Refuge by Rob Chilson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I don’t understand this book, or rather the importance of this book to the series. I don’t think it adds very much to the series and instead think it detracts and distracts. I think it’s poorly written (did you know you can collect water in space for fuel for your space ship?) and the science is spurious and the concept is bad and I have no idea what the series editors were thinking when they thought about this fifth book in the six book series.
So far, Derec and Ariel have been trapped on and in Robot City for the first four books and have been desperate to escape, especially since Ariel’s mysterious fatal illness finally seems to be getting worse and also because Derec wants to find the source of his amnesia. At the end of the last book, they’ve escaped the evil Dr. Avery with Wolruf and Mandelbrot in Dr. Avery’s space ship and are heading out. In this book, they use a Key to Perihelion to transport them to somewhere, anywhere, and to their horror, they wind up on earth. Earth is a spacer’s nightmare. It’s beyond overcrowded. It’s so overpopulated that its entire population is larger than all 50 colonized planets combined! And this is one of the stupid things about the book. When I read that, I thought, holy cow — there must be like 100 billion people on the planet to beat out 50 other planets in some distant future. Everyone lives underground and travels underground and the cities are all underground. How many people are there? Bear in mind that this book was written in 1988. There were probably about five billion people on the planet at the time of publication. So, to my shock, Derec and Ariel were horrified to learn that earth had EIGHT BILLION people living on it!!! Oh my God! Eight billion! More than 50 planets! Um, really? How freaking stupid is that? We already nearly have that many now, just a few decades after publication of this book. Are you telling me this sci fi writer couldn’t look into the future and see serious over population? What a massive moron!
Anyway, Derec and Ariel are on earth and they’re overwhelmed at all the people. I mean, they are surrounded by thousands of people. Thousands. Oh my God. The horror. I can’t imagine. Poor spacers. Apartments are tiny and don’t include bathrooms or kitchens, so they have to share communal bathrooms and go to giant cafeterias. Additionally, earthmen hate robots, so even though Dr. Avery has one in his apartment who helps them, they can’t take it out with them or it would be torn apart.
They find they’re in St. Louis. They travel around, feeling claustrophobic. They get identified as spacers and some people try to attack them. They want to get out to the surface and driving trucks is one of the only ways to do so, so they take a course, but have to withdraw after their fake IDs are identified. Meanwhile Ariel’s getting much worse. The only real redeeming aspect of the book is that she is hospitalized and the medical staff is able to diagnose and cure her of her plague she had gotten on Aurora. Her memories are erased, but they are able to slowly replace many of them, with Derec’s help, but it takes time. Meanwhile, he’s doing very poorly himself and seems to be getting sick. He keeps dreaming of Robot City. He dreams it’s inside him. And then he realizes, somehow, that it is. That it’s growing inside of him and that Dr. Avery did something to him that needs to be fixed only by returning to Robot City in an effort to save his life. Finally, he and Ariel are able to fly to New York City, underground (I want to know how they got the Arch of St. Louis magically underground???), and take a space ship off planet. Soon they are attacked by the same alien from the first book who had captured them, but Wolruf and Mandelbrot show up and the four of them fight him off and destroy his ship. The last paragraph of the book has Mandelbrot using the Key to take all four back to Robot City.
All that said, there’s virtually nothing about Robot City in this book at all. We never see it. It’s not often mentioned. We rarely see robots. We spend virtually all of our time on earth with Derec and Ariel and while it’s minimally interesting, I actually got pretty bored quite soon. I thought it was filler. I thought, aside from finding Ariel’s cure, which could have taken place anywhere, including Robot City, this book really had little to nothing to offer and I don’t even know why it was written. I thought, as in previous books, the dialogue was stilted, the plot line was shaky, the logic was faulty, the science was pretty sad, and the entire representation of earth was beyond unrealistic. Just a poor, poor book. Since I have the last book, I’m going to read it. I think this is a somewhat poor series, not well written, but on the whole, I’ve enjoyed it to a certain degree, in part because it’s fairly original and I appreciate that. It’s also got a lot of mystery about it and I’m hoping all becomes clear in this next book. I can’t recommend this book at all and even if you’re reading this series, I would just skip it, because other than Ariel’s cure, there’s not much else here to make it worthwhile. Looking forward to the final book though….