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77 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2004
The only reason I've rated this book only four stars is because some of Asimov's later books in the same series, written later in his career (Naked Sun, Robots of Dawn) get even better. However, this is where you need to begin--don't jump ahead. This is a thought-provoking and entertaining read in its own right.
Asimov combines the mystery genre and many of his futurist ideas together in this series. You'll enter a world where people live underground because there isn't enough living space, and where many people have grown resentful of robots that are taking over jobs that humans once held. Not only do you get to experience a great mystery-adventure, but you're also exploring the social consequences of near-human robots and the continued urbanization of the Earth.
Daneel Olivaw, the robot partner to detective Elijah Baley, is one of the most memorable characters in the field of speculative fiction.
This is the best place to start reading Asimov. If you enjoy this, you will absolutely love the sequels. After reading the Robots books, try the Foundation series, which starts slower but gets very good--and ultimately rewards readers of the Robot books by tieing it all together.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 1999
This is one of Asimov's best science fiction novels. The description of New York, in a future where Earth's cities are built underground (for fear of attack from other planets colonised by humans), is totally convincing. The people of Earth are agorophobic and live in standardised, basic conditions due to overpopulation and scarcity of resources. Asimov's description is fascinating. The novel also deals with robots in detail, according to Asimov's famous Three Laws which govern their behaviour. Asimov writes some very interesting speculation on robot psychology and attitude towards humans, and their attitude towards the robots. This novel really shows Asimov's talent for writng intelligent science fiction and plausible future history. It is mainly a mystery story, and althogh I haven't read many detective novels, I thoght it was well written and the ending was surprising. Before reading this novel, I would recommend reading Asimov's short stories dealing with robots. These deal with the early development of robots, and make what happens in this book clearer. 'The Caves of Steel' is followed by more Robot novels, and then the Galactic Empire and Foundation novels. You should read the whole series, but make sure you read them in order. Like all of Asimov's novels, this book has a clever plot and is very thought provoking. A must if you're a serious science fiction fan.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2002
Caves of Steel is one of Asimov's best books (well, truthfully the same can be said of every Asimov book I've read). As Asimov does so well, the book is written on multiple levels and they are all interesting and engaging.
At first glance, we have Elijah Bailey, the earther, a New Yorker of the future who lives in the vast underground city. Bailey is a cop put on the case of a murdered Spacer (those humans who have settled other planets). Bailey is teamed with another investigator R. Daneel Olivaw who we find out later, is a robot.
More than just your basic whodunit, this book deals with larger issues of the differences between people that keep them in fear and mistrust of each other. The Spacers who have embraced the outside world, who have embraced technology and robotics live in fear of the humans who stayed on earth. Those humans who live in extremely close contact with each other in teeming underground cities as they've all developed a fear of the open sky. The earthers loathe the Spacers for their superiority complex and the Spacers fear contamination from the earthers.
Bailey must overcome these inbred fears and bigotries when he must travel off planet with his partner, a robot, to deal with and solve a murder of a Spacer. Olivaw (who is a recurring character in many Asimov books) sort of becomes Bailey's moral compass and our guide through the physical and emotional journey Bailey takes.
The book is a quick read and it's good old sci fi at its best. I recommend also reading "The Naked Sun" and "The Robots of Dawn" which also feature Bailey and Olivaw.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2007
A thousand years ago, mankind began the process of leaving mother Earth and colonizing the galaxy. Fifty planets have been now been colonized by thinly spread populations of hardy pioneering spirits - rough and ready types willing to work in hostile environments with robots as help-mates and partners - and it is obvious that mankind has evolved down two diverging sociological paths. The Earthmen - those who chose to stay at home in tightly cramped almost global city hives under the pressure of explosive population growth, an incredibly strict socialist regime and diminishing available resources - have grown timid of the slightest exposure to outside light, weather and even "un-conditioned" air. Robots, seen as competing with humans for jobs, the only meager source of status in this highly regulated environment, are despised and feared. While diplomacy and trade are maintained between Earthmen and Spacers, relations are strained and mutual distrust bordering on hatred has become the norm.

When a Spacer is murdered by a visiting Earthman, the governments on both sides realize that the crime must be solved quickly and quietly to prevent a complete collapse of diplomatic relations and an explosion of tension into riots, chaos, open animosity, perhaps even a war! The Commissioner of the New York City police force orders Elijah Baley, an Earthman detective who doesn't like robots any more than the next guy, to check his emotions at the door and partner up with a Spacer robot, R Daneel Olivaw, to solve the crime.

"Caves of Steel", a classic novel from the pen of Isaac Asimov - one of the acknowledged giants of science fiction writing - can be enjoyed on so many different levels. On the surface, it's an exciting, tightly plotted and nicely conceived police procedural and standard mystery set in a fascinating futuristic setting with a completely unexpected ending twist. On a deeper level, it's a foreboding, grim, bleak look at the imagined social future of mankind unless population growth is brought under control and the problems of diminishing availability of food and energy resources are addressed and solved. Finally, "Caves of Steel" is one of the first of an intricate series of novels that explores Asimov's now famous "Three Laws of Robotics", the behaviour of robots with positronic brains indelibly programmed with these three laws and the potential interactions of these robots with predictably unpredictable humans.

