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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Caves of Steel: Part 3: Pursuit of Justice

The First Law of Robotics states that a robot may not injure a human being, nor by inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. This prime directive has been hard-wired into every robot ever since the development of the positronic brain, a millennium or more ago.

Elijah Baley, NYPD detective has been assigned a robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw; a robot designed to be able to pass as human; in order to investigate the politically sensitive murder of an important Spacer, from one of the planets originally colonized by Earth. He has asked one of the Earth's leading roboticists to come to New York and has now made a shocking allegation. Baley asks the expert if it is possible to build a robot without the First Law and accuses his own partner of being the murderer.

At first, Dr. Gerrigel, the roboticist, rejects the possibility that any robot could be built without the First Law programmed into its positronic brain; but at Baley's insistence, he agrees to test Daneel. Baley finds the test incomprehensible; ("You've asked nothing that pertains to the First Law"); but Dr. Gerrigel assures him that the tests indicate R. Daneel is fully equipped with Robotic Ethics.

Baley is back to square one with his investigation. Not only that, he has now accused his own partner of involvement in the murder for a second time, only to be proven wrong. He is not in a good mood, and it only worsens when he returns to headquarters and sees Vince, the office boy whose job was taken by R. Sammy. A fellow plainclothesman speculates ruefully about who will be replaced by a robot next. "You know what they say? They say Lyrane Millane, the subetherics dancer, is really a robot."

In private, Daneel comments that Baley's mental aura changed since the previous day. Daneel can detect and analyze brain wave patterns; it was part of his original function as a tool for gathering sociological data. Baley realizes that this was why Commissioner Enderby did not know about cerebroanalysis: Daneel examined him without Enderby ever knowing he was being cerebroanalyzed. From Baley's own brain patters, Daneel senses that he is disturbed; struggling between two conflicting impulses.

Baley insists that the Medievalist conspiracy which pursued them the previous day could not be involved with the murder.

"...I thought it might have, I'll admit that. Yesterday in the kitchen, I thought we were in danger. But what happened? They followed us out, were quickly lost on the strips, and that was that. That was not the action of well organized and desperate men."


"They're Medievalists. They're harmless crackpots... They're soft, dreamy people who find life too hard for them here and get lost in an ideal world of the past that never really existed. If you could cerebroanalyze a movement as you do an individual, you would find they are no more capable of murder than Julius Enderby himself."

This read-though of the book, I've noted some similarities between the Medievalists of the novel and our present-day Tea Partyists, so I'm not sure if I would call them exactly harmless. Daneel is skeptical of Baley's analysis too. He suggests that Elijah's wife, Jessie, is herself a member of the Medievalist conspiracy.

Baley of course rejects this, but Daneel points out that there were no rumors going around the city about a robot working with the police force; the only way Jessie could have known Daneel was a robot was if she heard it from the Medievalists. Baley refuses to believe it; but just then R. Sammy interrupts to tell Baley that his wife is here asking to see him.

"I can't go on, Lije," she says, distraught. "I can't. I cant sleep or eat. I've got to tell you.... I've done a terrible thing. Such a terrible thing. Oh, Lije..." Baley realizes that the police station is far too public a place for this conversation, so he hustles his wife into a squad car with Daneel and takes them onto the service roadways where they can talk.

Jessie admits to being a member of a Medievalist group.. She's been a member for years; since about the time she and Elijah had their quarrel about her wicked Biblical namesake. When Baley asks if they've committed any violent crimes, she's shocked. Mostly her group has held meetings, talk about the Good Old Days and how things would be different Come the Revolution. And then they'd eat sandwiches and schmooze. They'd hold there meetings down in the same network of access tunnels Baley was driving her through; since the roadways were only used by emergency vehicles, they were never disturbed.

This all fits in with Baley's picture of the Medievalists: "a harmless little secret kaffee-klatsch". But someone had to tell them where to meet where they'd be out of the way of emergency traffic. Someone had to plant the story Jessie heard about the robot. Someone organized the mob at the shoe store and sent the gang who chased Baley and Daneel from the cafeteria. "Did any strangers come to the meetings? You know what I mean: big shots from Central Headquarters?" Thinking it over, Jessie is able to tentatively identify one of the people Daneel recognized from the files as having been at the shoe store and at the communal kitchen the day before: a yeast worker named Francis Clousarr.

Baley drops her off and tells her to take Bentley to stay with her mother for a few days until he can straighten things out. After she's gone, Daneel asks Baley why the name Jezebel had such an effect on her.

Baley said, "It is hard to explain. Jezebel is a rare name. It belonged once to a woman of very bad reputation. My wife treasured that fact. It gave her a vicarious feeling of wickedness and compensated for a life that was uniformly proper."

"Why would a law-abiding woman wish to feel wicked?"

