Return to K-Mac's home pageThe Portable Universe 10
by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

originally published in The Elkhart Truth
December 23, 1983

In two novels first published in the 1950s, Isaac Asimov introduced an unusual detective team comprised of a human and a robot. The former was Lije Baley, a member of the police force of a future hivelike New York. The latter was R. Daneel Olivaw, a "humaniform" robot who can pass for human in every outward respect.

Olivaw is the product of the technology of the "Spacers" -- humans who have colonized several star systems near our own. Spacer and Earth societies regard each other with undisguised antipathy, and in both earlier books the cases handed Baley and Olivaw have interplanetary dimensions.

In "The Robots of Dawn" (Doubleday, $15.95 cloth), a humaniform robot has been "murdered" on the Spacer world Aurora, and in such a way that only one man had the knowledge, opportunity, and motive to have done it. In what quickly becomes an engrossing and mind-twisting scientific mystery, Baley must prove that suspect's innocence -- or see Earth shut out of the future exploration of the galaxy.

""The Robots of Dawn"" is a masterwork of storytelling, science, mystery, and political intrigue. It also points in an interesting way toward a seamless union of his robot stories and the Foundation series. Put this one at the top of your wish list.

After a two-year break, the second volume in the "Worlds" trilogy by Joe Haldeman has appeared. "Worlds Apart" (Viking, $14.95 cloth) finds Earth's surviving orbital space colonies in little better shape than the war-ravaged and disease-racked home planet.

Marianne O'Hara escaped to New New York on the last Shuttle to leave Earth before the bombs fell. But now she has to go back to fight the bioengineered plague which has killed off Earth's adults and which slays children when they reach puberty. Not as ambitious as some of Haldeman's earlier books, "Worlds Apart" still rates a high E.Q. (entertainment quotient).

I'm sorry to say that at least on first reading, "Helliconia Summer" (Atheneum, $16.95 cloth) by Brian Aldiss did not stir in me the kind of excitement its predecessor, "Helliconia Spring," did. The fascinating planet Helliconia, with its two suns and 2,600-year climatic cycle, takes a back seat to the efforts of King JandolAnganol of Borlien to assure his kingdom's survival during the scorching Great Year summer at hand.

The focus on JandolAnganol means that a relatively short span of time is covered in "Summer," at the price of the sweeping vision that characterized "Spring." Structurally, "Summer" begins in the middle, which with all the characters being new made the first few chapters simply puzzling.

A cover painting by Boris Vallejo can seduce me into reading a book I otherwise might not. Such was the case with Charlotte Stone's "Cheon of Weltanland: The Four Wishes" (DAW, $2.95 paper), the latest entry in the Strong Sensuous Female Warrior derby. Taken in a raid at age ten and used sexually by the men who captured her, Cheon becomes a witch-warrior with a mean sword-stroke, a taste for women, and a yearning to be queen of the Northlands.

Though predictable, it all works, making "Cheon" a quick and enjoyable read. One touch that kept a smile at the corner of my mouth was the periodic appearance of historical footnotes and corrections to Cheon's first-person account, saying in effect "read and enjoy but don't take her too seriously." Approach the whole book with the same attitude and you'll be set.

Spider Robinson's 1982 novel "Mindkiller" is now in paperback (Berkley, $2.95), and it's a grabber from the first page. Norman Kent can't see any future, until his sister disappears without a trace. Joseph Templeton can't remember his past, until he begins to use his sophisticated computer to do more than set up burglaries.

Both men are on a collision course with the corporations which control "wireheading" (the use of implants to electrically stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain). Wireheading is a high-tech road to dropping out, a short-cut to Nirvana. But it may well be more -- even the key to the control of memory itself.

A little of "The SF Book of Lists" by Maxim Jakubowski and Malcolm Edwards (Berkley, $7.95 trade paper) goes a long way. There are endless lists of the "bests" of each year, category, and era, oddities such as "26 SF Writers Who Have Written Pornography," and more than a few entries which will be of interest only to the hardest of the hard-core fans.

But sprinkled among the chaff are kernels such as "David Langford's 12 Favourite SF Cliches" and "Robert Silverberg's Quirks of SF Editors." Unfortunately, there's no index or contents page to help you find them.

--Michael Kube-McDowell

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Created: 12 March 2005
Last Revised: July 07, 2009