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Posts Tagged ‘Isaac Asimov’

A Review of Foundation’s Edge

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 23, 2015

Foundation's Edge (Foundation, #4)Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Spectacular! Finally, a Foundation book worthy of its reputation and legacy. I found the Foundation Trilogy to be quite mediocre, at best, and even gave the second one just one star and couldn’t even finish it, it was so bad. The writing was horrible in the first three books, the characters undeveloped, the plotlines flat, the technology rather pathetic with far too much reliance on nuclear energy 20,000 years in the future. The books sucked. But this one, written 30 years later, shows a maturity in the writing style, a certain growth, and while no one can ever confuse Asimov’s ability to create character development with “real” writers, he certainly improves it in this book. So, too, the plot is decidedly better, more intricate, more intriguing, the book may even be viewed as a page turner! What a pleasant surprise.

Foundation’s Edge focuses on Foundation Councilman Golan Trevize, whose ideas about the existence of the Second Foundation get him in a great deal of trouble. Likewise, a young Speaker of the Second Foundation, also aware that something is completely wrong with the Seldon Plan, is viewed as a troublemaker. Trevize is arrested and exiled for his challenge to the Mayor of the Foundation. He is given a secret mission – to find the Second Foundation and determine what it is up to and then to report back. The Second Foundation’s Speaker’s goal is to find who is manipulating the Seldon Plan outside the Second Foundation, as he is now convinced is happening. These two mysteries and men are destined to find one another and then, what happens, happens.

Trevize takes historian Jan Pelorat, an unknown academic who believes, bizarrely, that humans, now spread over a zillion planets, actually originated on a single planet: Earth. Pelorat unwittingly joins Trevize as a cover for his search for the Second Foundation. Pelorat is obsessed with Earth. Why did people leave Earth 20,000 years ago? For instance, why are there no records of its history or location anywhere, just rumors? Was Earth destroyed by radioactivity? Did a war between robots and humanity force humans to flee the planet to establish new worlds?

Speaker Gendibal takes as his companion a Hamish woman named Novi, whom he will use as a mental alarm in the event anyone or anything attempts to take his mind over. Novi ends up playing a significant role in this book.

Foundation Mayor Branno leads a fleet of five warships to the mysterious planet Trevize and Pelorat locate, Gaia, a planet found on no maps or in no databases anywhere. Trevize, Gendibal, and Branno all appear at Gaia simultaneously and discover something unbelievable. And something unbelievable happens to end the novel.

There is another book Asimov apparently wrote after this book and this one was so good that I’ll probably buy that one and read it too. I hope it’ll be nearly as decent as this was. I also know there are now preludes to the original trilogy, but as I hated the trilogy so much, I doubt I’m interested in reading any preludes. This book is superior, a most excellent book, and while it helps to have read the trilogy, I’m not certain it’s necessary – it can probably be read as a stand alone book. Even though it’s over 425 pages, it doesn’t feel long and is a quick read. Definitely worth the investment. Strongly recommended.

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A Review of The Naked Sun

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 8, 2015

The Naked Sun (Robot, #2)The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Naked Sun is really not a bad follow up to The Caves of Steel, both of The Robot series. The book features Earth and New York City detective Elijah Baley and Aurora humanoid robot, friend, and detective R. Daneel Olivaw traveling to Outer World Solaria to solve a murder. Solaria is a very odd world that has essentially no crime at all. It’s a world of 20,000 people and 200 million robots spread out on several thousand gigantic estates around the planet. People are hermits and refuse to “see” anyone else at all, instead “viewing” them holographically when they need to interact. The only time there are human interactions are basically when children are growing up and even though they are cared for by robots, there are occasional times they are needed by people and although these caretakers are disgusted by this, they do their duty. Additionally, most people are married, though not all. Some of these people live together, but in sprawling estates in their own areas so that they don’t encounter each other ever — except on rare occasion when “intimacy” is allowed and required. Finally, rare medical attention, when not being given by “viewing,” is administered by seeing, although it can be traumatic. There’s one doctor, one sociologist, two fetalogists (child caretakers), 10 roboticists, and just not too many of any one type of profession. There’s one or two policemen, but I’m not sure why.

