Polar City Blues

My first Katharine Kerr science fiction novel. There is a lot happening in this book: an inversion between the expected racism in our society; multiple alien species; political intrigue; murder; disease; and a first contact with a new alien species. The book could have included fewer plot elements and still have been excellent. Regardless, this book is quite good, and very unexpected from what I consider to be a fantasy author.

[isbn: 0553285041]

Asimov’s Chimera

This is the second book in the iBooks spinoff series based on Asimov’s robot mysteries and the Robot City and Robots and Aliens series. Overall it fits into the Foundation Series acceptably. This book is a mystery much like Mark’s first Mirage.

I think overall this book is better written than Mirage, and is certainly better plotted than the Robot City and Robots and Aliens series. The book is believable and entertaining, without having to suspend too much disbelief. I enjoyed it, although the book isn’t important to the development of Foundation Series overall.

[isbn: 0743412974]

Altered Carbon

This is a great book… Its a hardboiled detective novel, but with a science fiction twist. The universe its set in is also pretty interesting, and I’m sure the follow up books are good too. The human backup element reminds me of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, but in a way that’s different enough that they’re not the same story. I really enjoyed this book.

Altered Carbon Book Cover Altered Carbon
Richard K. Morgan
Science Fiction

Four hundred years from now mankind is strung out across a region of interstellar space inherited from an ancient civilization discovered on Mars. The colonies are linked together by the occasional sublight colony ship voyages and hyperspatial data-casting. Human consciousness is digitally freighted between the stars and downloaded into bodies as a matter of course. But some things never change. So when ex-envoy, now-convict Takeshi Kovacs has his consciousness and skills downloaded into the body of a nicotine-addicted ex-thug and presented with a catch-22 offer, he really shouldn┬┐t be surprised. Contracted by a billionaire to discover who murdered his last body, Kovacs is drawn into a terrifying conspiracy that stretches across known space and to the very top of society. For a first-time SF writer to be so surely in command of narrative and technology, so brilliant at world-building, so able to write such readable and enjoyable SF adventure, is simply extraordinary.

Asimov’s Mirage

If I was to name one flaw with the Robot City and Robots and Aliens series, it would have to be that they’re not very good. They’re lackluster, have difficult to believe plots, very simple structure, and are overall poorly thought through. Its a similar sensation to that I feel when I read the tie-in books written after Harrison’s Bill the Galactic Hero series. I feel a little sorry for the writers in later books in these series, because I suspect their hands were tied by the poor decisions of previous authors (similarly to the mess that Bear’s Foundation and Chaos had to dig that series out after Benford’s tragically terrible Foundation’s Fear).

Robot City and Robots and Aliens were disappointments because I read Roger MacBride Allen’s Caliban series before them, and Caliban is ok. Not awesome, but ok.

I say all of this as an introduction to Mirage. I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve been wading through Asimov robot tie-ins from other authors for a while now, and some of them are not very good. That’s why finding Mirage was such a delight. Its well written, has a similar style as Asimov’s own writing, reuses characters and plot elements from previous tie-in books sufficiently to acknowledge their existence without getting bogged down by the poor decisions of those previous series. Its an engaging read, and I’m glad I stuck through these various series long enough to find it.

My only complaint with this book is that the epilogue is confusing and doesn’t align with my understanding of the end of the story.

[isbn: 0743475232]

Isaac Asimov’s Utopia

Utopia is the third and final Asimov universe book from Allen. It centers around an attempt to accellerate the terraforming of a planet by drastic measures which drive third law robots wild… The measures are so drastic that they endanger humans, whilst protecting a large number of humans. Unfortunately three law robots have trouble seeing the difference between the two.

I don’t think this book is as well written as the earlier two Allen books (Caliban and Inferno) and therefore not as good as the Asimov books set in the universe. It was however reasonably engaging and I’m not offended that I spent time and money on it. An ok book, but nothing special basically.

