Isaac Asimov’s Utopia by Roger MacBride Allen

Utopia book cover

About five years has passed since the New Law robots were put to work at Purgatory to assist with the terraforming effort for Inferno. Alvar Kresh won the election for governor and ended up choosing a dual terraforming system combining a positronics with a super computer. In an unexpected turn, Kresh ended up marrying Fredda Leving. Initially I thought that they made a rather odd couple, but I think Allen did a good job of handling their relationship throughout this book. The main plot Utopia revolves around a plan by a scientist to harness a comet and blow it apart to dig a huge channel from the southern ocean to the frozen northern ice cap which would otherwise be impossible by conventional means.

The argument for this drastic measure is that the existing terraforming effort will fail much sooner than expected. In just a few years the surface of the planet might not be habitable. That probably wouldn’t be a problem for Settlers since they prefer their underground buildings, but for Spacers it would pose a serious problem. The comet plan might sound plausible given the combined efforts of the Spacers and Settlers, but there are many that don’t want this to happen. Many fear that something will go wrong and the planet will be destroyed. Also, how will robots allow such a task to take place given the nature of the Three Laws? Will robots allow a comet to hit the planet? Allen answers this in unexpected, yet plausible ways which I’ll leave you to uncover.

One thing that I didn’t notice until this book in the series was that Allen had not really addressed the fundamental differences between Spacers and Settlers. In chapter 4 he explains that Spacers age much more slowly than Settlers. There were no precautions such as nose plugs or aversions to touching for fear of infection that you’d normally expect a Spacer to exhibit toward others. Possibly by this point they treat Settlers differently than Earthmen or have better less obvious protections which Allen doesn’t explain.

I think the reason I liked this book much better than the last was that there were many small mysteries. There was the main question of whether or not the comet plan would work, but the ancillary plots which came along were intertwined rather nicely. The pieces start to fall together bit by bit rather than the abrupt fashion from the last book. There was a definite “ending” to the series, although a bit cheesy, which tied everything back together.

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Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking died today at age 76Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking died today at age 76

When I learned that Stephen Hawking died, I have to admit my reaction was a bit selfish. I was disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to continue contributing to science, and that the world would be a worse off place without him. I didn’t think about how his close friends and family would be impacted. I was surprised about how sad I felt as well. I can’t say I’ve ever really felt a true pang of sadness upon learning of a celebrity death. Nobody should be surprised that he died, given his long history of health problems, but nevertheless, it was shocking. So why did I react this way now? I browsed through numerous news articles and posts throughout the day today without much reaction, but I felt sad again while reading through BBC’s article on his death, and again writing this post. 

Maybe it has to do with recently reading the article “The Beginning of Time” that recently popped up in my news feed. I don’t think I could truly fully understand all of his theories, but I think his explanation here was clear enough to get a good idea. I’ve had The Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe audiobook on my backlog to listen to. I guess I’ll have to bump it up to next in my queue. I was already thinking about taking a break from Sci-Fi / Fantasy soon, so this makes my decision really easy.

Goodbye Stephen! Whatever the reasons, I’m truly sad you’re gone. I’m sure you will be never be forgotten by humanity, assuming we don’t destroy ourselves.

Yes, I am still aliveYes, I am still alive

Where have I been lately? A number of factors have resulted in me not posting since December. One of which was that over the past few months I’ve been chipping away at The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke. At just shy of 1,000 pages, it has been my lunch time reading for a while now. There are a couple short stories that I plan on reviewing, as soon as I can remember to bring the book home from work. I’ve also been filling most of my free time, 177 hours now, with playing Battlefield 3 (my stats).

I’ve watched a few movies, but I didn’t get around to reviewing those. One was Gamer, which I didn’t expect much from. The other was Battle: Los Angeles, a cookie cutter “aliens attack, let’s fight back” movie. I didn’t really “watch” these as much as listened to them as I cleaned out my office. After going through my recent posts, I noticed that I never reviewed 28 Weeks Later. This was actually one of the sequels I’ve seen that I liked more than the original. I might have to re-watch, then write up a review. I watched a decent movie last night though, The Adjustment Bureau, which I plan on reviewing in the next few days, if not tonight. My goal for myself is to have it done before the end of the month. Thank goodness for leap years!

OK, enough excuses. Thanks to all of you that still have me in your newsreader. I’ll try to be better about posting updates in the future.

Isaac Asimov’s Robots and Aliens Book 1: Changeling by Stephen LeighIsaac Asimov’s Robots and Aliens Book 1: Changeling by Stephen Leigh

Robots and Aliens Volume 1 book cover

One thing I like about this book is there is a nice eight page synopsis of the whole Robot City series. Even after just reading the series, it was a nice refresher for the events leading up to Robots and Aliens. This new series involves Asimov’s challenge to the authors to describe what might happen if robots encountered an alien species. How would they treat them? How would the Three Laws apply?

I particularly enjoyed this first book because it addresses one of the main questions I had regarding the Three Laws of Robotics. What does the key phrase “human being” actually mean? Throughout Asimov’s books and it is explained that the laws aren’t as simple as the English translation. They are complicated sets of positronic potentials that govern every action of a robot.

In Changeling, Stephen Leigh describes a robot model that is given a very simple definition of “intelligent life form” as an equivalent. This idea seems to work very well in this book and after several chapters we see how this experiment intersects with the Robot City plotlines. Also, we get to see Derec use the powers he was given to control Robot City. One thing that did bug me a little bit was how little of the main plotlines was advanced.