So a leading scientist described as a “good Solarian” was murdered in his estate. The problem was, who could have done it. He was with his robots, but everyone knows that the First Law of Robotics won’t permit robots to harm humans. The only other option was his wife, Gladia Delmarre, who he never would have allowed into his presence in his laboratory, but as she was the only human with access, she’s the guilty party as far as Solaria is concerned. Unfortunately, there’s no murder weapon, no motive, no confession, nothing. So, since Baley (and Olivaw) did such a great job solving the Spacer murder on Earth the previous year, he was requested to come try to solve this murder. And he goes against his wishes. Because like all Earthmen, he’s terrified of open spaces and of light, such as sunlight. Remember that he lives in a giant city under ground full of people and going to a planet where everything is on the surface and there are so few people and so many hated robots is hideous to him. But it’s his duty, so he does it. And in the process, the lead investigator who invited him to Solaria is murdered in his presence while viewing and he himself is attacked with an assassination attempt, so it becomes quite personal. And as he investigates, the obvious murderer to everyone becomes the less obvious person to him, as he looks at other possibilities. To be perfectly honest, this isn’t the hardest mystery to solve. I had it figured out about halfway through the book, but it was still enjoyable to see how things played out and besides, that wasn’t what this book was about. This book’s strengths lie in its look at sociological views of human evolution and technology, in this case, robots. The Solarian sociologist who is the acknowledged expert knows nothing. He is self taught and doesn’t care to study anything by anyone on any other worlds, no matter how advanced or helpful their work may be. The physician, too, seems woeful in his abilities. Solaria, in its efforts to become the perfect human world and society, is freaking falling apart and disintegrating and they don’t even realize it. But Baley does. He sees and understands. The only humans left on Solaria are admittedly the “leisure” class and they are practically useless and helpless. This is what we’ll come to with the aid of robots? Hopefully not. The sociologist shocks Baley by telling him Solaria is based on Earth, but he’s right to a certain degree. They are simply opposite extremes of each other. As in the last book, Baley had become convinced that in order for Earth to survive its population explosion and diminishing resources, it had to once again advance into outer space and again colonize new planets, he’s now further convinced of the necessity for that and when he returns to New York, he makes a point of expressing that to the powers that be, hoping that someone, somewhere will see the light.

The actual solving of the murder is pretty dramatic and somewhat satisfying, if also fairly simplistic and to a minimal degree, somewhat predictable in terms of who the culprit is. My two main complaints about this book are we don’t see as much of Daneel Olivaw as we did in the preceding book, and that’s a shame, and I also find it very hard to believe that Solaria has devolved so much in the 200 years of its colonization so that people are now so disgusted with human contact that they can’t even tolerate it at all and can’t even say the word, “children,” for instance, and can barely tolerate the notion of intimacy with anyone, including a spouse. How can people, in 200 years, grow to despise being in contact with each other so much that some, this happens, would rather commit suicide? It stretches the imagination and I find it somewhat unbelievable. But whatever the case, it is what it is, so I guess you have to go with it.

I thought hard about giving this book five stars because I thought it was pretty original and quite enjoyable, but I’m giving it four because the actual mystery is rather simplistic, as I said, and because there are some elements of the book, as noted, that seem rather unbelievable. It’s not bad though and I certainly recommend it to anyone in search of a decent sci fi mystery to read. And it’s not essential that one have read the first robot book to read this either; it can be read as a stand alone novel. Recommended.

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A Review of Second Foundation

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 6, 2015

Second Foundation (Foundation, #3)Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, what do you know? Asimov CAN actually write a decent book! I’m literally shocked! After reading the absolute disasters that the first two Foundation books were in terms of both plot and writing (the writing was atrocious, along the lines of a young high schooler with a couple of years of English classes under his belt at best), I was convinced that Asimov’s incredible reputation was completely fraudulent and I was curious how he or his publishers had pulled it off. This book helped repair that image to a certain degree in my eyes. In this book, it’s apparent that Asimov might have actually taken a college English class or two, maybe even a writing class, in between writing the previous Foundation books and this one, because he has now learned the meaning of the word “transitions,” something he had previously never heard of. It’s still not his strong point and I suspect it never will be, but at least he can now string a few sentences and paragraphs together in English without sounding like a total idiot. He’s also learned a little bit more about character development, not enough, but much more than he ever displayed in the previous Foundation books. That’s a bit of a relief. Furthermore, after almost completely ignoring women as characters in the previous books, particularly the first one, a couple play prominent roles in this book, particularly one young teenage girl who plays a very strong role in the second half of this novel. Refreshing. Maybe he’s not a total chauvinist pig after all. I suspect he is, but maybe he’s trying to overcome that to some small degree.

