Wednesday, July 09, 2008

"Isaac Asimov's Robot City Book 5: Refuge" by Rob Chilson (pub 1988)

I have just finished reading book 5 of this "Robot City" series and I will have to say out of the the 5 so far this one seems the closest to the universe created by Isaac Asimov that gave us the 3 laws of robotics and even laws of humanics later used in the Foundation series. Before I go too far let me recap what this series is about.

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. 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)

One thing this series introduces is the concept of aliens. In Asimov's universe there were no other intelligent lifeforms other than human and robot. In the later books by Asimov he explained that this could be because the robots were sent ahead of humanity to terraform planets and thus destroying alien life forms. So maybe some aliens could have "survived." In my humble opinion I think Asimov simply wanted to explore humanity through robots and their interaction with humans and just left out the aliens.

In Book 5 of Robot City "Refuge" Rob Chilson takes Derec and Katherine/Ariel back to planet Earth via a "Key to Perihelion." The Key takes them back to an apartment in St. Louis on earth. (side note, Rob Chilson is a comic book writer from Kansas City, Missouri, and has some really neat insight into the St. Louis of the future.) Katherine/Ariel is still suffering from the mysterious illness and it seems to be getting worse. All the "spacer" doctors told her there was no cure, thus the reason she was wandering the universe and found Derec. The illness is not incurable on Earth. The Earth doctors are only able to treat her after her memory loss has started so Derec records what memories they have shared so they can be fed back to her and hopefully restoring them after the illness is cured. Derec at that time learns the reason for his amnesia is this same illness but he was intentionally given the virus...but why??? So another mystery pops up.

Another thing found in Derec are a type of robot infection in his bloodstream taking over his body. He now must get back to Robot City. If you read book 4 or read my review of that book you may know they had only just recently escaped Robot they have to return and confront Dr. Avery and find the reason for his intentional infection of both the disease and the robot virus.

As they leave Earth and are headed back to Robot City, the Alien, Aranimas, finds them and attacks them. Aranimas is looking for a Key to find Robot City so he can have robots of his own. The aliens don't possess the ability to create robots.

I'll leave the space fight up to you to read and find the outcome...or wait until my review of the final book in the series. But I want to leave you with one final comment. This book is the closest in the series in capturing the entire universe created by Asimov with the steel and concrete caves that have become the cities on Earth. While the others work great on capturing the essence of the robots and the laws of robotics, this book captures the entire Asimov universe.

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