While “I, Robot” may be more recognized as the source for Asimov’s famous three laws of robotics, it’s his series of books about the partnership between a human detective, Lije Bailey and his android partner, R. Danell Olivaw, that are the more compelling and fascinating.
“The Caves of Steel” is the first (and best of the four) entry in the series, introducing us to Bailey, Daneel and a future world in which humanity lives inside massive, interconnected steel domes. Humans rarely venture outside and Earth is slowly dying due to overpopulation. A group of aliens called Spacers are colonizing other worlds, using robotic help but have limited how and where humanity can colonize.
When a Spacer is killed, Bailey is called upon to solve the case. Bailey must overcome his prejudice toward Spacers and robots to work on the case and with the robotic partner. It’s the conflict between Bailey’s dislike and distrust of robots and Spacers that drives a lot of the novel and makes it an utterly compelling, character-driven, world-building effort by Issac Asimov.
If you’ve only read his “Foundation” novels, you’ve missed out on one of the biggest pleasures in all of science-fiction by overlooking the Robot stories. Yes, later in life Asimov did work to tie these books into the Foundation series, but the first three in the series can be enjoyed purely on their own merits.
Add to all that world-building, a fairly well done murder mystery and you may have one of the most perfect gems in not only science-fiction but also all of literature. Asimov said that he could create a mystery within a sci-fi story without having to resort to a deus ex machine type of resolution and he does here. He establishes the rules for the universe early in the novel and doesn’t change them to fit the ending or solution he wants or needs.
A fascinating book and one of my favorites. Definitely worth reading or reading again.