Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Caves of Steel 1990s cover The Caves of Steel (1953,1954)
A Robot Novel

Current Bantam Spectra paperback
cover art by Stephen Youll
270 pages (left)

1950s Signet Books edition
189 pages (right)
Caves of Steel 1950s cover

Character list
More Caves of Steel covers
Our book ratings
Aaron's Commentary
Isaac Asimov bibliography

From the back cover of the current paperback:
       Like most people left behind on an overpopulated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions.  But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to the Outer Worlds to help track down the killer.
       The relationship between Lije and his Spacer superiors, who distrusted all Earthmen, was strained from the start.  Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw.  Worst of all was that the "R" stood for robot - and his positronic partner was made in the image and likeness of the murder victim!

From the back cover of the 1950s paperback:
       Murder - in the steel cities of tomorrow .  Here's a unique, double barreled reading treat for both science fiction and mystery fans...Asimov's The Caves of Steel - murder in the future - with a brilliant detective and an almost-human robot as his aide!

From the inside cover of the book club omnibus edition (cover not shown):
       The Caves of Steel takes place on a future Earth which is bursting at the seams with eight billion inhabitants. Mankind has long been split into two hostile camps: the Spacers, who live in luxury on their uncrowded worlds, and Earthmen, who live in vast underground cities which have truly become caves of steel.
       Robots have been introduced on Earth which are gradually replacing human beings on many jobs, and a fanatical secret society exists, dedicated to the destruction of all robots. It is from the hysteria of the times that a dreadful murder is committed - a murder that may have dire consequences for everyone on Earth.
       The dead man was both a noted robot scientist and a Spacer.  The Spacers, who have a settlement near New York City, insist that the murderer is an Earthman.  Unless he is quickly caught, the powerful Spacer worlds may exact crippling reparations from an already strained Earth.
       When Police Detective Elijah Baley finds himself assigned to the case, he is swept into one of the most emotionally charged and dangerous situations in Earth's history.  And to make matters worse, he is ordered to accept a robot as a partner - a super advanced robot who was developed by the murdered Spacer scientist!

Read for group discussion on February 28, 2001

Characters - The Caves of Steel
Lije (Elijah) Baley - Police detective, C-5 rating
R. Daneel Olivaw - a very human looking robot, Lije's partner
Julius Enderby - Commissioner of Police in New York City
Jessie (Jezebel) Baley - Lije's wife
R. Sammy - police department robot
Dr. Han Fastolfe - Spacer in Spacetown
Dr. Anthony Gerrigel - roboticist
Bentley (Ben) Baley - Jessie and Lije's teenage son
Mr. Francis Clousarr - Yeast factory chemist, Medievalist
Elizabeth Thornbowe - a Medievalist
Dr. Sarton - Spacer, murder victim, Doctor of Sociology
Medievalism - back to the old ways City movement
(women's or men's) Personal - bathroom
strips - speedily moving sidewalks
motorway - empty, underground service roads
C/Fe culture - humans and robots working together

Caves of Steel 1970s cover more book covers
The Caves of Steel

1970s Fawcett paperback
191 pages (left)

1980s Del Rey paperback
Cover art by Michael Whelan
268 pages (right)
Caves of Steel 1980s cover

How we each rated this book
Dan 7 Amy 7 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 7 Barb 7
Aaron 9 Cynthia 7
Lucy 6 Jackie 8

Aaron's Commentary  Isaac Asimov - The Caves of Steel

I enjoyed The Caves of Steel more than I expected to.  In particular, the science fiction detective story format worked much better than I anticipated.  For many years I put off reading this book for fear that it would be just a standard whodunit dressed up in SF trappings.  Instead, it's a terrific SF novel that happens to have a detective story driving the plot, just as another SF novel might have a love story or a quest driving its plot.

The characterization of Baley and Olivaw is very good.  Baley's foibles and fallibility made him far more interesting than your typical Hercule Poirot-style supersleuth. Olivaw demonstrates Asimov's knack for writing appealing robot characters.  He always behaves logically and within the parameters of his programming, yet somehow manages to convey his own personality and to display a sense of loyalty.  The side characters are not as strong, particularly the wife (even if having her self-image derive from her name was a nice touch).

I was very interested in the setting, Asimov's clustered, agoraphobic society.  I find it an unlikely scenario for the future - it's hard to imagine people living their entire lives indoors when green pastures are right outside an unlocked door - but Asimov made it seem plausible.