Balely almost smiled. "Women are women, Daneel. Anyway, I did a very foolish thing. In a moment of irritation I insisted that the historic Jezebel was not particularly wicked and was, if anything, a good wfe. I've regretted that ever since.

"It turned out," he went on, "that I had made Jessie bitterly unhappy. I had spoiled something for her that couldn't be replaced. I suppose what followed was her way of revenge. I imagine she wished to punish me by engaging in activity of which she knew I wouldn't approve. I don't say the wish was a conscious one."

"Can a wish be anything but conscious? Is that not a contradiction in terms?"

Baley changes the subject to talking about the Bible, something Daneel is also unfamiliar with. "It is the sacred book of about half of Earth's population," Baley explains. "...Various portions of it, when properly interpreted, contain a code of behavior which many men consider best suited to the ultimate happiness of mankind." When Daneel asks if this code is incorporated into Earth's laws, Baley tells him "The code doesn't lend itself to legal enforcement. It must be obeyed spontaneously by each individual out of a longing to do so. It is in a sense higher than any law could be."

This doesn't make sense to Daneel's robotic understanding of justice, so Elijah elaborates by telling him a story from the Bible: the story of Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery. Here we have another example of Asimov using his polymath powers and dipping into Biblical scholarship. It's interesting that the story he chose to illustrate an important theme of the Bible is one which Bart Ehrman, in his book Misquoting Jesus, uses to demonstrate how the text of the Bible is unreliable. Go Figure. But Baley presses on.

"...The story is meant to show that there is something even higher than the justice which you have been filled with. There is a human impulse known as mercy, a human act known as forgiveness."

"I am not acquainted with those words, partner Elijah.:

"I know," muttered Baley. "I know."

Baley and Daneel go to Yeast-town, the district comprising much of the former state of New Jersey where yeast is grown and processed into most of the food for New York City, to interrogate Francis Clousarr. At first Clousarr denies everything; he is a proud and belligerent man with a deep hatred of robots. Baley has little real evidence against that man that will hold up in court, but tricks Clousarr into admitting he knows Daneel is a robot. "Anyone can tell!" Clousarr insists, but Baley knows better.

While Daneel reports back to the Commissioner, Baley has a private conversation with Clousarr about Medievalism. Baley suggests Dr. Falstofe's vision of Earthmen colonizing new worlds as a way to fulfil the Medievalist dream of escaping the Cities and returning to the soil. Clousarr mocks him and is hostile to the idea of working with robots; Baley reacts angrily:

"Why not, for the love of Heaven? I don't like them, either, but I'm not going to knife myself for the sake of a prejudice. What are we afraid of in robots? If you want my guess, it's a sense of inferiority...

"...Look at this Daneel I've been with for over two days. He's taller than I am, stronger, handsomer.... He's got a better memory and knows more facts. He doesn't have to sleep or eat. He's not troubled by sickness or panic or love or guilt.

"But he's a machine. I can do anything I want to him, the way I can to that microbalance right there. If I slam the microbalance, it won't hit me back. Neither will Daneel. I can order him to take a blaster to himself and he'll do it.

"We can't ever build a robot that will be even as good as a human being in anything that counts, let alone better. We can't create a robot with a sense of beauty or a sense of ethics or a sense of religion. There's no way we can raise a positronic brain one inch above the level of perfect materialism.

"We can't, damn it, we can't. Not as long as we don't understand what makes our own brains tick. Not as long as things exist that science can't measure. What is beauty, or goodness, or art, or love, or God? We're forever teetering on the brink of the unknowable, and trying to understand what can't be understood. It's what makes us men."

Daneel returns with bad news. There's been another murder; at least by some points of view. R. Sammy, the robot office boy working at headquarters, has been found deactivated; his brain fried out by a device that emits alpha particles. Someone evidently ordered Sammy to go into a photographic supply closet and put the alpha-sprayer to his head.

The Commissioner is gravely concerned about this incident and tells Baley that a full investigation will have to be made. Vince, the boy whose job R. Sammy took, had a motive to kill him, but could not have acquired the alpha-sprayer, a specialized piece of equipment used in atomic science. As Enderby mutters about motive, Baley puts the pieces together and can guess where all this is heading.

He had a motive to kill R. Sammy. The robot saw his wife come into the station in a state of hysteria; she might have said something incriminating in front of him. Baley could have wanted to keep Sammy quiet, and would have had the opportunity to get an alpha-sprayer the previous day when he and Daneel passed through the power plant while eluding their pursuers on the strips. "The murder was arranged deliberately in order to throw suspicion on me."

Daneel then drops another bombshell on Baley. "I am sorry, Elijah". He has been in radio contact with Dr. Falstofe all through the investigation and has just received word from him. "Our people in Spacetown, as a result of my information, have decided to bring that investigation to an end, as of today, and to begin plans for leaving Spacetown and Earth."