Second Foundation is the third book in the original Foundation trilogy, given the one time Hugo award for the best sci fi/fantasy trilogy series of all time, beating out Lord of the Rings, among others. That continues to astound me, as I can find no rational explanation for that. Nonetheless, the series is held in high regard by many. The first book centered around one Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian in the far distant Galactic Empire which is crumbling and he knows it, so he sets about mathematically sort of telling the future and developing a plan to put together a second Empire within 1,000 years and to do so, he establishes two Foundation worlds on opposite ends of the galaxy to prepare for this. The first Foundation is comprised of physical scientists who deal mostly with nuclear energy and who go on to dominate the worlds around them, creating their own small empire. They are destroyed by a mutant called the “Mule” in the second novel. The second Foundation is made up of psychologists who have developed mind control techniques similar to the Mule’s own abilities and who are determined to remain hidden and follow the Seldon Plan no matter what.

This book is divided into two halves. In the first half, five years after the Mule has conquered the first Foundation, he is ready to seek out and find and conquer the second Foundation and for that he sends his general Hans Pritcher with an accomplice in search of it. And it seems they find it. And the Mule shows up hot on their tail, seeking to confront the First Speaker of the Second Foundation, only to find more than he bargains for. It’s a pretty cool scene. In the second half of the book, 50 years have gone by and the First Foundation has now become convinced that the Second Foundation is their real enemy, for some bizarre reason, so they’re paranoid and groups of them are searching for the location of the Second Foundation. Meanwhile, the Mule’s replacement warlord on a nearby planet decides he wants to conquer the first Foundation and prepares to attack. A 14 year old Foundation girl, Arcadia Darell, stows away on a ship bound for his planet with a family friend being sent there presumably to study the Mule for academic purposes, but actually to spy for Second Foundation evidence. Arkady becomes friendly with the leader’s mistress, who helps her escape when war is imminent, and she leaves for Trantor, where she is “saved” by a farmer and his wife, who take her in and take care of her, particularly after they find out about the war between Kalgan and Foundation. Her father, and some friends, are leading the war effort, but they’ve also been leading in the secret fight against the Second Foundation, so when Arkady finds out the location of the Second Foundation, somehow, somewhat miraculously, she convinces her farmer protector to fly to Foundation and take food to aid the Foundation people and to tell her father five words that he would be able to interpret and would enable him to know where the Second Foundation is located. The things that follow are enough to make anyone’s head spin, because there are so many twists and turns and stops and starts and crazy things happen and you get to what you think is a happy conclusion, only to find there’s one more chapter, and with it, perhaps an even better conclusion. Great ending to a meh series. This is probably a five star book, but I can’t bring myself to give it five stars because I’m still so ticked off at how utterly bad and horrible the preceding book was, a one star book, and at how fairly bad the first book was, and at how overrated this whole series is. I’m also astonished at what I think is Asimov’s lack of sci fi foresight. Even writing as far back as he did, he still should have been able to predict some technology advances better than he did. Philip K. Dick was writing at the same time and did a much better job, on the whole, than Asimov did. For instance, this is what, 30,000, 50,000 years in the future, and people are still reading hard copy newspapers when they get out of their space ships? Seriously? In his books, microfilm is about as high tech as digital storage gets. Nuclear energy and power 50,000 years in the future is the pinnacle of scientific advancement and civilization. Obviously, it never occurred to Asimov that maybe, just maybe, humanity might have advanced beyond the nuclear era sometime over the next 50,000 years. It’s utterly mind boggling how devoid of sci fi ideas he was. And he was a scientist. That’s the thing that really gets me. I’ve got to say that in my opinion, he’s got to be the most overrated writer in the history of humanity, with 500 books to his credit, yet displaying very little imagination on the whole, total male chauvinism throughout his career, complete lack of sci fi technological foresight, his total obsession with Multivac in his short stories, the one and only world wide computer that is hundreds of miles big. He can’t even comprehend desktop computers. He takes a stab at palmtops, but can’t even come up with laptops or cell phones or email or the Internet or anything cooler than that that might turn up 100, 1,000, 10,000 years from now. No imagination. Where did he get his reputation from? He was pretty original with his robots, but after his first robot story or two, it got pretty repetitive and he spent half of his future stories rehashing the Laws and everything they implied. Boring. This book was good and I enjoyed it and for that I was glad. I’d like to give it a higher score, but in my opinion, the Foundation series is at best a three star trilogy, so at best, this is a four star book. Whatever the case, this book, at least, is recommended, unlike the others.

