about this blog

I started this blog in 2008. It started mainly as a way of tracking the evolution of my dry garden, and that led to an interest in photography and in the creatures that live in the garden. It's still about the garden and wildlife, but now my passion is thinking about how we humans can learn to co-exist with wild animals and plants, especially in urban areas.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

us and (or in) nature

The Caves of Steel is set three thousand years into the future. Humans live on Earth in completely enclosed underground cities while their robot servants work in mines and farms in the open country.

In this future world nature has become totally scary and unfamiliar. Even more than in the present time!!! Many people today regard a camping trip as the worst punishment imaginable. Whenever they see insects they reach for the insecticide. But still people go out, breathe the air and may notice the presence of a few trees and birds flying around.

In the Caves of Steel people never go outside. They live in a crowded airconditioned environment where there is no difference between day and night. Like a typical shopping mall. What matters are efficiency and economy.

Baley looked back through the steamy haze and the noise and … thought of a visit to the City Zoo … he had been excited. After all, he had never actually seen a cat or dog before. Then, on top of that, there was the birdcage!

… There is something about the first sight of living objects hurtling through the air that is incomparably startling. It was feeding time in the sparrow cage and an attendant was dumping cracked oats into a long trough (human beings had grown used to yeast substitutes, but animals, more conservative in their way, insisted on real grain).

But as usual in this kind of story there is a group of rebels who want a different life.

‘What do you medievalists want?’

‘Back to the soil’ said Cloussar in a stifled voice… ‘It doesn’t matter how long it takes, but let’s get started out of these caves we live in. Let’s get out into the fresh air’.

‘Have you ever been out into the fresh air?’

Cloussar squirmed. ‘All right, so I’m ruined too. But the children aren’t ruined yet. There are babies being born continually. Get them out, for God’s sake. Let them have space and open air and sun.’

I’m pleased and relieved to be able to say that the story ends on an upbeat hopeful note.


  1. Haven'tread that book for years. What a good post.

  2. Hi Hermes, yes it's an old book, first published in 1954 - I just got round to reading it. cheers, catmint

  3. I am going to go get this book catmint, it sounds very interesting.

  4. Hi Deborah, yes it is interesting. It's actually got a broader theme than I have described - it's part of Asimov's series about robots. Which of course is about nature vs technology I guess. So glad you dropped by, cheers, catmint

  5. It sounds like a desperate life and scary. Catmint do you remember the book "Silent Spring" 1962 written by the biologist Rachel Carson. I do not
    think that it has made any changes how the enviroment is treated, in a way worse because materialism has increased and the throw away society has grown. Perhaps the future generations better take note otherwise they might ending up living in a underground cave?

  6. Hi Titania, thanks for your interesting comment. It does seem as if society hasn't learned the lessons that we learned so long ago, or at least hasn't taken it on board. The risks are great, but I remain optimistic. cheers, catmint

  7. I've never liked science fiction much but this book sounds interesting! My dad used to have all of his books -- wonder if he still does...

  8. Upbeat ending sounds good to me. Thanks, Catmint. (I should check the book out, myself.)

  9. Dear J, firstly before I forget, Potter sends best wishes to her new cyber friend Betsy.

    Asimov was big in the fifties and sixties. Now you probably need to be a sci fi buff to read him, but what constantly amazes me is how the best sci fi doesn't really date, and how the same issues still exist. Like how to feed and house a growing population and still maintain nature.

    Hi Shady, it's a good book. Not exactly an upbeat ending though, more like the possiblity of an upbeat ending, like our future.

    Cheers, catmint

  10. I liked the review, but your post title might possibly be the part I liked best. I'll have to try reading Asimov again; he sounds more interesting to me now. Did you know he loved to do his own indexes?

  11. I've always liked Asimov, but have never read that book. I'll have to track it down and read it.

  12. What a frightening story. I might look for it just to find out how that can have a hopeful ending. I really do enjoy futuristic/dystopia type books, but they are really depressing.

  13. Hi Pomona, no I didn't know that about Asimov. I'm so glad you liked the title of the post.

    Hi Deborah, it's in his robot series. He was an amazing writer I think, and hasn't really dated.

    Hi Wendy, thanks for your interesting comment. I agree dystopias can be depressing and scary - but I think they also offer the potential of an alternative better future. And I find them compulsively fascinating reading.

    Cheers, catmint


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