The whole purpose of the Spacer presence on earth was in order to induce part of Earth's population to colonize another world. Daneel was constructed in order to find the best way to accomplish this. Dr. Falstofe's earlier conversation with Baley was an experiment to see if a reasonably intelligent City Dweller could be persuaded to do this. In fact, Daneel tells Baley, the doctor drugged him to make him more receptive to the spiel. Baley does not like this, but the author passes lightly over that bit; too lightly, I think. Daneel noticed a difference in the brain patterns of Clousser after Baley shared the Gospel According to Fastolfe with him and came to the conclusion that the ideal segment of Earth's population to become colonists are the Medievalists themselves. The Medievalists have the dissatisfaction with the status quo of Earth's Cities, and also the romantic idealism to take the risk of colonization. The Spacers will have to adjust their methods to bring it about, but now they are certain the new wave of colonization is possible.

Baley tries arguing with Daneel to continue the investigation. "Where's your justice circuit, Daneel? Is this justice?" You cannot argue with a machine. Daneel's people have achieved their main objective; continuing the murder investigation would do nothing to help that, and might even complicate the Spacer's plans. Baley asks if Daneel has any curiosity. "Such a desire exists within me, when the extension of knowledge is necessary for the performance of an assigned task." Daneel replies.

Baley recalls the questions Daneel had asked previously about the Commissioner's glasses and Bentley's contact lenses. And then it hits him.

There's a classic moment in many mystery stories where the detective knows he has all the pieces he needs to solve the case; he just can't quite get it. And then a chance comment or observation reminds him of something, or puts the clues in the correct context; and it all becomes clear.

Baley knows who did it; and how the murder was committed. But he needs Daneels help. He makes one last try: "Then Project Spacetown is concluded as of today and with it the Sarton investigation. Is that it?" Daneel acknowledges this is true. "But today is not yet over... There is an hour and a half until midnight."

Daneel assents. For the next ninety minutes he is still on the case. Baley tells him to retrieve the crime scene photos. If he's right, there should be a piece of evidence on them that he'll need to prove his theory.

The Commissioner calls Baley into his office. He tells Elijah that Clousarr has identified Jezebel as a member of the Medievalist conspiracy and demands that Baley account for his recent actions. Baley counters by insisting that he is being framed; and that the perpetrator of both murders is Enderby himself.

There have been two impossible situations in this case. A robot is incapable of killing a human; but a robot can act as an unwitting accomplice. Enderby is psychologically incapable of cold-blooded murder; but not of destroying a robot.

As Baley reconstructs the case, Enderby is a member of the Medievalist organization; probably an important one. With his old-fashioned glasses and windows and enthusing about the open air life, he obviously has Medievalist sympathies. From his official contact with the Spacers, he would have known Dr. Sarton and known about R. Daneel. So he had R. Sammy bring a blaster cross-country to Spacetown to bypass Spacer security. He planned to go to Sarton's house early in the morning; shoot R. Daneel when the robot answered the door; then give the blaster back to Sammy to dispose of.

Enderby had mentioned earlier about breaking his glasses that weekend; Baley had originally assumed he had dropped them in the stress of being questioned. Now he guesses differently. Shooting something that looked like a man, even though he knew it was only a robot, was not something Enderby could easily do. He removed his glasses to clean them, a nervous habit of his; he accidentally dropped them and they broke. Just then the door to Sarton's house opened and Enderby saw what he thought was the robot built in Sarton's image. It was only after he pulled the trigger that he realized he had killed the real Dr. Sarton.

As he outlines his theory, Baley is scanning the crime scene pictures Daneel provided for him and finds the evidence he was looking for. Tiny shards of glass on the floor. The Spacers, being genetically perfect, have no need of corrective lenses and did not recognize what they were. Baley deduces that they are fragments of Enderby's glasses -- proof that Enderby was at the scene of the crime before it happened.

Enderby breaks down and confesses. Ever since he mistakenly killed Sarton, he's been on the edge, and confronted with guilt, he collapses. But Baley doesn't want Enderby arrested. "The Spacers have more on their minds than your prosecution. If you co-operate with them---" He offers the Commissioner a deal, which Daneel, speaking for Dr. Falstofe, confirms. The Spacers are willing to forget the past if Enderby will help steer the Medievalists into a colonization program. Enderby agrees.

Before Elijah and Daneel leave Enderby's office, Daneel turns to the Commissioner.

The robot said, "I have been trying, friend Julius, to understand some remarks Elijah made to me earlier. Perhaps I am beginning to, for it suddenly seems to me that the destruction of what should not be, that is, the destruction of what you people call evil, is less just and desirable than the conversion of this evil into what you call good."