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A Review of Foundation and Empire

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 26, 2015

Foundation and Empire (Foundation, #2)Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’m sorry if I sound like a sci fi traitor, but this book sucks. And this series sucks. I have no idea how it won a one time Hugo for best sci fi/fantasy trilogy of all time, beating Lord of the Rings, but the idiots who gave it to Asimov were complete morons. First of all, this book is unbelievably stupid. It’s divided into two parts. In the first, a young general of the fading Galactic Empire comes to invade Foundation. With 10 warships, only eight of which work. And it turns into a 10 year war. Somehow. I have no idea how Asimov figures that. In David Weber’s space battles, hundreds of ships are destroyed in seconds in his books and that’s how I picture things to be. You don’t go “invade” a world with eight ships, nor would it take 10 years. That’s just stupid. And when Foundation defeats him, they somehow have defeated the Galactic Empire too, even though it encompasses thousands of planets and Foundation has invaded none of them, so that makes literally no sense. The second half of the book is about a mutant called “the Mule,” which is an utterly stupid name, who is anti-Foundation and who has arisen from nowhere to take over a planet without firing a shot, whom no one has really seen, who there are only rumors about, who all of a sudden is taking over all sorts of planets, and who attacks Foundation for some reason. It’s mind numbingly stupid. The second thing that makes giving this book part of the best trilogy of all time stupid is, like the other Foundation books, the writing is utterly atrocious. Asimov can’t write. It’s like he got three degrees in science and decided he could write novels, so he did, but he actually can’t. Compare that to me. I have three degrees in English and writing. What if I decided I wanted to go dabble in science? I would have no validity to do so, but isn’t that the same thing Asimov is doing? I like his robot books, to a certain degree, but frankly, the more I read of him, the more horrified I am at his total lack of writing skills. For instance, the man has never heard of transitions. Never. One minute a character is talking to someone, telling him he’ll go to another planet to talk to someone else, and the next sentence he’s talking to that other person, but you don’t know that because there’s been no transition letting you know that. There’s been no goodbyes said, no space travel, no landings, no travels on a new planet, no setting up meetings with a new person, nothing. Just the next sentence, the character is talking to the new person and it just magically happens. Terrible writing. Then try this on. This is a one sentence paragraph opening chapter 16. It’s unreal.

“When the twenty-seven independent Trading worlds, united only by their distrust of the mother planet of the Foundation, concert an assembly among themselves, and each is big with a pride grown of its smallness, hardened by its own insularity, and embittered by eternal danger — there are preliminary negotiations to be overcome of a pettiness sufficiently staggering to heartsicken the most persevering.”

What the HELL is that about? What does that even mean? It’s just gibberish! It’s trash! And that’s how Asimov writes. He writes like crap. Who taught him how to write? Did he ever take any writing classes, let alone creative writing classes, in college? And his dialogues are typically wooden and unbelievable as well. Just atrocious. Bad, bad, bad. He mixes 1950s casual colloquialisms with formalities and pseudo-technical gibberish to make it even worse. It hasn’t aged well, that’s for sure.

When I read the first Foundation novel a little while ago, I was disappointed, but I thought it was somewhat original, so even though I thought it was a three star book, I gave it a four star review. This one isn’t sliding by. I didn’t even finish it, I was so disgusted. And I have the next one, the next two actually. Somehow I doubt I’ll read them now. I can only think they’ll be massive disappointments to me. For the life of me, I have no idea how many people can give this book a five star rating. Clearly they have few standards as far as quality of writing goes. Call me a snob, but I think there are many, many more sci fi writers out there with infinitely better writing skills — and ideas — than Asimov. I just started a huge book of his early stories which has a very high rating on Goodreads. I hope I’ll like it and I actually think I might. But this book? Not recommended at all.

