out who did it right away. Although I mistakenly thought the blaster was built into the guys glasses, somehow.

30Morphidae
okt 8, 2007, 5:18pm

I read the ending to see who did it. Read about the "glasses" clue and STILL didn't have a clue how it related to the ending until I read that section. I'm really bad when it comes to figuring out these things.

31littlegeek
okt 8, 2007, 8:58pm

Needing to suck up to the man for private bathroom privileges was his best idea for a world? Dude was very, very strange.

32JPB
okt 8, 2007, 9:59pm

Well, Asimov was a person who loved tiny crowded spaces and such. He said as a kid his ideal job was to work at a subway magazine stand, around the bustle of people, being able to read the magazines as he sold them.

I think in this case, he was a really kind guy with his own peculiarities.. But it made him the ideal New Yorker. Think of Woody Allen - can you see him on a wide-open ranch in Montana? Anywhere else but the 30th floor of some building in NYC?

33sandragon
okt 8, 2007, 11:56pm

But he wrote into the story the problems of living in such crowded conditions in a giant enclosed area. Maybe he would have liked to live that way but it seemed like he didn't believe it was an ideal solution for society in general. Otherwise why try to convince Earthers to emigrate to other planets? He wrote about the practical starvation and hopelessness of the declassified, and the monotony and tastelessness of yeast food. The apple that Baley ate when he met the Spacer was like ambrosia. I have a hard time believing Asimov had really wanted to live in Baley's world.

34JPB
okt 9, 2007, 12:23am

He wanted the underground/close-proximity. He didn't want the bad food or the shared latrines. ;D

35katylit
okt 9, 2007, 5:29pm

Just finished. I found the biblical discussions interesting too, thinking how unlikely it will be that 3000 years from now people will be that knowledgable about biblical stories - maybe? maybe not?

The claustraphobic atmosphere has had me appreciating the wide open spaces of my house and the surrounding countryside!

And I couldn't help but notice how Asimov obviously was the inspiration for Roddenberry's 'Data" - Daneel really reminded me of Data, and Philip K. Dick's Blade Runner. The question that Dr. Gerrigel asks Daneel: "If I have two cousins, five years apart in age and the younger is a girl, what sex is the older?" seems very similar to the questions Deckard asks the replicants.

It was fun to go down memory lane again and read some '50s SF. I used to devour this stuff when I was younger, yup, Saturday morning cartoon stuff, good analogy.

I do like the Rama books, they've always captured my imagination, the adventure of exploring such a massive spacecraft, wondering who built it etc. I found them to be great books, esp. the earlier ones.

36hobbitprincess
okt 9, 2007, 9:20pm

I just finished it myself. I figured out the whodunit pretty quickly too, but I kept hoping that maybe I was supposed to think that, only to find out in the end that it was someone else entirely. Frankly, as I was sitting here reading those last few pages, I kept falling asleep!
The whole idea of eating yeast in whatever form is downright disgusting to me, as is the idea of living in the City.
As for the Biblical references, I'm not sure what to make of them. To be honest, I don't know much about Asimov and nothing at all about his religious beliefs. I am guessing that maybe Elijah of the Bible was more widely known then than it is today. I was born in 1961, but I remember the Bible being on the teacher's desk and stories being read out of it everyday.

37frithuswith
okt 10, 2007, 6:06am

I actually found the fact that people still knew about religion in 3000 years kind of refreshing. So often in sci-fi it seems that religion is something that humanity will grow out of so it's only primitive tribes or people who choose to live outside of modern technology that actually still believe those silly fairy tales. Here it seemed slightly less clear cut. Perhaps it could be argued that it was a dystopia, which is why religion is still around (the opiate of the masses and all that jazz) although given Asinov seemed to be in favour of the vast metal caves thing perhaps it's not quite that straightforward. Anyway, I liked the fact that religion wasn't just painted as some quaint folk belief!

As for thoughts on the rest of the book, I was (as ever) completely blind to the whole thing, which is a skill I rather enjoy as it means I can enjoy dodgy mysteries without working things out to spoil it for me. I agree with other posters though that it was basically really just a fun read!

14> I'm interested to hear that you think The Gods Themselves transcends all his other work - it was the first Asimov I read and I loved it. I even used one of the character names as my screen name for years, until I discovered that it's also supplication in Islam, which seemed slightly inappropriate as a username for a Christian somehow....

38sandragon
okt 10, 2007, 12:05pm

At first I had my suspicions that it was the commissioner who-did-it, but then Asimov duped me with that thing Daneel can do, the cerebroanalysis. Once Daneel explained how it couldn't have been the commissioner I let myself be sidetracked.

It amazed me how many times Baley could be so completely and outspokenly wrong. Kind of reminded me of Inspector Clouseau. It was driving me nuts how he never checked his facts.

39JPB
okt 10, 2007, 12:12pm

The Gods Themselves is a unique work by Asimov. It isn't one of the Empire or Robot works... in that way it's like The End of Eternity (which unfortunately, got tied into Empire/Robot at the end...)

The aliens in that book are truly, wonderfully alien. If Asimov wrote all of his books like this one, his work would age better... but even in this novel, having an issue of the day (dealing with pollution/waste) a centerpiece of the novel dates it...