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The Caves of Steel

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Title: The Caves of Steel  
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Subject: Three Laws of Robotics, Foundation series, Isaac Asimov, List of fictional science fiction and fantasy detectives, List of Robot series characters
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The Caves of Steel

The Caves of Steel
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Isaac Asimov
Cover artist Ruth Ray[1]
Country United States
Language English
Series Robot series
Genre Mystery Science fiction
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
June 1954
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 224 pp
Preceded by Mother Earth
Followed by The Naked Sun

The Caves of Steel is a novel by Isaac Asimov. It is essentially a detective story, and illustrates an idea Asimov advocated, that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself. Specifically, in the book Asimov's Mysteries, he states that he wrote the novel in response to the assertion by editor John W. Campbell that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres. Campbell had said that the science fiction writer could invent "facts" in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov countered that there were rules implicit in the art of writing mysteries, and that the clues could be in the plot, even if they were not obvious, or were deliberately obfuscated. He went on to write several science-fiction mysteries in both novel and short-story form, as well as mainstream mysteries such as Murder at the ABA, which was not science fiction.

The book was first published as a serial in Galaxy Magazine, October to December 1953. A Doubleday hardcover followed in 1954.

A television adaptation was made by the BBC and shown in 1964: only a few short excerpts still exist. In June 1989, the book was adapted by Bert Coules as a radio play for the BBC, with Ed Bishop as Elijah Baley and Sam Dastor as R. Daneel Olivaw.

Plot introduction

In this novel, Isaac Asimov introduces Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw, later his favorite protagonists. They live roughly three millennia in Earth's future, a time when hyperspace travel has been discovered, and a few worlds relatively close to Earth have been colonized—fifty planets known as the "Spacer worlds". The Spacer worlds are rich, have low population density (average population of one hundred million each), and use robot labor heavily. Meanwhile, Earth is overpopulated (with a total population of eight billion), and strict rules against robots have been passed. The eponymous "caves of steel" are vast city complexes covered by huge metal domes, capable of supporting tens of millions each: the New York City of that era (wherein much of the story is set), encompasses present-day New York City, as well as large tracts of New Jersey.

Asimov imagines the present day's underground transit connected to malls and apartment blocks, until no one ever exits the domes, and most of the population suffer from extreme agoraphobia. Even though the Robot and Foundation series were not considered part of the same fictional universe until much later, the "caves of steel" resemble the planet Trantor.

In The Caves of Steel and its sequels (the first of which is The Naked Sun), Asimov paints a grim situation of an Earth dealing with an extremely large population, and of luxury-seeking Spacers who limit birth to permit great wealth and privacy. Asimov, who described himself as a claustrophile, mentioned that a reader asked him how he could have imagined such an existence with no sunlight, and related that it had not struck him until then that living perpetually indoors might be construed as unpleasant.

Plot summary

The book's central crime is a murder, which takes place before the novel opens. (This is an Asimovian trademark, which he attributed to his own squeamishness and John Campbell's advice of beginning as late in the story as possible.) The victim is Roj Nemmenuh Sarton, a Spacer Ambassador who lives in Spacetown, the Spacer outpost just outside New York City. For some time, he has tried to convince the Earth government to loosen its anti-robot restrictions. One morning, he is discovered outside his home, his chest imploded by an energy blaster. The New York police commissioner charges Elijah with finding the murderer, in cooperation with a highly advanced robot named R. Daneel Olivaw who is visually identical to a human.

One interesting aspect of the book is the contrast between Elijah, the human detective, and Daneel, the humanoid robot, wherein Asimov uses the "mechanical" robot to inquire about human nature. When confronting a "Medievalist" who fears that robots will overcome humankind, Elijah argues that robots are inherently deficient. In the concluding scene, R. Daneel argues that the captured murderer be treated leniently, telling his human companions that "the destruction of evil is less desirable than the conversion of evil into good". Quoting the Pericope Adulteræ (to which Elijah had earlier introduced him), Daneel tells the murderer, "Go, and sin no more!".

Character histories

Below is a list of all the major and minor characters in the book, in order of appearance, with plot detail.

