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Caves of Steel

September 14, 2013

As some might know, I’m a fan of Sci-fi. The book I’m currently reading is Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov. Asimov has quickly grown to be my favorite author, i feel that Caves of Steel is one of his best works.

It’s a murder mystery novel, set in 2154. The Earth is a different place, with a population of 8 billion ( bare in mind this was written in 1953, when the Earth’s population was on 2,5 billion ), and most people live in giant metal domed Cities. Food is mostly made from farmed Yeast, in massive processing plants within the city. In one of the safest areas of New York City, the unthinkable happens. Someone is murdered. Detective Elijah Bailey is on the job. With a new partner, a robot named R. Daneel Olivaw.

Just over half way through the book, the following conversation takes place. I thought this piece very relevant. This is what makes humanity great. Our species always finds a way.

Norris said, “It looks as though the Medievalists are right.”

“You mean back to the soil? Is that it, Phil?”

“No. I mean about the robots. Back to the soil. Huh! Old Earth has an unlimited future. We don’t need robots, that’s all.”

Baley muttered, “Eight billion people and the uranium running out! What’s unlimited about it?”

“What if the uranium does run out. We’ll import it. Or we’ll discover other nuclear processes. There’s no way you can stop mankind, Lije. You’ve got to be optimistic about it and have faith in the old human brain. Our greatest resource is ingenuity and we’ll never run out of that, Lije.”

He was fairly started now. He went on, “For one thing, we can use sunpower and that’s good for billions of years. We can build space stations inside Mercury’s orbit to act as energy accumulators. We’ll transmit energy to Earth by direct beam.”

This project was not new to Baley. The speculative fringe of science had been playing with the notion for a hundred and fifty years at least. What was holding it up was the impossibility so far of projecting a beam tight enough to reach fifty million miles without dispersal to uselessness. Baley said as much.

Norris said, “When it’s necessary, it’ll be done. Why worry?”

Baley had the picture of an Earth of unlimited energy. Population could continue to increase. The yeast farms could expand, hydroponic culture intensify. Energy was the only thing indispensable. The raw minerals could be brought in from the uninhabited rocks of the System. If ever water became a bottleneck, more could be brought in from the moons of Jupiter. Hell, the oceans could be frozen and dragged out into Space where they could circle Earth as moonlets of ice. There they would be, always available for use, while the ocean bottoms would represent more land for exploitation, more room to live. Even carbon and oxygen could be maintained and increased on Earth through utilization of the methane atmosphere of Titan and the frozen oxygen of Umbriel.

Earth’s population could reach a trillion or two. Why not? There was a time when the current population of eight billion would have been viewed as impossible. There was a time when a population of a single billion would have been unthinkable. There had always been prophets of Malthusian doom in every generation since Medieval times and they had always proven wrong.

But what would Fastolfe say? A world of a trillion? Surely! But they would be dependent on imported air and water and upon an energy supply from complicated storehouses fifty million miles away. How incredibly unstable that would be. Earth would be, and remain, a feather’s weight away from complete catastrophe at the slightest failure of any part of the System-wide mechanism.

Baley said, “I think it would be easier to ship off some of the surplus population, myself.” It was more an answer to the picture he had himself conjured up than to anything Norris had said.

“Who’d have us?” said Norris with a bitter lightness.

“Any uninhabited planet.”

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