Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Isaac Asimov's Robot City book 1: Odyssey by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

In science fiction, the Three Laws of Robotics are a set of three rules written by Isaac Asimov, which almost all positronic robots (designated by their Asimov created positronic brains) appearing in his fiction must obey. Introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround", although foreshadowed in a few earlier stories, the Laws state the following:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Isaac Asimov created these laws as more or less a challenge to himself for writing his novels. Later, Asimov added the Zeroth Law: "A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm;" the rest of the laws are modified sequentially to acknowledge this. He created murder mysteries in space using the 3 laws and the Detective Elijah Bailey. Bailey would receive help from R. Daneel Olivaw, a human appearing robot. Many science fiction writers have used the ideas of Asimov's robots, but no other author could directly state 3 three laws. Many sci-fi writers used the ideas of the laws but never stated them as Asimov did. Even the positronic brain was copied in the series "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Commander Data had a positronic brain. Asimov was honored to have many sci-fi writers copy the ideas but the laws were his and he did not allow this. Not until the Robot City series of books. This series of 5 books was a challenge to 4 different Sci-Fi writers to write stories based solely on the laws and Asimov's universe.

Isaac Asimov's Robot City is a series of novels written by various authors and loosely connected to Isaac Asimov's Robot Series. It takes place between The Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire. The novels were written in response to a writing challenge issued by Asimov to write a series involving the Three Laws of Robotics, which brought about a collaboration of several talented authors.

The books in this series are:

  1. Odyssey by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1987)

  2. Suspicion by Mike McQuay (1987)

  3. Cyborg by William F. Wu (1987)

  4. Prodigy by Arthur Byron Cover (1988)

  5. Refuge by Rob Chilson (1988)

  6. Perihelion by William F. Wu (1988)

So being the guy that has to read things in order and loving series of books, I have set off in my quest to read the Robot City books. (I have already read all the Asimov books from the "Robot" series to the "Empire" series and ending with the "Foundation" Series.)

In "Odyssey" we are introduced to the character of Derec. Derec has no idea who he is or where he's from and finds himself in the beginning of the book in an escape pod on an uncharted asteroid. The asteroid is being mined by robots that aren't actually mining but looking for what Derec later learns to be a key. The robots bring Derec into the station and as Derec is trying to find humans on the station (which there are none) the asteroid comes under attack from a mysterious ship. The robots have orders to destroy the asteroid but in doing so would end up destroying Derec, the first law prohibits this, so one robot hints that he may have to escape. As Derec is escaping the lost item (the key) is found and a robot insists that Derec take it with him. Derec modifies a space suit to allow him to "jump" from the asteroid into space. The problem here is that this puts him on the mysterious ship.

The ship is run by aliens, who seem also interested in the "key." A side note here, throughout all of Asimov's books one thing that is missing is aliens. All of Asimov's universe is populated by humans or robots. The aliens take Derec into the ship where he is forced to create robots for the aliens since they have no such technology. This knowledge lets the reader know that Derec has had some training in robotics and engineering, even he finds it odd that he can do such work and not know who he is. On the alien ship Derec befriends a canoid alien named Wolruf, and finds that another human is onboard. This other human is the mysterious Katherine. Katherine knows Derec but will not reveal what she knows. Just as Derec and Katherine are to get their hands on the Key once again, something blows up.

The next section of the book takes place on Rockliffe Station a way station for settlers and spacers travelling to distant systems. Again no humans on board the station but the staff of robots are medical professionals. In order to pay for their medical treatment the commander of the station has confiscated the portion of the ship that Derec and Katherine were found drifting in, along with the key. Derec for unknown reasons, feels he must get the key back and Katherine (too eagerly) agrees to help. In the process of searching they find Wolruf is hiding on the station. Wolruf seems to know more than she is saying also and leads them to where the robots are guarding the key.

Now I'm keeping this review as pretty much a recap of events for one simple reason. The book is not meant to be read independently. At the end of the book Derec and Katherine find what the Key can do. It is a teleporter of some sort and sends them to a city of robots "Robot City" there the book ends and leaves the reader hanging completely. To find out what happens the next book in the series has to be read. That is my next quest. So I'll have more for you then. Be ready for a series of cliffhangers.

For some further information the Robot and Aliens series is a spin off of the Robot City series, dealing with the Three Laws, Robots and what would happen if robots were to encounter alien life. The series also features Derec and Katherine.

  1. Changeling by Stephen Leigh

  2. Renegade by Cordell Scotten

  3. Intruder by Robert Thurston

  4. Alliance by Jerry Oltion

  5. Maverick by Bruce Bethke

  6. Humanity by Jerry Oltion

Robot City also had a mystery game of the same name released for the PC in 1995. You played as the role of Derec.

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