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Posts Tagged ‘robots’

A Review of The Robots of Dawn

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 21, 2015

The Robots of Dawn (Robot, #3)The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this third book in the Isaac Asimov robot trilogy (which I believe turned into four books…) and thought it was the best one. It follows the paths of Earth investigator Elijah Bailey and his Spacer robot sidekick R Daneel Olivaw as they attempt to solve the “murder” of a humaniform robot similar to Daneel on the planet Aurora. In the first book, The Caves of Steel, the two met and solved a murder mystery in New York City on Earth. In this futuristic Earth, a fearful population lives in huge domed cities underground and never goes outside. In the second book, The Naked Sun, Elijah is forced to face his fears and is told to leave Earth to solve a murder that occurred on a Spacer planet called Solaria where the sparse population has developed a weird type of disgust for their fellow humans. They refuse to touch other humans and mostly only interact with their numerous robots. When Elijah returns to Earth, he’s come to think that colonizing other planets is the only way that the human race on Earth can survive the future. He’s been changed by his experience.

In this book, The Robots of Dawn, Daneel’s humaniform robot companion has been “murdered” by someone, yet the only suspect is the most famous roboticist in the galaxy, Dr. Falstolfe, who freely admits he’s the only person in the galaxy with the necessary skills to be able to disable a positronic humaniform robot of that type, of which he is also the creator, yet at the same time he strongly claims he’s innocent. If Elijah and Daneel can’t prove him innocent, it will have terrible consequences for Elijah’s career and for Earth’s ability to attempt to colonize the galaxy. Daneel is also in danger, as he is the last remaining humaniform robot and it seems he is wanted. It’s a huge mystery and as Baley interviews various suspects and other people, it seems completely unsolvable, or at least everything points to Falstolfe, so there seems little hope for Baley and Earth’s futures.

Two important characters in the book are ex-Solarian woman, Gladia, now living on Aurora and with whom Elijah has a bit of a “thing,” even though he’s married and has no intention of cheating or leaving his wife, etc. He still allows himself to fantasize every now and then, remembering their time together when he was solving the murder on Solaria. The other major character is another robot named Giskard, who doesn’t appear to be as advanced as Daneel, but for whom appearances may be deceiving. Frankly, this is one of the most difficult mysteries I’ve ever seen any character solve and I had no idea how Baley was going to do it. The ultimate solution came as a bit of a shock to me and took me completely by surprise, as the apparent solution was a bit, just that – apparent, but there was a second, hidden, solution that was the brilliant shocker and which made this book most excellent.

However, I do have a complaint and in fairness to this book, it’s more about the author than it is about this book alone. Over the past year or two, in reading a lot of Asimov, I’ve come to realize that while he can come up with good ideas and write good mysteries, he’s a crappy writer and can’t write dialogue to save his life. In fact, he’s the worst dialogue writer of any author I’ve ever read! He’s freaking horrible!!! It’s so stilted and formal, so unauthentic, so academic and dry. In this book, somewhat surprisingly, there’s a lot of talk about sex, particularly between Elijah and Gladia and some of it occurs after an odd and surreal intimated sex scene and the dialogue is so 1950s wooden, formal crap that it’s just downright silly. No one talks like that. And this is supposed to be many thousands of years in the future! I read some of the sentences and paragraphs to my wife, who doesn’t read science fiction but who does read a lot, and she burst out laughing, stating that was the worst crap she had ever heard. And it is. My God, Asimov is a hack! In fact, he’s easily one of the worst sci fi “writers” in terms of actual writing ability of anyone I’ve ever read. In my reviews of his various Foundation books, I’ve often said it would have helped if he had taken some college level creative writing classes because he showed little evidence of basic skills, such as use of transitions, plot development, character development, and obviously his use of dialogue is such a joke as to make his books laughable – if these particular mysteries weren’t so intriguing. So, I really want to knock this book’s rating down a few stars, even though I think it’s a five star story. I mean, the story itself is brilliant, one of the best mysteries I’ve ever encountered. But the actual writing is so typically Asimov-bad, I’ve got to knock it down at least one star to four stars, with apologies. Nonetheless, it’s a darn good book and 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 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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