He hesitated, then, almost as though he were surprised at his own words, he said, "Go, and sin no more!"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Caves of Steel: Part 2: Cybernetics and Suspects

In the far future, humanity is divided between the Spacers, descendants of the humans who colonized the Outer Worlds a millennium ago, and the Earthmen, who are concentrated in enclosed, self-contained super-cities. A Spacer has been murdered on Earth, and detective Elijah Baley of the NYPD has been assigned to the investigation. Because of the political ramifications of the case, Baley has been assigned a Spacer partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, a sophisticated robot designed to pass for a human.

Baley hates robots. But then, so do most Earthmen. Baley's wife, Jessie has heard rumors of some kind of Spacer robot working with the police and has guessed that Daneel is it. She's worried that they might get caught up in anti-robot violence. Baley reassures her; he thinks he has a handle on the case, and if he's right, their problems well be over...

The next morning, Baley has Daneel arrange for him to visit Spacetown. "It's the logical next move," he tells the Commissioner. "I'd like to see the scene of the crime, ask a few questions." Enderby tries to dissuade him.

"We've gone over the ground. I doubt there's anything new to be learned. And they're strange people. Kid gloves! They got to be handled with kid gloves. You don't have the experience...

He put a plump hand to his forehead and added, with unexpected fervor, "I hate them."

Baley suggests that the Commissioner accompany him, but Enderby refuses. He makes an excuse about work at the office, but Baley can tell that Enderby's experiences in Spacetown when Sarton's body was discovered -- just minutes before Enderby was to visit the man -- has left him shaken. Baley suggests he observe by video conference instead. This will actually fit better with Baley's plans.

Baley and Daneel take a squad car to Spacetown. Although most transportation in the City occurs via a complex system of moving walkways, some of the ancient motorways are still maintained in the deepest parts of the city for emergency vehicles. Once at Spacetown, the guards politely inform him "There is a small Men's Personal here which we would be pleased to have you use if you wish to shower." Daneel strongly hints that this is not a suggestion.

So Baley goes through the ritual cleansing that the Spacers require of all Earthmen visitors; something he finds insulting, but which he will put up with. As he showers, his clothes are taken and sterilized before being returned. While exiting the shower, he sees that Daneel has also washed; he too has accumulated dust from the City on his skin. Baley notes with some amusement that Daneel's resemblance to humanity extends all over.

Baley tries to bring his blaster into Spacetown -- he is a police officer, after all, and has an obligation to keep his sidearm with him -- but the automated security stops him and Daneel gently urges him to leave it behind. "Even your Commissioner leaves his blaster behind on all visits."

Baley is introduced to Dr. Han Fastolfe, who in charge of the murder investigation on the Spacer's end. Fastolfe is a short, homely man with big ears; which surprises Baley a little. He knows that the Spacers practice eugenics to weed out biologically flawed individuals, and has always pictured Spacers as being physically perfect like the portrayals he's seen in the media and like, well, like Daneel. A monitor is set up so that Commissioner Enderby can observe the situation. And then Baley drops his bombshell:

There never was a murder. Dr. Sarton is alive and well and standing right next to them. Daneel is actually Dr. Sarton.

He had seen from pictures that Dr. Sarton and Daneel were identical; ("You were made in your maker's image?" he commented at the time, but Daneel did not get the reference; the Bible is little-read on the Outer Worlds). Certain inconsistencies made him suspect that Daneel was not a robot after all. The way he threatened the mob at the shoe store, for example, when a true robot should be incapable of harming a human; (Asimov's First Law of Robotics, which will turn up later). Daneel's claim to have been programmed with a desire for "justice", a human concept. Daneel's absence from the apartment the previous night which he admitted was to go to the men's rest room; (to search it for evidence of survelience equipment, he said). And the piece of decidedly biological equipment Baley noticed when Daneel stepped out of the shower. Baley accuses the Spacers of fabricating the murder in order to have an excuse to bring in their warships and occupy the Cities of Earth.

Dr. Fastolfe patiently listens to Baley and counters each point with a calm logic. Then he asks a simple but obvious question: "...have you tried sticking a pin into R. Daneel?" There are any number of ways to prove that Daneel is in fact a robot. Fastolfe goes with the most direct. At his prompt, Daneel opens up his shirt and then undoes a seam in his arm.

But, just as the fabric of the sleeve had fallen in two when the diagmagnetic field of its seam had been interrupted, so now the arm itself fell in two.

There, under a thin layer of fleshlike material, was the dull gray of stainless steel rods, cords, and joints.

"Would you care to examine Daneel's workings more closely, Mr. Baley?" asked Dr. Fastolfe politely.

Baley could scarcely hear the remark for the buzzing in his ears and for the sudden jarring of the Commissioner's high-pitched and hysterical laughter.