A combination of the best of hard and soft science fiction from one of the very best science fiction writers who sadly is no longer with us! Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2004
In the future of Asimov's Caves of Steel, human society has been spit in two. On the Outer Worlds, 50 planets that had been colonized by humans, populations are low and humans work hand-in-hand with robots. On Earth, the population has exploded out of control, and the humans live in giant city-hives (the Caves of Steel mentioned in the title), and they never venture into the open air. They live in a tightly controlled socialist system and most humans detest robots as job-stealers. Elijah Baley, a police detective, gets a call from the New York City police commissioner. A Spacer, as the inhabitants of the Outer Worlds are known, has been murdered by an Earthman. If the crime isn't solved, then there will be terrible diplomatic problems for Earth which may even lead to the invasion of Earth by the Spacers. To help him out, he is given a Spacer partner who also happens to be an advanced robot. Can he get along with his partner? Can he avert the destruction of human society on Earth?
This is a very easy read. It's easy to see why Asimov is considered to be one of the best science fiction writers of all times. He keeps the plot twisting and surprises you in the end. Recently, we've been bombarded with the image of robots as out-of-control menaces. It's refreshing to see a robot as a true helper and friend fo mankind. I would like to see more emphasis on this type of robot in the future of science fiction. It give us more to think about when the danger in a story comes from human attitudes rather than from blood-thirsty robots. You really have to think about how you would react if you were placed in a similar situation. I'm really looking forward to reading the next book in this series.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 10, 2003
Ah, Asimov. There's something terribly cozy about his fiction. Even when it's a work that you haven't read before, there are always a few touchstones to make any story seem familiar. With almost any other author, this would be a criticism, but this isn't the case for Asimov. His body of work often overlapped, but he was talented enough never to make his stories seem repetitive.
THE CAVES OF STEEL almost feels like two different kinds of stories in one. In one sense, Asimov constructed a mystery novel within the trappings and conventions of the science-fiction genre. But he's also very interested in world-building. He goes to great lengths to describe what life will be like in his future. I was on a train from Connecticut to Maryland, and I was quite amused at passing through geographical locations that Asimov had futurized. New York becomes a gigantic enclosed City, and Asimov takes great care to describe what the layout will look like and what the transportation methods will be. New Jersey becomes a gigantic yeast farm, and I'll let readers of this review make their own New Jersey jokes at this time.
The main plot focuses on an unexplained murder, and Earth detective Lije Baley has been teamed with R. Daneel Olivaw, with the "R" standing for "Robot". Not only are anti-robot feelings running high on Earth, but there is also a lot of animosity between Earth and the colonies. So, the murder of an important "Spacer" attracts enough attention that the forces of both sides are brought together to discover the truth.
Creating fully fleshed out characters was not always Asimov's strongpoint, and many of the secondary people feel fairly flat. Fortunately, the two main detectives have been thought though fairly well. Of course, since one half of the team is robotic, Asimov was making things easier on himself since he did seem to enjoy creating robots as much as he enjoyed creating human characters. But the interplay between the Earther and the robot are just as good as anything Asimov wrote in I, ROBOT, or indeed, anything of his that I've read.
I read Asimov's final autobiography (he wrote three volumes over the years) a couple of years ago, and it's fascinating to see how much of himself he put in his stories. Asimov famously hated leaving his apartment, and was apparently uneasy about being in wide-open spaces. So it's not surprising to see that in the future of THE CAVES OF STEEL, mankind is overwhelmingly agoraphobic. When a robotics scientist is transported in to the story and gives a short lecture about how he hates flying, we know that this is Asimov himself expressing one of his own personality quirks. Little asides and pieces of dialog further this impression. When Baley delivers a speech about an Old Testament King, the tone is almost identical to that of some of Asimov's essays that deal with Biblical subjects.
Mystery and science fiction were the two fictional genres that I feel Asimov was the most successful at. Here, he combines these into one utterly engrossing story. The plot is a lot of fun, and so is the world-building that Asimov undertakes. But I think what I remember most about the book is the partnership of the two main characters. Having robots and humans intermingle is something that Asimov did quite a lot of in his novels and short stories, but I think the pairing in this book is probably one of his most successful. I already own the sequel to this book, THE NAKED SUN (yet another in my overflowing and increasing too-read pile), and I am already looking forward to being reunited with these two characters.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Take a complex scifi novel and meld it with a hardboiled mystery -- the result is "Caves of Steel." Isaac Asimov's most famous series continues with this book, a genre-bending trip into the future. Plenty of whodunnits and political tension, not to mention more robots.
Elijah Bailey, a cop in the future domed New York, is called to investigate a murder: a Spacer scientist was killed in Spacetown. Things get even worse when Lije is assigned a detective partner, Daneel Olivaw, who isn't just a Spacer -- but also a robot, albeit one who looks exactly like a human. Despite his dislike for Spacers and robots alike, Lije begins investigating the death of the scientist (who also created Daneel in his own image). Even so, his prejudices start to get in his way.
But the further Daneel and Lije dig, the more complex -- and sinister -- the mystery becomes. There are the Spacers, who have plans for Earth that almost no one knows about. There are the Medievalists, a growing faction of romantic-minded Earth citizens who long for the "good old days" and hate robots with a passion. And soon Lije discovers that the murderer might just be closer to him than he thinks...
"Caves" has aged remarkably well, considering that much of the futuristic stuff isn't particularly impressive anymore. But it's the layout of Asimov's futuristic civilization that is so impressive -- there are the overcrowded, resentful, technophobic Earth people, and the lofty, sparse, technology-loving Spacers. The vast cultural differences and friction give a feeling of deep realism. Neither civilization is portrayed as being wholly bad or good -- each has its moral and logical pros and cons. Are we headed for this? Maybe. Asimov doesn't preach too hard.
There are also deeper currents to a book that seems, on the surface, to be a straightforward SF/mystery. Asimov explores the mistrust, fear, lack of logic, and ignorance that keep people apart. The Spacers and Earth people have let their differences become mistrust: The overcrowded Earth people are crammed like sardines, with little food and highly regulated lives. The Spacers are underpopulated, live in luxury, and are assisted by robots.
Lije is a likable guy from the start; Asimov doesn't make him brilliant (he makes two erroneous accusions before figuring out the mystery) or lacking in biases. But he is determined to overcome his own shortcomings; his open-minded attitude is well-done. Daneel makes up for Lije's shortcomings by being logical and unbiased, but he doesn't have Lije's imagination.
A must-read for fans of science fiction and mystery, but also an intriguing read for anyone, and a captivating book for those who enjoyed "I Robot."
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 1999
Ultimate sci-fi murder mystery! Elijah Baley is one of the best written detectives in history, and certainly gives old Sherlock Holmes a run for his money. This is the second book in by far the greatest sci-fi saga ever written. A must read for sci-fi lovers, and Asimov fans! Although die-hard mystery lovers may object to the futuristic nature of the book, it doesn't hinder Asimov's story-telling or the mystery, and actually enhanses it. I, ROBOT is the first book in the Asimov saga, and CAVES OF STEEL is followed by THE NAKED SUN and then THE ROBOTS OF DAWN.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2000
Asimov, one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, shows a world of the future filled with political and technological conflicts between earthlings and the Spacers - people from outside planets.
This book works in two ways. It gives an excellent picture of the future, while also presenting a great murder mystery. From pedestrian highways, planet colonies, robot-human conflict, to over-population, the future is presented in a way that relates to modern society and modern problems. This gives the reader a greater understanding of the setting compared to most other books.
The mystery itself is also very intriguing. Who killed the Spacer? Would the human looking robot be accepted by his partner? What were the political ramifications of this murder? All these problems become apparent throughout this book, and makes the book even more interesting as you read along.
I highly recommend this book, as it is one Asimov's finest.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2006
I love Asimov's nonfiction, for its liveliness and practical explanations of the how and why of science. However, his fictional characters were almost always quite stilted. Here isn't an exception.