  • Elijah “Lije” Baley A plain-clothes police officer who works on Earth. He is called to solve the murder.
  • Vince Barrett A young man whose job was taken over by R. Sammy.
  • R. Sammy A robot assigned to the Police Department
  • Julius Enderby New York City’s Commissioner of Police, who assigns Baley to the murder case.
  • Jezebel “Jessie” Navodny Baley’s wife.
  • Roj Nemennuh Sarton A spacer roboticist murdered with a blaster. Baley is assigned to investigate his death.
  • R. Daneel Olivaw Baley’s partner, a humaniform robot created in Sarton's likeness.
  • Bentley Baley Baley’s son.
  • Han Fastolfe A roboticist from Aurora, a Spacer world, who believes Spacers and Earth dwellers must work together to colonize the galaxy and survive in the future.
  • Dr. Anthony Gerrigel A roboticist at Washington whom Baley called.
  • Francis Clousarr A New Yorker who was arrested for inciting a riot against robots two years ago. Daneel identifies him as present at two incidents.


Reviewer Groff Conklin praised the novel for the way Asimov "combine[d] his interest in robotics with his consuming preoccupation with the sociology of a technology-mad, bureaucratically tethered world of tomorrow."[2] Boucher and McComas praised The Caves of Steel as "Asimov's best long work to date," saying that it was "the most successful attempt yet to combine" the detective and science fiction novel.[3] P. Schuyler Miller called it "as honest a combination of science fiction and detection as we've seen."[4]

In 2004, The Caves of Steel was nominated for a retroactive Hugo Award for Best Novel for 1954.


Television adaptation

Story Parade – The Caves of Steel
Genre Science fiction
Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Peter Sasdy
Starring Peter Cushing
John Carson
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) Eric Tayler
Running time 75 minutes
Original channel BBC2

An adaptation of The Caves of Steel was made by the BBC and broadcast on BBC2 on 5 June 1964 as part of an anthology strand called Story Parade, which specialized in adaptations of modern novels. It starred Peter Cushing as Elijah Baley and John Carson as R. Daneel Olivaw. The adaptation was the brainchild of Story Parade story editor Irene Shubik, who was an enthusiast of science fiction and a fan of Isaac Asimov in particular, once referring to him as “one of the most interesting and amusing men I have ever met”.[5] Shubik had previously devised and story edited the science fiction anthology series Out of This World, which had adapted Asimov's short story Little Lost Robot in 1962. The adaptation of the novel was handled by Terry Nation, who at this time had recently found fame and fortune as the creator of the popular Dalek monsters for the science fiction series Doctor Who.

The screenplay was generally faithful to the plot of the novel. The only major deviation was the conclusion – in the television version the murderer commits suicide when he is unmasked, although in the novel he agrees to work to convince the Medievalists to change their ways. The other major change is that the roboticist Dr. Gerrigal is a female character in the television version.

Director Peter Sasdy later directed a number of Hammer horror films as well as the Nigel Kneale television play The Stone Tape. The Caves of Steel garnered good reviews: The Daily Telegraph said the play “proved again that science fiction can be exciting, carry a message and be intellectually stimulating”[6] while The Listener, citing the play as the best of the Story Parade series, described it as “a fascinating mixture of science fiction and whodunit which worked remarkably well”.[7] The play was repeated on BBC1 on 28 August 1964. As was common practice at the time, the master tapes of The Caves of Steel were wiped some time after broadcast and the play remains missing to this day. A few short extracts survive: the opening titles and the murder of Sarton; Elijah and Daneel meeting Dr. Gerrigel (Naomi Chance) and Elijah and Daneel confronting the Medievalist Clousarr (John Boyd-Brent).

The success of The Caves of Steel led Irene Shubik to devise the science fiction anthology series Out of the Unknown, during which she oversaw the adaptation of six more Asimov stories, including The Caves of Steel’s sequel The Naked Sun.

Cast of BBC2 Adaptation:

Other adaptations

In 1988 Kodak produced a VCR game entitled "Isaac Asimov's Robots" that contained a 45-minute film loosely based on Caves of Steel. It featured many of the characters and settings from the novel, but an altered plotline to fit the needs of a VCR game.

In 1989 BBC Radio 4 broadcast an adaptation by Bert Coules, directed by Matthew Walters and starring Ed Bishop as Baley with Sam Dastor as Olivaw.

Cast of BBC Radio 4 Adaptation:


  1. ^ Publication Listing. Retrieved on 2013-11-02.
  2. ^ "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1954, p.98
  3. ^ "Recommended Reading," F&SF, May 1954, p.88.
  4. ^ "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction, November 1954, p.150
  5. ^ Cutler, Story Parade: The Caves of Steel
  6. ^ Ward, Out of the Unknown, p. 24.
  7. ^ "Story Parade: The Caves of Steel – Press Coverage". Retrieved 2007-01-16. 


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