The novel is filled with other great SF concepts: the use of robots to examine topical issues of prejudice and racism; the notion of C/Fe, a philosophy of diversity that may have inspired Gene Roddenberry's comparable concept of IDIC; the illustration of the dangers of stagnation in its various forms, including both the endless struggle to survive in the communistic system on Asimov's future Earth, as well as the privileged complacency of the Outer Worlds.  In hindsight, with the Outer Worlds' form of stagnation, Asimov may have identified the greatest danger that our society now faces.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Our book group has also read the following books by Isaac Asimov:
-- Foundation  in November 1994
-- I, Robot  in June 1997
-- The Gods Themselves   in May 2003

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was an amazingly prolific writer, and arguably the most important science fiction author of the Twentieth Century (Robert Heinlein being the other leading contender).

1963 Hugo Award "for putting the science in science fiction"
1966 Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series for The Foundation Series
1973 Nebula Award for Best Novel for The Gods Themselves
1973 Hugo Award for Best Novel for The Gods Themselves
1977 Nebula Award for Best Novelette for "The Bicentennial Man"
1977 Hugo Award for Best Novelette for "The Bicentennial Man"
1983 Hugo Award for Best Novel for Foundation's Edge
1986 Nebula Grand Master Award
1992 Hugo Award for Best Novelette for "Gold"
1996 Retro-Hugo Award for Best Novel of 1945 for The Mule (Part II of Foundation and Empire)

Robot / Foundation Series
(in order of internal chronology)
The Caves of Steel (1954)
The Naked Sun (1957)
The Robots of Dawn (1983)
Robots and Empire (1985)
Prelude to Foundation (1988)
Forward the Foundation (1993)
Foundation (1951)
Foundation and Empire (1952)
Second Foundation (1953)
Foundation's Edge (1982)
Foundation and Earth (1986)

Asimov began his writing career with "Marooned Off Vesta" in the March 1939 issue of Amazing Stories, and wrote for publication almost without pause for the next fifty plus years. Over this span, he wrote well over 250 non-fiction books and better than 200 books of fiction (although just over half of his fiction credits are anthologies he co-edited, most of which were assembled by Martin H. Greenberg).

In the early 1940's, under the tutelage of John W. Campbell, Jr., Asimov made his reputation through his short stories. These included "Nightfall," regarded by many as the greatest science fiction story ever written; the stories that were later assembled as the Foundation Trilogy - Foundation (1951, also titled The 1,000 Year Plan), Foundation and Empire (1952, also titled The Man Who Upset the Universe) and Second Foundation (1953) - intoducing Hari Seldon's hypothetical science of psychohistory; and the earliest of his robot stories, featuring the three laws of robotics, which were later collected in I, Robot (1950) and Eight Stories from the Rest of the Robots (1966). Many of the stories in these two collections were later reprinted in The Complete Robot (1982), Robot Dreams (1986), and Robot Visions (1990), with some new robot stories added.

In the 1950's, Asimov turned to writing novels, beginning with Pebble in the Sky (1950), The Stars, Like Dust (1951, vt The Rebellious Stars), and The Currents of Space (1952), all of which were set earlier in the future history of the galactic empire featured in the Foundation series. His novel-length work is generally considered (including by Asimov himself) to have improved with The End of Eternity (1955), a time travel novel, and The Caves of Steel (1954) and The Naked Sun (1957), SF mystery novels that featured detective Lije Baley and his robot companion R. Daneel Olivaw. Baley would return later in Asimov's career in The Robots of Dawn (1983).

Collections of Asimov's short SF from this first phase of his career include The Martian Way and Other Stories (1955), Earth Is Room Enough (1957), Nine Tomorrows (1959), Asimov's Mysteries (1968) (which is a collection of Asimov's science fiction, not of his mysteries - go figure), Nightfall and Other Stories (1969), The Early Asimov (1972), and The Best of Isaac Asimov (1973).

During the 50's, Asimov also wrote a series of juvenile science fiction novels, originally printed under the pseudonym Paul French: David Starr, Space Ranger (1952), Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953), Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954), Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury (1956), Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter (1957), and Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn (1958). 

Later on, he co-authored another series of young adult SF novels with his wife Janet Asimov (a/k/a J.O. Jeppson): Norby, the Mixed-up Robot (1983), Norby's Other Secret (1984), Norby and the Lost Princess (1985), Norby and the Invaders (1985), Norby and the Queen's Necklace (1986), Norby Finds a Villain (1987), Norby Down to Earth (1988), Norby and Yobo's Great Adventure (1989), Norby and the Oldest Dragon (1990), and Norby and the Court Jester (1993). Other novels for juveniles of his were The Best New Thing (1971) and The Heavenly Host (1975).

