Caliban brought me back to the time when I had read Asimov's robot
novels. I haven't picked those up in a long time. Now I want
to read them again.
But MacBride-Allen is not Asimov, and Caliban does not come off
as smoothly as any of the Lije Bailey novels did. The robot stories
have almost always revolved around murder and the flexibility of the Three
Laws of Robotics.
First Law: A robot may not harm a human, or through inaction,
allow a human to come to harm. Second Law: A robot must obey a human,
except where this conflicts with the second law. Third Law: A robot
must not let itself come to harm, except where this conflicts with the
first or second laws.
Maybe attempted murder is not a good enough plot to hand a mystery
on. Or maybe Allen is just not a skilled as Asimov!
The story starts out well enough. It brought me back to
Spacer society as I've always remembered it: high and mighty, but stagnant.
The planet Inferno is dying. They have brought in Settlers (people
from Earth who have settled among the stars, and who have banned robots)
to help them stabilize their ecology.
Leving Labs has created a new type of robot, but this is not
revealed until about halfway through the book, which provides a bunch of
misleading pieces of evidence, which I found pleasant at first, but annoying
as more and more of them came into focus. This robot has a different
set of laws, which makes them more free, and less slave.
But Caliban has no laws. He was designed to discover his
own set of laws. But he was never meant to leave the lab. But
it appears that he attacked Fredda Leving, his creator, and ran out.
He spends the next two days running from the police, and demonstrating
that he doesn't know the three laws, something the police are slow to catch
on to. But through his actions, and the report of a supervisor robot,
they discover that they must track him down, and thus keep humans safe.
Meanwhile, Leving labs, and the settler leader plant many false
clues, and hinder the justice procedure just enough to confuse sheriff
Kresh, and his assistant, the robot Donald. Because Kresh had always
lived on Inferno, he doesn't have the viewpoint that Bailey had, and is
thus not as good a detective. His assistant is no R. Daneel, either,
but is very fun to read about.
There is not much of a plot other than chasing errant clues.
There are some very slow moments, when Leving is making her two lectures.
They really brought the book to a halt. I'm sure it could have been
done another way.
The animosity between the settlers and the spacers was presented
fairly well. But I don't think those scenes worked as well as they
I may be wrong, but I believe Asimov made his robot novels almost
entirely from the point of view of Bailey and Daneel. I think that
might have worked better than changing viewpoints every couple of pages.
The ending was very well done, though. I had determined
the perpetrator about a hundred pages before the Sheriff did, as soon as
the double-blind study was made. I just couldn't determine a motive,
or how it was done. But it did make sense once revealed. If Kresh hadn't been so sleepy, or so trusting, in both robots and his witnesses,
he would have figured it out when I did, as well.
I have to wonder about the test Donald and Kresh devised at the
end, though. The fact that the robots didn't move could have easily
proved they were New Law robots, not No Law robots. But I guess the
fact that the robot was late in imitating the old First Law proved that
it was hiding something else. I'm not sure, but it doesn't detract
from a very decent ending.