* The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

It’s been many years since I read Asimov’s Foundation (Foundation Novels), or any science fiction at all. Now, from my new perspective as a novelist myself, I see what I’ve been missing.

It’s absolutely fascinating to watch Asimov create a world that never was, and even more so when he addresses the challenge of creating R. Daneel Olivaw, a quite believable and even sympathetic character who happens to be a robot.

He starts by introducing another robot, R. Sammy, who is far less “human” than R. Daneel. Then he shows in several scenes how robots are despised and feared by humans on Earth. Then Detective Elijah Baley makes it clear he does not want to partner with R. Daneel, but has no choice.

Only after all that is R. Daneel himself introduced.

R. Daneel soon shows he is no ordinary robot by taking the initiative to quell a disturbance in a shoe store, an achievement Baley reluctantly admits to himself was impressive. When Baley takes R. Daneel home, his wife Jesse is attracted to the “man” she does not know is a robot.

The shoe store incident and Jesse’s reaction demonstrate that R. Daneel is close enough to human to fool other humans. R. Daneel then discloses to Baley that he is the first prototype of an advanced robot, more closely human, developed for the express purpose of interacting with humans to learn more about how humans think.

As the story progresses, the reader, along with Detective Baley, finds it increasingly easy to accept R. Daneel on his terms, within his limitations, and even to feel emotions for this constructed machine. A remarkable writing accomplishment by Asimov.

Written in 1953, and projecting 1000 years into the future, Asimov’s description of New York City is fascinating, not so much for the technology, where his imagination has not approached even what we already know has come to pass, but in the evolving relationships between people, and more importantly, between people and their government. Here, one fears, Asimov’s insights are too frighteningly accurate.


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