The next thing Baley knows, he's receiving an injection of something. Apparently, the shock of seeing R. Daneel "open up" like that caused him to black out momentarily. And it was a shock; the full import of his grandstand stunt is starting to sink in. At best, he can expect to be chewed out by Enderby and booted off the case. At worst, he could lose his job, his classification status, everything he's worked for.

But strangely enough, Dr. Fastolfe is not angry with him, and has actually asked the Commisioner to keep Baley on the investigation.

"Mr. Baley, in general I have met two kinds of City dwellers, rioters and politicians. Your Commissioner is useful to us, but he is a politician. He tells us what we want to hear. He handles us, if you know what I mean." Falstofe found Baley's paranoid conspiracy theories to be quite refreshing.

Falstofe goes on to talk to Baley about why the Spacers have come to Earth in the first place. "Are you satisfied with life on Earth?" He points out to Baley that in the long run, the Cities are not sustainable.

"A City like New York must spend every ounce of effort getting water in and waste out. The nuclear power plants are kept going by uranium supplies that are constantly more difficult to obtain even from the other planets of the system, and the supply needed goes up steadily. The life of the City depends every moment on the arrival of wood pulp for the yeast vats and minerals for the hydroponic plants. Air must be circulated unceasingly. The balance is a very delicate one in a hundred directions, and growing more delicate each year.


"...When New York first became a City, it could have lived on itself for a day. Now it cannot do so for an hour. A disaster that would have been uncomfortable ten thousand years ago, merely serious a thousand years ago, and acute a hundred years ago would now be surely fatal."

Baley knows this is true, but doesn't see what can be done about the situation. Going "Back to the Soil" as the Medievalists want is impractical; the Earth won't support eight billion people. The Spacers prohibit Earthmen from emigrating to their antiseptic utopias. So what is the answer?

Falstofe recommends a new wave of colonization from Earth; just as his own ancestors colonized the Outer Worlds from Earth millenia ago. Baley scoffs at this idea and asks why the Spacers care about what happens to Earth. Falstofe admits that the Spacers have problems of their own. Their medical technology has greatly extended their lifespans; but the result has been that the Spacers have become more risk-averse. It has been many centuries since any Spacers have established colonies of their own. Their society has become stagnant.

Dr. Falstofe offers the suggestion that a new wave of colonization, spearheaded by Earthmen and aided by robots and spacer technology could avoid the mistakes of the past and create a more vibrant C/Fe-based society. The Spacers of Spacetown are trying to jumpstart this wave by destabilizing Earth's economy with robots. Okay, put baldly like that, it does sound stupid; but the idea is that the displaced men will have a reason to start a new life on another planet. Baley is skeptical, but something about this idea stays with him.

On the way back, Daneel tells Baley that originally, the Spacers suspected Commissioner Enderby of being the murderer, as he was the only City Dweller known to be in Spacetown at the time and was almost the first to discover the body; but a scan of his brain, a "cerebroanalysis", determined that Enderby was psychologically incapable of murder. Baley imagines Enderby to electrodes and thinks it's no wonder the Commissioner is so upset he refuses to go back to Spacetown. But later that day, he mentions cerebroanalysis to the Commissioner and Enderby seems unaware of the term.

Baley also learns that the attempts to track down the rumor Jessie heard about a robot working with the NYPD have come up empty. Undercover officers have been placed in public rest rooms all over the city, yet none have reported any suspicious rumors. Then how did Jessie hear about it?

Baley decides not to go home that night. He also contacts the leading robotics expert on Earth and persuades him to come to New York. Baley has another idea.

That evening, Baley and Daneel dine in one of the many communal kitchens in the City. This is another lovely example of the world-building Asimov does in this novel, describing the everyday activities of a world different from our own. A commenter on an earlier diary referred to the world of Caves of Steel as dystopian. That hadn't really occurred to me, because as alien and unpleasant as some aspects of Baley's world is, Asimov manages to make it seem homey. It's familiar to Elijah, and so it becomes familiar to us. Although, being a robot, Daneel does not need to eat, he can "fake it", masticating food and drawing it into a storage pouch inside his chest.

Daneel notices that several people in the cafeteria seem to be staring at them. Daneel recognizes a few as having been in the mob at the shoe store the day before. Maybe there is something to the Medievalist Conspiracy after all. Baley decides to finish eating and leave quickly and quitely; but the men watching him and Daneel get up and follow.

Daneel suggests simply arresting the men, but Baley is afraid the men might try stirrng up a riot. He goes onto the strips, the moving walkways that carry the majority of traffic in the City, in order to shake pursuit. "Running the strips" is a common game among adolescents of the City; chasing each other along the moving sidewalks and trying to evade pursuit by jumping from belt to belt. Baley was an accomplished strip-runner himself in his younger days, and now puts his old skills to the test. Daneel, with his robot reflexes keeps up with Baley easily, but one by one, their pursuers drop off. Just to make sure, Baley and Daneel take a detour through a power plant to make sure they've lost the others.