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A Review of Perihelion

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 29, 2015

Perihelion (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #6)Perihelion by William F. Wu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the conclusion to the six book Robot City series and I, for one, found it fairly satisfying. Robot City hasn’t been the best written series I’ve ever read. Perhaps part of the reason is that most of the books were written by different authors, which is an unusual way to go about writing a series. It’s lacked in some ways. The last two books, in particular, I thought were quite bad. But the idea behind the series was original and I appreciated that, and so I continued reading. And I’m glad I did.

In this book, Derec, Ariel, Mandelbrot, and Wolruf find themselves back in Robot City after their horrible time on Earth and they’re searching for the insane Dr. Avery, who has infected Derec with a disease in which “chemfets” have infected his system and, as a result, a miniature Robot City is literally growing inside him and it is killing him. He is weak and needs to sleep all the time and he is in a lot of pain. Meanwhile, Ariel has been cured of the Amnemonic plague and is slowing regaining her memory. That’s good, because she really carries Derec in this book.

When they descend the pyramid they landed on with the Key of Perihelion, Derec and Ariel are immediately accosted by a Hunter robot who attempts to take them captive. In fact, they don’t see too many robots at all. Robot City has changed since they were last there and they come to realize Dr. Avery has reprogrammed the robots somehow for some unknown reason. He’s taken their personalities and creativity away from them and has installed a new “migration” program for all humanoid robots to follow, leaving just a few robots to keep the city running.

The four of them escape the Hunter robot, but more Hunters appear, so they flee. They eventually escape to a warehouse where they hide out. Meanwhile, their old former cyborg friend, Jeff, from a previous book, returns to the planet with a big spaceship, since he owes them a favor, presumably to get them off planet and help save their lives. He knows they’ll be glad to see him. He lands in the middle of the city and is immediately accosted by Hunter robots. He’s stunned. He, too, can see Robot City has changed. Mandelbrot had been able to determine a ship was landing with a human in it, so he takes a truck to the ship in an effort to save him. He does and brings him back to the warehouse. They all swap information and it turns out Jeff had met Dr. Avery through his professor father a few years back. Also, Ariel’s mother had been a big contributor to Dr. Avery’s funds when it came to building Robot City. Derec is too weak to really join in. They decide they have to find Dr. Avery quickly to get him to save Derec’s life, but where to look? They do a scan and find crop fields in the hills outside the city. They decide that must be where Avery is hiding out, so they decide to head there. They decide Mandelbrot and Wolruf should take off separately to act as decoys so the humans can take off in the spaceship and somehow get to the crops to look for Avery.

I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending, but there’s a lot of action and a lot of tension and they do eventually find Avery and all of the mysteries are finally explained. And there are some real shocking surprises at the end of the book. Frankly, I enjoyed the hell out of the final few pages. This isn’t a five star book, but I think it’s a fairly four star effort. I’m glad I ended up giving this series a chance. For some quick, lightweight sci fi — recommended.

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A Review of Robot City: Refuge

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 23, 2015

Refuge (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #5)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….

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A Review of Robot City: Cyborg

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 29, 2015

Cyborg (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #3)Cyborg by William F. Wu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This third book of the Robot City series wasn’t nearly as good as the first two. In fact, I was pretty disappointed with it. The writer just didn’t seem to have it together. Maybe he’s a new author. I don’t know. The language was stilted and forced. Transitions were left out. It was just bad.

In this book, Derec and Katherine are still trying to locate the lost key so they can leave the planet and get to another planet somewhere. However, the robots of Robot City have hidden it in a well guarded location and it’s virtually impossible to get to.

Speaking of Katherine, Derec learns her real name is Ariel and she’s a rich daughter of a famous woman from the planet of Aurora. She apparently has an unnamed terminal disease that, although not contagious, has gotten her banned from her home planet and she has been searching the galaxy for a cure. Since Derec, who is very angry in this book for some unknown reason, and Ariel fight a lot, this new knowledge softens his stance some and he feels sorry for her and starts to take it easy on her.