Between 1958 and 1980, Asimov's science fiction output was relatively small, as he focused his energies on writing non-fiction. His only important novel during that period was The Gods Themselves (1972), which won a Hugo and Nebula award for best novel. Most of his short SF from this time is collected in Buy Jupiter, and Other Stories (1975) and The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories (1976).

From the early 80's, beginning with Foundation's Edge (1982), for which he won his second best novel Hugo award, Asimov again devoted himself to writing SF. Over the next decade he added six novels to his Robot and Foundation series, joining the two sequences into a single future history. He also wrote a stand-alone novel, Nemesis (1989). Asimov's important collections of short SF during this last phase of his career include The Winds of Change and Other Stories (1983), The Edge of Tomorrow (1985), The Best Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov (1986), The Asimov Chronicles (1989), and Gold (1995). He also published two collections of fantasy short stories, Azazel (1988) and Magic (1996).

Other SF novels to Asimov's credit include Fantastic Voyage (1966) and Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987), both based upon the movie, and three novels expanded by Robert Silverberg from classic Asimov short stories: Nightfall (1990), The Ugly Little Boy (1992, vt Child of Time), and The Positronic Man (1993, expansion of "The Bicentennial Man")

Asimov also frequently wrote mystery stories. His two mystery novels were The Death Dealers (1958, also titled A Whiff of Death) and Murder at the ABA (1976, also titled Authorized Murder), in which one of the suspects is Isaac Asimov. His numerous mystery short stories told in the Black Widowers Club are collected in Tales of the Black Widowers (1974), More Tales of the Black Widowers (1976), Casebook of the Black Widowers (1980), Banquets of the Black Widowers (1984), and Puzzles of the Black Widowers (1990). His other mystery shorts are collected in The Key Word and Other Mysteries (1977), The Union Club Mysteries (1983), The Disappearing Man and Other Stories (1985), and The Best Mysteries of Isaac Asimov (1986).

Asimov also wrote several books of humor, including The Sensuous Dirty Old Man (1971, originally published as by "Dr. A"), Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor (1971), and Asimov Laughs Again (1992). He also penned multiple collections of dirty limericks: Lecherous Limericks (1975), More Lecherous Limericks (1976), Still More Lecherous Limericks (1977), Limericks: Too Gross (1978, with John Ciardi), A Grossary of Limericks (1981, with John Ciardi), and (not quite as dirty) Limericks for Children (1984).

Asimov edited or co-edited over 100 SF and other anthologies. Of particular note are Before the Golden Age (1974), in which Asimov himself selected some of his favorite stories from 1931-1938; Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories, collecting in 24 volumes notable stories from 1939-1962; and the first seven volumes of The Hugo Winners, presenting winners of short fiction Hugo awards.

Asimov's first non-fiction book was an advanced textbook, with Burnham Walker and William C. Boyd, Biochemistry and Human Metabolism (1952). He went on to publish dozens of collections of science essays and well over 200 other books of non-fiction spanning nearly every conceivable subject, including (with selected examples): General Science (Asimov's Guide to Science, 1972), Astronomy (The Universe, 1966), Biology (The Human Brain, 1964), Chemistry (Building Blocks of the Universe, 1957), Earth Sciences (The Ends of the Earth, 1975), Mathematics (Realm of Algebra, 1961), Physics (Understanding Physics, 1966, three volumes), History (Asimov's Chronology of the World, 1991), Literature (Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare, 1970, two volumes), Bible Studies (Asimov's Guide to the Bible, 1968, two volumes), and Science Fiction (Asimov on Science Fiction, 1981).

Asimov's non-fiction interests encompassed, of course, Isaac Asimov himself. Asimov's books about Asimov included Opus 100 (1969), Opus 200 (1979), and Opus 300 (1984), each giving his thoughts on reaching those milestones in publishing (one can only marvel at the self-restraint that prevented an Opus 400); his two-volume autobiography, In Memory Yet Green (1979) and In Joy Still Felt (1980); and his memoir, I. Asimov (1994).

Thanks to Aaron for this "necessarily lengthy" Asimov bibliography

Our book club's page for Asimov's The Gods Themselves
Wikipedia - Isaac Asimov
The Caves of Steel - Wikipedia
Kaedrin's Guide to Isaac Asimov

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This page was last updated October 17, 2008