Baley and Daneel spend the night in a cheap apartment. Baley doesn't want to risk brining any more trouble to Jessie and his son. Which is why he is annoyed when his boy, Bentley, shows up on their doorstep. Jessie is worried and so Bentley came to check up and make sure his dad was okay; he got their location simply by calling Baley's office and asking. Baley decides his son better spend the night with them to be safe. The pursuit from the cafeteria has him very jumpy. Daneel is curious about Bentley's contact lenses; apparently corrective lenses are unknown on Spacer worlds; but Baley blows the question off. He has a lot on his mind.

The next day, Daneel is able to identify two of the men who chased them by cross-referencing their faces with the police database. Baley reluctantly informs him that as a robot, his testimony would not be considered valid in an Earth court of law. The Commissioner is apprehensive about the robotics expert Baley has called in, but Elijah assures him it's necessary for the investigation.

Although robots are less common on Earth than on the Outer Worlds, the positronic brain was first developed on Earth and Earth boasts some fine roboticists. Dr. Gerrigel, the expert Baley has summoned, is one of the best. He apologizes for being late; the doctor suffers from agoraphobia and dislikes flying; so he rode the expressway all the way from Washington DC.

Baley gives him a general outline of the case. They key, as Baley sees it, is that the murderer couldn't have gotten a blaster through Spacer security at the main entrance to Spacetown; therefore he must have carried it across the open country from one of the City's other unused entrances. Extremely difficult for a man; Gerrigel himself would find it impossible; but quite easy for a robot. Gerrigel assures Baley that a robot couldn't have committed the crime. All robots have hard-wired into their positrons the unbreakable rule that "A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm." This is the First Law of Robotics.

"Why can't a robot be built without the First Law?" Baley asks. "What's so sacred about it?" Dr. Gerrigel explains the several reasons why this would be extremely difficult and unlikely, but Baley is persistent.

"...Now isn't it true, Doctor, that the roboticists of the Outer World manufacture robots that are much more humanoid than our own?"

"I believe that is true."

"Could they manufacture a robot so humanoid that it would pass for human under ordinary conditions?"

Dr. Gerrigel lifted his eyebrows and considered that. "I think they could, Mr. Baley. It would be terribly expensive. I doubt that the return could be profitable."

"Do you suppose," went on Baley, relentlessly, "that they could make a robot that would fool you into thinking it was a human?"

"The roboticist tittered. "Oh, my dear Mr. Baley. I doubt that. Really. There's more to a robot than just his appear---"

Dr. Gerribel froze in the middle of the word. Slowly, he turned to R. Daneel, and his pink face went very pale.

"Oh, dear me," he whispered. "Oh, dear me."

Baley returns to his original line of questioning. Could a humanoid robot designed to mimic a human being be made lacking the First Law? Because since all the Spacers have been cleared by cerebroanalysis, and no City Dweller could have brought a blaster into Spacetown and no ordinary robot could have pulled the trigger, that only leaves one possible suspect: R. Daneel himself.

NEXT WEEK: We conclude the story with chapters 13-18. The First Law is tested; a shocking secret is revealed; a conspirator is captured; another murder occurs; and Baley finds himself racing against the clock to avoid being arrested himself!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Caves of Steel: Part 1: A Death in Spacetown

As Asimov himself tells it, Caves of Steel started out as something of a challenge. The editor at Galaxy Science Fiction, Horace Gold, wanted Asimov to write a robot novel. Asimov had just published the collection of his robot stories, I, Robot, and was feeling he had pretty much exhausted the subject. Besides, he wasn't sure if he could sustain a whole novel with a plot about robots. Gold suggested he make it a mystery.

Asimov's previous editor, the legendary John Campbell, had always claimed that it was impossible to write a science fiction mystery; that the detective would just pull out his "pocket frammitaz" and have it spit out the answer. Asimov liked mysteries, and incorporated mystery elements into many of his stories; and later went on to write several non-science fiction mysteries, such as his "Black Widower Club" short stories. The resulting novel about a human detective trying to solve a murder before his robot partner beats him to it, is a splendid fusion of science-fiction world-building and buddy cop story. And a decent enough mystery as well.

The story is set some thousand years in the future. The population of the Earth has increased to 8 billion; and to support them all, nearly all of those people have been concentrated into huge mega-cities that have been organized for optimal efficiency. The cities are completely enclosed, and designed to be as nearly self-sufficient as possible. The famous architect Le Corbusier once said that "A house is a machine for living in." Well, the cities of this era have taken this idea to the nth degree: the entire city of New York is one big machine in which its 20 million inhabitants live.