One day, when going through the city’s computer, they discover there are three other humans in Robot City. They get excited, thinking these people might have a ship that could get them off world, so they are determined to find them. Meanwhile, a teenager heading to college crash lands in Robot City and nearly dies. The robot medical team doesn’t know enough about human physiology to repair his human body, so they create a new robot body and transplant his brain into it, making him a cyborg. Weird how they can do that, but they can’t fix his human body, huh? Naturally, he’s freaked out, so against their advice, he takes off into the city alone and wanders around. He talks out loud to himself, which is really annoying to read, and he determines that he is the strongest individual on the planet, since he has a robot body, but is still a human and robots have to apply the Three Laws to him. He decides to take over the planet and rule it. Why? No idea. He decides to enlist the two other humans he has found, Derec and Ariel, to help him, so he goes to see them. And gets in a fight with them. Literally. A physical altercation. It’s bizarre. He’s a very tempestuous individual. He later asks Ariel to have her brain transplanted into a robot body and join him in ruling the world and she actually considers it, thinking this could save her from her disease. How incredibly stupid is that? Jeff, the cyborg, is crazy, so Derec and Ariel give the robots instructions to find him and bring him to them. He is eventually caught and is put under the knife by the medical staff. They ask Derec to get naked and let them scan him. Now they know about male human physiology. Yeah. So, they transplant Jeff’s brain back into his old body and fix him up. All it took for them to do that was to scan Derec’s naked body. Okay. Whatever. Bad book, as I said. Meanwhile, two of Derec and Ariel’s old friends from the first book show up in a one person lander. They decide to send Jeff off to college in it and they would stay in Robot City and continue to search for cures for Ariel’s unnamed disease.

It looked to me like the target audience for this book was middle school males. At least it was short, a one day read. And I still like the series and will continue to read on. If you’re reading the series, you’ll want to read this just to know what is happening. However, it’s not much of a stand alone novel, so I’d suggest with starting with the first book and going from there. If you’re reading the series, I cautiously recommend it. If not, I don’t.

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A Review of Robot City: Suspicion

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 20, 2015

Suspicion (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #2)Suspicion by Mike McQuay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sequel to Robot City: Odyssey didn’t let me down. We have Derec and Kate still in Robot City, unable to leave, guests of the robots, against their wills. Why are they guests? Well, in my review of the previous book, I said there was a cliff hanger. Here it is. One other human has been on the planet and he has wound up murdered. Since robots can’t murder humans, Derec and Kate are the suspects, even though they weren’t even on the planet when it occurred.

While Kate is obsessed with solving the murder and exonerating themselves, Derec is obsessed with the city itself. See, it’s growing. Constantly. And it rains every night. Hard. He discovers an underground reservoir where the water is about to overflow and destroy the city, but if the city would just stop growing, things would be okay. But he also discovers where the city is growing. Near the reservoir, in underground mines, a zillion robots are helping to build a living organism that evolves and grows — the city, all under the watchful eyes of the robot supervisors. He confronts them and they say it can’t be stopped. He’s frustrated.

Meanwhile, Kate finds the murder site. It’s an enclosed building that needs to have a hole cut into it for her to enter. In it, she finds the naked body of the man called David, strangely, Derec’s given name. When she turns the body over, she freaks out because she sees Derec. She passes out and the robots rush to get Derec to come assist her.

Derec keeps thinking about the city and the robots. He finds the very first robot and quizzes him. It saw a human walking away from him as his first waking sight. Derec is convinced the pyramid at the center of the city plays a key role and enters it, only to be told that the top of it is off limits. He goes in anyway. He goes up some stairs and finds an office. Of a human. Who is obviously not there. And he finds a computer. With files for defense of the city, which he reads. He tries to modify them, but is unable to do so.

Later, he and Kate go to the building housing the dead man. They enter and find the body gone. Derec gets suspicious. The computer had said something about an alien presence in its defensive information. The body had had a cut on its foot. The building was enclosed and had no air. He cut himself and let his blood hit the ground. Immediately, the building closed up around them, enclosing them in it. The blood is the alien presence. Derec now knows what killed David. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Still, the rains come. Derec rushes to the mines to find the supervisors to see if they’ll let him reprogram the core to include hemoglobin in its defenses, as well as to dig further for more space. One of them helps him. They find the core, he programs it, the core accepts it, the city is saved.

Good book. But lots of unanswered questions. Robot City has no communication equipment. It can’t let anyone know Derec and Kate are on their planet, nor can it summon a ship for them. Who is the human overseer and probable creator of the city? Where is he hiding? What happened to their key that brought them there that they hid in the pyramid? Who was David? I guess I’ll be looking for those answers and more in Book Three. It’s a short book and readable in one day. Not too heavy, not too sci fi, except for the robots. But fun, nonetheless. Recommended, assuming you’ve read the first one.