On the plus side, Asimov is fantastic as a mystery writer, and that's what this is. It's an unlocked room mystery, where any number of people or machines could be the culprit, and he does an excellent job of tying in evidence, false assumptions, attempts to mislead the investigation, friction between human and robot, rebellion both competent and pointless, and several interest groups.

It's a bit slow to start, but worth reading on for the puzzle to be solved, which turns out to be rather elegant in basis (as a successful crime should be), complicated by culture and technology, and finally resolved as a human issue.

However, it's not perfect, because the characters are rather stiff--no more so than in any of his other works, it's just his style--and the overarching plans of both the Spacers and Medievalists are treated somewhat simplistically and with a bit of handwaving. They really should either have been left out, or given more treatment.

The trichotomy between the casual yet distant culture of the Spacers, vs the rebellious naivete of the Medievalists, and the drab, depressing burden of the City dwellers is interesting and disturbing, though I feel the City culture is excessive in its communistic strata. I'm not sure I can accept the stability of it.

While this is mentioned as taking place thousands of years in the future, and the tech is dated now, only 50 years later, I won't consider that a flaw--books are written to meet the reader's expectations, and 50 years ago the science was considered rather far out. And since much of it does now exist, it shows the brilliance of Asimov's grasp of science. I rather think (from his nonfic) that he knew it wouldn't take long to happen, but was afraid of saying so to the typical reader of the day (whereas Heinlein did the reverse--extrapolated short term with greater magnitude and slightly lesser accuracy).

It's a great piece to study the history of SF, an entertaining story, and a relevant part of the background for the "I, Robot" movie. Certainly worth the read, and fun despite its imperfections.
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