Elijah Baley, ("Lije") is a cop in this machine; a plainclothes detective with a C-5 rating. This grants him the privilege of a three-room apartment; the right to sit in the good seats on the Expressway except during rush hour; a private stall in the communal rest rooms where he can shower and wash his clothes; and the privilege of eating at home a couple times per week instead of in the communal kitchens where most citizens get their food. He has a wife, Jessie, and a teenaged boy, Bentley. He dreams of someday getting promoted to a C-6, and lives in dread of the possibility that he might lose his classification as his father did when he was a boy.

Baley's boss is Julius Enderby, the Commissioner of Police for New York. Enderby is an old college buddy of his; but one a little more talented at bureaucratics than Baley and so was able to advance up the police hierarchy more quickly. Enderby has a high enough rank that he can indulge in certain eccentricities, such as wearing eyeglasses instead of contact lenses or having great transparent sections installed in the wall of his office looking outside. "In the old days, all rooms had things like this. They were called 'windows.' Did you know that?" It is because of Enderby's old friendship with Baley that he has called him in for a special assignment. For one thing, the case is important enough that if successful, Baley will jump a rating all the way to C-7. More importantly, the case is so sensitive that Enderby needs someone he can trust to handle it.

There's been a murder in Spacetown.

About a thousand years ago, Earthmen first started colonizing other planets. From that initial wave of colonization and secondary waves sent out by the colony worlds, there are now fifty inhabited planets out in space. These Outer Worlds have always been hostile to Earth, especially after the early wars for independence; and for centuries they have barred further emigration from Earth. Some years ago, a group of these "Spacers" established a community on Earth adjacent to New York. This causes a lot of resentment among the Earth folk; especially because the Spacers insisted on strict limits to their contact with Earthmen and set up force-barriers to enforce those limitations. Since the Barrier riots, there's been an uneasy truce between the Earthmen and the Spacers.

The Spacers have also been pressuring Earth's governments to incorporate more robots into it's workforce. Robots were initially developed on Earth, but have never been widely used there except in mining and agriculture. But now robots are being introduced into the economy and it is resulting in a lot of angry displaced workers.

One of the Spacers has been murdered, and the Spacers are convinced that an Earthman must have been the culprit. This has the possibility of exploding into a major political crisis; but the Spacers have agreed to let the New York City Police have jurisdiction over the investigation -- provided one of their own agents assist in it. Lije Baley will have to work with a Spacer partner.

A robot.

Baley does not like robots. He himself knows a bright young kid who used to work as an office boy in his department before he was replaced by one. And Enderby has made it clear that if he does not solve this case, it is possible that Baley himself might be replaced by a robot.

To Baley's surprise, his new partner, R. Daneel Olivaw (the "R" stands for "robot"; an naming convention that the Earthmen insist upon), does not look anything like the plastic-faced smiling automatons he is used to seeing. Daneel looks perfectly human. " is only logical that our people use a robot of pronounced humanoid characteristics in this case if we are expected to avoid unpleasantness. Is that not so?" Daneel explains. Baley has to admit he is right.

But Daneel does not just appear human; he is perfect: handsome, calm, confident, intelligent; the very personification of the Earth stereotype of the Spacer ├╝bermensch. Baley gets bit by a feeling of inferiority that gnaws at him for much of the rest of the novel, had how Baley overcomes this sense and comes to a genuine appreciation for his positronic partner, (as well as Daneel's understated attempts to understand humanity) are the heart of this story.

As part of the assignment, Daneel will be staying at Baley's place. On they way there, they come across a riot at a nearby shoe store. The store utilizes robot sales clerks and a customer is loudly refusing to be waited on by a robot. "Maybe you think you can talk to me like I was dirt. Maybe it's time the guv'min' reelized robots ain't the only things on Earth. I'm a hard-working woman and I've got rights." A crowd has gathers around the shop and the scene is growing ugly.

Daneel takes charge of the situation. He draws his weapon and threatened to shoot into the crowd unless it disperses. Baley is shocked by this; but the threat works and the mob breaks up and leaves. Baley warns Daneel not to pull a stunt like that again. Daneel does not see his problem: the law was upheld and no one was hurt.

Before Baley and Daneel arrive at Baley's home, we get a couple flashbacks to how Baley met his wife. She was lively and vivacious and he, even as a young man tended to be dour. Yet they hit it off, partially because of their names: Baley's first name was Elijiah, and her first name was Jezebel. She was tickled to find that their Biblical namesakes were arch-enemies. Jessie reveled in her bad girl name; it gave her a vicarious sense of wickedness that she enjoyed. Then one day, shortly after they married, Lije, in a moment of petty annoyance, told her that the Biblical Jezebel probably wasn't really as evil as she is portrayed.