Isaac Asimov's Utopia Book Cover Isaac Asimov's Utopia
Roger MacBride Allen
Ace Books
March 1, 1999

The world of Inferno will soon be uninhabitable unless a daring plan is enacted--drop a comet to create new rivers that would save the planet but could also destroy Inferno

Isaac Asimov’s Inferno

Inferno is the second Asimov universe book written by Roger MacBride Allen. Much like Asimov’s Robots and Empire and Caliban, its what I will call an “issue book”. In Robots and Empire the issue at hand was that having a long life results in risk adversity and therefore the stagnation of society as a whole. In Caliban the issue was the over protection of humans by robots, and the ultimately corrupting nature of living in a society built on slavery (even of machines), as well as stagnation caused by the risk adversity of the robots themselves. In this second Allen book, the issue is the exploitation of the “new law” robots who ultimately become the new slaves in return for a chance at freedom later. This exploitation is a criminal offence, so of course they end up with a society in which pretty much everyone has dirty hands of some form.

Overall this was a good read, and probably a better book than Inferno. I certainly found it easier to read and more enjoyable. I read the majority of the book on a single set of flights between the US and Australia because it was such a good read.

Its interesting that the Amazon reviews for this book are mostly negative, and I can see the point they’re trying to make. There are certainly opportunities for Prospero’s psychology and the overall political situation created by the massive disruption of the society to be explored more. Additionally, the murder mystery is resolved very rapidly at the end of the book after crawling progress during the majority of the book. Then again, that’s just like Caves of Steel and Naked Sun, which both are resolved rapidly at the end of the book and gloss over issues which aren’t core to the story. I guess you can chose to tell a story many different ways, and just because Allen didn’t chose to tell it the way that the Amazon reviewers thought he should doesn’t make his choice incorrect.

Isaac Asimov's Inferno Book Cover Isaac Asimov's Inferno
Roger MacBride Allen
March 1, 1998

A second work in a trilogy that examines Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics finds Caliban, the only robot without guilt or conscience, suspected in the murder of a politician and challenged to lead the New Law robots in a rebellion that threatens humanity. Reprint.

Isaac Asimov’s Caliban

This is a “robot mystery” in the style of Asimov, but actually written by Roger MacBride Allen. Wikipedia assures me that Asimov approved the outline for this book, as well as the other two by Roger:

“Shortly before his death in 1992, Asimov approved an outline for three novels (Caliban, Inferno, Utopia) by Roger MacBride Allen, set between Robots and Empire and the Empire series, telling the story of the terraforming of the Spacer world Inferno, and about the robot revolution started by creating a “No Law” Robot, and then New Law Robots.”

Roger is an interesting author, and appears to have written quite a few books, with a strong tendency for basing them in other author’s universes. Its interesting to meet an author who is so seemingly willing to base his work on that of others.

This book didn’t strike me as well written as Asimov’s, but that’s a pretty high bar to meet. It should be noted that Amazon reviews disagree with me on this point. Its rendition is certainly competent though, and the story is a good one.

Isaac Asimov's Caliban Book Cover Isaac Asimov's Caliban
Roger MacBride Allen, Isaac Asimov,

When an experiment with a new type of robot brain goes awry, the result is the creation of Caliban, a conscienceless robot that is not monitored by the Three Laws of Robotics that keep humans safe. Reprint.

Naked Sun

Bill Clarke was kind enough to lend me a compendium of Asimov that contained the next book in the series I’m reading at the moment. I’ve had to skip over some of the earlier collections of robot short stories, because they’re quite hard to find. Specifically, I haven’t been able to find anyone with a copy of The Complete Robot for sale, even new.

This book is the next in the Robot series, and the second which features Detective Baley. Again Baley is solving a murder, although this time its occurred on a Spacer world instead of his own Earth. Along the way he has to confront his own fear of open spaces, as well as other’s fear of proximity to other humans.

This was again another excellent book. I enjoyed it a lot.

[isbn: 0553293397]

Caves of Steel

Caves of Steel is interesting because it is a murder mystery set in the future, which at the time this book was written was a novel concept. It also presents an interesting almost-communist view of the future, where individual liberties are surrendered one by one in order to improve economic efficiency in order to support Earth’s ever growing population. Implicit in that is the assertion that capitalism is inherently inefficient, but I’ll leave that discussion alone.

This book is a really quick read. It took me a day (including actually going to work) to knock it over, which was fun. The book is a good, light read.

[isbn: 0553293400]
[award: nominee hugo 1954]