01/08/2009. Contributed by Gareth D. Jones
pub: TOR-UK. 402 page enlarged paperback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-230-73860-7.
check out website: www.panmacmillan.com
Forget Asimov. In fact, forget anything you've ever read about robots before. In 'Twisted Metal', Tony Ballantyne has re-invented the robot and takes us in a new and startling direction. In a world entirely dominated by robots, organic life is viewed as vermin and all metal is viewed as a resource to make more robots.
Neighbouring states have differing philosophies as to how minds should be 'twisted' and these philosophies are built in to young robots as they are created. It is this philosophical battle that forms the heart of this novel, more so than the tale of conquest and destruction.
Initially, the way the robots are portrayed seems very bizarre. They are described as almost human, with human-like emotions and family units. They live in houses and appreciate art. Some arise spontaneously from the ground, while others are created by a mother and father. None of this makes sense at first. Why would robots evolve in the form of humans?
There are lots of parallels with human activity cleverly extrapolated from this premise and Tony Ballantyne develops a complex society that almost equates ours. Yet all the while, the robots display an inhumanness that belies the initial appearance, a callous attitude to the value of life that makes perfect senses in the world they inhabit.
The story is told from several points of view. Kavan and Eleanor, soldiers of Artemis who are intent on conquering the entire continent of Shull. Karel and Susan whose lives in Turing City are about to be interrupted by the invading Artemesians and several other lesser characters who give us insight into the war. Among these is a robot with the fabulous name Banjo Macrodocious, one of my favourite character names ever. His mysterious appearances along with obscure clues to The Book Of Robots add more and deeper layers of mystery.
The plot is relentless, sweeping from one battle to the next, presenting the characters with a non-stop series of challenges, expanding our view of the world Penrose and its amazing inhabitants. Robots constantly replace body parts and even change their entire bodies, while struggling to change their mind. How can a robot feel pain or experience emotions? How can they be crippled or emotionally stunted? Like I said at the beginning, forget everything you thought you knew about robots. Read 'Twisted Metal' and discover them all over again.
Gareth D. Jones
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA