||I think these stories are
getting better and better. At least, the parts of the book where Lucky
takes center stage are really good. Unfortunately, I don't think Bigman
is all that great as a character or sidekick.
I have to agree with Lucky. Bigman
needs to learn to solve problems with stuff other than his fists. He was
trying to be subtle, thinking he had solved the problem and trying to
get the perpetrator to admit it, but he still had a fist fight -and
somebody died because of it.
This book is more a mystery than the
previous ones. It also contains a robot, and is subject to the Three
Laws of Robotics and the various mechanisms that Asimov uses to show how
things can still go wrong, even with all those safeguards.
Lucky is sent to Mercury because of
complaints regarding sabotage of a project that could bring light
through hyperspace, which would have incredible uses for the energy
industry. The engineer in charge of the project, Mindes, actually plays
a small part, after trying to kill Lucky. I never got a satisfactory
explanation of why he would do this, except that he was under a lot of
stress. Lucky, used to the low gravity by now, escapes unscathed.
But the mystery isn't very well wrapped
in this story. It was obvious to me who was sabotaging the project and
why, just not how. The chief scientist in the small scientific
settlement, Dr. Pervale, complains about Earth's dependence on imports
from other planets, satellites and so on. Of course he would be opposed
to another dependence and try to stop it, especially when he is so
concerned about the Sirians. Isn't Aurora settled around Sirius? I
believe so, which makes this novel fit right in with the other robot
stories. Dr. Pervale went to a conference there, and the spacers were
very much opposed to his going.
Lucky determines that the apparitions
Mindes sometimes sees on the surface is actually a robot, which Dr.
Pervale stole from the Sirians. He sneaks out onto the sunward side of
Mercury (it was incorrectly thought at the time that Mercury always
faced one side to the sun, like our Moon does to Earth). There he
discovers a robot, which had almost burned out its positronic circuits,
and obeys the Three Laws, usually. With such a damaged brain, the robot
has trouble resolving the priority of the laws, and tries to kill Lucky.
Fortunately, Lucky is able to smear some black grime on the robot's
head, which absorbs more heat, and completes the destruction of the brain, and the robot dies
just in time.
There are a few other characters, all
with their own agendas, and all of whom are suspects in the sabotage.
Dr. Gardoma is friends with Mindes, who they feel might be sabotaging
his own work because it is so far behind schedule and appears to be
failing. There is Mr. Cook, who looks suspiciously on edge all the time.
And then there is the big unlikable guy, Urteil, who is investigating
Council of Science wastes of money and resources. Urteil is belligerent
and mean, antagonizing Bigman about his size and heritage. Lucky thinks
he is just a side note to the sabotage, though, and he is right. It
turns out he was blackmailing Cook into giving him inside information to
be used against the Council.
When Bigman and Lucky go into the old
mine shafts under the scientific outpost, under the assumption that they
will find a Sirian presence buried there, Lucky heads for the surface,
and Bigman searches around, keeping up the charade. When he finds Urteil
there, spying on him, they get to arguing, and a rock-creature extrudes
from the wall and pins them down, absorbing their heat -yet another
lifeform in our solar system, after the ones found on
Venus. Bigman is smart
enough to set his laser to a slow burn and throw it away, which send the
creature after the heat, freeing the two men. But Urteil is not
thankful, and Bigman is able to challenge him to a fight under normal
Mercurian gravity. Bigman is doing well, but when he sends Urteil
sailing into the air, the gravity suddenly comes back to Earth-normal,
and Urteil falls to the floor, killing him instantly.
Later, Cook is revealed to be the one
who pulled the lever to full gravity, but only to get rid of the
blackmailer. Lucky exposes Pervale, and the whole mystery is solved. It
is all one neat package, well written and fun. But I get impatient with
Bigman, and Urteil was such an obvious bad guy that he couldn't possibly
be responsible for the sabotage. I wonder how much of the anti-Council
sentiment will be followed up in the next book, especially the backlash
from killing the Senator's investigator.