This is a bit I find purely Asimovian. Asimov, at the time he wrote this novel, was just beginning to move from being a writer of science fiction, to a writer of non-fiction articles and books popularizing science and other fields of knowledge. Although an atheist, (or perhaps because he was an atheist), he had a lifelong interest in the Bible and some of the 300+ books he wrote in his lifetime were about Biblical scholarship.

Baley came to regret his revisionist take on Queen Jezebel. He soon came to realize that by destroying Jessie's image of her wicked namesake, he has taken something precious away from her.

But that was all in the past. In the present, Baley has to introduce her to his new partner. They have a tense dinner of zymoveal and protoveg, ("There's nothing wrong with zymoveal," Jessie scolds her complaining son. "...they're full of vitamins and minerals and everything anyone needs and we can have all the chicken we want when we eat in Community on the chicken Tuesdays." Jessie used to be a dietitian in a Community Kitchen and knows whereof she speaks). Bentley has heard about the shoe store disturbance on the news but Baley does not want to talk about it. Bentley further embarrasses his father by telling Daneel that he's working on a school paper about robots. "It's a quite complicated subject." Bentley says. "I'm against them myself."

After dinner, Jessie goes off to have a "girls night out" with her friends, and drags Bentley with her to keep the boy out his father's hair. Baley and Daneel need to discuss the murder.

The Spacers believe that the murder was committed by an organized group of Medievalists; Earthmen who espouse a Luddite philosophy and hate the modern world -- especially robots. (In this era, the 20th Century is considered to fall within the "Medieval" period). Baley knows that most Earthmen tend to be Medievalist in attitude to some extent or another; in Enderby's case it's reflected in his fondness for anachronisms like eyeglasses and windows; in Baley's own case it is a fascination with history, especially the history of folkways like the Bible. He is skeptical that there's any group of Medievalists organized enough to pose a terrorist threat. Daneel reminds him of several recent instances of anti-robot violence -- including the one they just witnessed at the shoe shop.

The Spacers originally established Spacetown as part of a campaign to modernize Earth and bring it up to the same social and economic levels as the Outer Worlds. This will require converting Earth to what Daneel calls a "C/Fe" society, meaning a society based on both carbon-based life, (humans); and iron-based machines, (robots). The Spacers did not, however, anticipate the resistance of the Earthmen to this change.

Part of the problem is that the Spacers are as ignorant of Earth culture as the Earthmen are of Spacer culture. The Spacers are unable to mingle with the Earthmen, partially for psychological reasons (they are unused to dealing with the crowds of Earth's densely-populated cities) and partially because they have a justified fear of Earth diseases; (a fear which many Earthmen interpret as a contempt for 'dirty' Earthmen, thus compounding the situation).

Dr, Roj Nemennuh Sarton, a Spacer from the planet Aurora, had come up with a promising breakthrough: a humaniform robot, lifelike-enough to actually pass for human, who could walk amongst the people of Earth and gather data on them. Daneel was the first of these robots; before any others could be built, Dr. Sarton was murdered.

Baley concedes that this would be a strong motive for a hypothetical Medievalist organization; but they would still lack the means. Spacer security at the entry-point where it connects to New York is very stringent, and the murderer, if he were an Earthman, would not be able to smuggle the blaster used as a murder weapon through the checkpoint. Daneel counters that there are many other exits from New York City -- about five hundred in all -- from which the murderer could have traveled to Spacetown by walking cross-country. Baley finds this impossible. Earthmen have been living in their enclosed cities for so long, that the idea of walking outside under the open sky seems unthinkable. Still, Daneel insists that this is the only way a weapon could have been smuggled into Spacetown.

About this time, Jessie returns, obviously upset. She asks Daneel point-blank if he is a robot. He admits that he is.

Later that night, after Baley has retired, he has a quiet conversation with his wife. Jessie claims that she guessed Daneel was a robot because she overheard some gossip in the Ladies' room. "The rumor is all over town. It must be... They said there was talk about a Spacer robot loose in the City. He was supposed to look just like a man and to be working with the police." Jessie is afraid that if people find out Daneel is a robot, there could be another riot and her family could be hurt, possibly killed.

As they have their discussion, Baley has a thought. He creeps to the door of the room Daneel is staying in and peeks in. Daneel is not there. His idea is confirmed when some minutes later, he hears Daneel return to the apartment.

Baley assures his wife that everything will be fine. He has the whole thing solved.

NEXT WEEK: Has Elijah really solved the case? Since we're only a third of the way through the book, the chances of that aren't good. In chapters 7-12, Elijah visits Spacetown; a beautiful theory meets an ugly fact; Elijah hears a sermon from a Spacer; and gets chased out of a cafeteria.