Genre fusion in fiction can be like food fusion in cuisine. It can work out well, with each segment complimenting the other with their differences. Or it can be a discordant mixture causing you to feel actual pain as you experience it. At best, an interesting and inspiring discovery. At worst a mistake that should be forgotten as quickly as possible. People love murder mysteries. People love science fiction. Can these be two great tastes that taste great together? Asimov decided to find out.
In “Caves of Stell” Asimov illustrates his setting and themes while allowing the plot to move forward. His early chapters are pretty tipped toward giving the reader a detailed picture of a future of enormous cities that delve deep into the earth, where humans are afraid of the open air and are used to living like packed sardines. He establishes the strong anti-robot sentiment of the earthlings, the details of the main character's life and relationship to his wife and coworkers. So by the time Elijah meets his new partner, a robot that looks too human for comfort, we know enough about this sci-fi environment to see how the murder mystery rolls out.
As the book goes along, the mystery takes over the plot more and more, but Asimov is very good about using his themes as a basis for presenting solutions to the murder or as red herrings to throw the reader and Elijah off the scent. He throws in his laws of robotics of course, but there are other ideas about overpopulation, efficiency, resistance to change and human kind's need to push past boundaries. The thing is, he doesn't really bash the reader over the head with it, these are just presented as the clues are pieced together.
For example, Elijah attempts to pin the murder on a robot. This forces him to explore the laws of robotics as well as the differences in behavior between humans living on earth and those who come from space colonies. These conflicting views show different approaches to his themes. And they offer the reader a nice trip though Elijah's logic in putting together a motive and a suspect. So you get character building too!
The only things I wasn't too fond of was the dated language and some of the clunky dialogue. Does anyone exclaim "Jehoshaphat" and do it more than once?
I've tried my hand at a thriller/sci-fi short story and found it to be a bit of a challenge. Really my story was primarily a thriller in a sci-fi setting, but what Asimov does here is create an excellent balance of presenting sci-fi themes and ideas along with a good murder mystery.
Have you read "Caves of Steel"? What did you think of it? What other combination of genre's have you seen attempted successfully or not so successful? Have you tried your own mixed genre story?