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A Review of Robot City: Odyssey

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 18, 2015

Odyssey (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #1)Odyssey by Michael P. Kube-McDowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting beginning to a series commissioned by Asimov’s publisher and with his permission. Indeed, he writes the forward. Of course, the Three Laws of Robotics are in full force here.

A man, who goes by the name of Derec, which is found on the front of his shirt, wakes up on an asteroid with severe amnesia. He has no idea who he is, where he’s from, where he was going, who his family is, what planet he’s from, what his work is, etc. All he knows is that he’s surrounded by robots. Many, many robots. And most of them are pretty darn busy. It looks like they’re mining. He starts wandering around the various levels and meets some of the robots and while they’re respectful, they won’t let him leave the premises for his own safety or rebuild the craft he was in to take off in. After awhile, a space ship is seen coming toward the asteroid and no own knows its intent, but the robots start going wild. They start taking everything on the premises to be burned and once dumped in the incinerator, they jump in after. They’re committing suicide. The ship turns out to be hostile and fires lasers at the asteroid and their colony, wreaking terrible damage. Derec outwits a robot, dons a special suit, and makes it to the surface. At the very end, a robot breaks free and shouts to Derek that they’ve found the key. Derec passes out.

And wakes up on the space ship. Where a very hostile alien is captain of the ship and wants robots for slaves. He’s got some blown up parts and insists Derec build him a robot or else. There are several types of aliens on this large ship and one that looks kind of like a dog becomes a kind of friend to him. Derec somehow builds a robot, but gives it instructions to listen only to Derec as his ultimate master, even while following someone else’s orders. The captain is happy with the robot and promptly tells Derec he wants 50 more. Derec and his doggie buddy make it to the control center of the ship, where the robot and the dog carry off the captain. Derec starts looking for the hidden key the robots gave him, as he’s obsessed with it. As he’s looking, a young woman appears and seems to know him. However, as they’re talking, he’s working on lifting floor boarding and an explosion occurs, knocking everyone out.

Derec wakes up in a hospital room in what he later finds out are weeks later. And his female friend, Kate, is there too, still asleep from her injuries. And they have a robot doctor. They’re on a space station manned entirely by robots. And part of the space ship had come loose and the robots had captured it and brought it back to the station. As soon as Kate, the young woman, is able to get around, they start talking about getting back home, wherever that is. And they talk about the key, which the woman knows about too. However, neither of them knows its significance. Odd. The doggie alien turns up, hiding from the robots and the three of them team up to rescue the key, which the doggie knows the location of. And they pull it off! The three of them end up back in a darkened room and it turns out that the alien knows a little about it. Apparently, it’s a key to a transdimensional travel ability, which is why it’s so wanted. As the robots are closing in on them, Kate and Derec rub it, find a catch, push it and disappear. And appear in the middle of nothingness. They push it again and appear atop a pyramid in a large, beautiful but alien city. They try it again, but it doesn’t work, so they figure it needs time to “recharge.” So they spend the night atop the pyramid.

In the morning, they go for it again and they’re taken back to the land of nothingness. They press the key again, thinking of winding up on Kate’s home planet and they’re dispatched right back to the pyramid. Odd. Derec decides he wants to go down and look around. Kate follows him down. At the bottom, they’re met by robots. They’re taken to a house, where they get cleaned up, and then go to meet the city leaders, who they assume are going to be human. But they’re wrong. More robots. Because they’re in Robot City. There are no humans. They’re stunned. And while they want off the planet and to go back home, it turns out that can’t happen because of an interesting plot twist that leaves you hanging at the end of the book. Completely unresolved. You have to buy the sequel and probably each sequel after that in order to find resolution. This publishing strategy usually bugs me and I’m encountering that with David Weber’s Safehold series, but his books are 800-1100 pages long. This book was only 200 pages and I read it in a day. So I’m not too put off by the idea of reading a few sequels in this series. The writing is simple. The plot is basic. It’s pretty easy to understand. The sci fi isn’t very original. But it’s still fun. It takes you back to a simpler time in sci fi. And if you like robots, you’re in for a treat. Recommended.

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