Authors: Isaac Asimov
“Commissioner, this is all a careful and elaborate frame.”
The Commissioner stiffened. “Now, wait, Lije. Don’t strike out blindly. You won’t get any sympathy with that line of defense.”
“I’m not after sympathy. I’m just telling the truth. I’m being taken out of circulation to prevent me from learning the facts about the Sarton murder. Unfortunately for my framing pal, it’s too late for that.”
Baley looked at his watch. It was 23:00.
He said, “I know who is framing me, and I know how Dr. Sarton was killed and by whom, and I have one hour to tell you about it, catch the man, and end this investigation.”
Bantam Books by Isaac Asimov
The Foundation Novels
The Robot Novels
WITH ROBERT SILVERBERG
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
This edition contains the complete text of the original hardcover edition
NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED
THE CAVES OF STEEL
A Bantam Spectra Book / published by arrangement with Doubleday
Doubleday edition published 1954
Bantam edition / December 1991
Selection of the Science Fiction Book Club, May 1971
SPECTRA and the portrayal of a boxed “s” are trademarks of Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc
All rights reserved
Copyright © 1953, 1954 by Isaac Asimov
Introduction copyright © 1983 by Nightfall Inc
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The writing side of my love affair with robots began on May 10, 1939, but as a science-fiction
it began earlier still.
Robots were, after all, nothing new in science fiction, not even in 1939. Mechanical human beings are to be found in ancient and medieval myths and legends, and the word “robot” originally appeared in Karl Capek’s play
, which was first staged in 1921 in Czechoslovakia, but was soon translated into many languages.
. stands for “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” Rossum, an English industrialist, produced artificial human beings designed to do the labor of the world and to free humanity for a life of creative leisure. (The word “robot” is from a Czech word meaning “compulsory labor.”) Though Rossum meant well, it didn’t work out as he planned: the robots rebelled, and the human species was destroyed.
It is perhaps not surprising that a technological advance, imagined in 1921, was seen as resulting in universal disaster. Remember that World War I, with
its tanks, airplanes, and poison gas, had just ended and had showed people “the dark side of the force,” to use
. added its somber view to that of the even more famous
, in which the creation of another kind of artificial human being also ended in disaster, though on a more limited scale. Following these examples, it became very common, in the 1920s and 1930s, to picture robots as dangerous devices that invariably destroyed their creators. The moral was pointed out over and over again that “there are some things Man was not meant to know.”
Even as a youngster, though, I could not bring myself to believe that if knowledge presented danger, the solution was ignorance. To me, it always seemed that the solution had to be wisdom. You did not refuse to look at danger, rather you learned how to handle it safely.
After all, this has been the human challenge since a certain group of primates became human in the first place.
technological advance can be dangerous. Fire was dangerous from the start, and so (even more so) was speech—and both are still dangerous to this day—but human beings would not be human without them.
At any rate, without quite knowing what dissatisfied me about the robot stories I read, I waited for something better, and I found it in the December 1938 issue of
Astounding Science Fiction
. That issue contained “Helen O’Loy” by Lester del Rey, a story in which a robot was portrayed sympathetically. It was, I believe, only his second story, but I was a del Rey fan forever after. (Please don’t anybody tell him this. He must never know.)
At almost the same time, in the January 1939 issue of
, Eando Binder portrayed a sympathetic
. This was much the poorer story of the two, but again I vibrated. Dimly, I began to feel that I wanted to write a story in which a robot would be portrayed lovingly. And on May 10, 1939, I began such a story. The job took me two weeks, for in those days it took me quite a while to write a story.
I called it “Robbie,” and it was about a robot nursemaid, who was loved by the child it cared for and feared by the child’s mother. Fred Pohl (who was also nineteen at the time, and who has matched me year for year ever since) was wiser than I, however. When he read it, he said that John Campbell, the all-powerful editor of
, would not take it because it was too much like “Helen O’Loy.” He was right. Campbell rejected it for that very reason.
However, Fred became editor of a pair of new magazines soon after, and
took “Robbie” on March 25, 1940. It appeared in the September 1940 issue of
, though its name was changed to “Strange Playfellow.” (Fred had an awful habit of changing titles, almost always for the worse. The story has appeared many times since, but always under my own original title.)
I was, in those days, dissatisfied with any sale not made to Campbell, however, and so I tried another robot story after a while. I discussed the idea with Campbell first, though, to make sure he wouldn’t reject it for anything other than inadequate writing, and then I wrote “Reason,” in which a robot got religion, so to speak.
Campbell bought it on November 22, 1940, and it appeared in the April 1941 issue of his magazine. It was my third sale to him and the first one he had taken as it stood, without requesting revision. I was so elated by this that I quickly wrote a third robot story, about a mind-reading robot, which I called “Liar!”, and this one
took, and it appeared in the May 1941 issue. I had two robot stories in two successive issues.
After that, I did not intend to stop. I had a series going.
I had more than that. On December 23, 1940, when I was discussing my idea for a mind-reading robot with Campbell, we found ourselves discussing the rules that governed the way in which a robot behaved. It seemed to me that robots were engineering devices with built-in safeguards, and so the two of us began giving verbal form to those safeguards—these became the “Three Laws of Robotics.”