CALIBANA novel by Roger MacBride-Allen
(1993, ACE Science Fiction)
Isaac Asimov's Robots, book 1
A lawless robot finds himself hiding from the police, and just about everyone else, after he escapes his experimental confines.
-- First reading (hardcover)
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..Spoiler review:
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 should have.
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.
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