ISBN: 9780441090792(Isaac Asimov’s Caliban)
ISBN: 9783404242184(Isaac Asimov’s Inferno)
ISBN: 9780441004713(Isaac Asimov’s Utopia)
Science fiction, at its heart, is one of the easiest and the most difficult genres to write for. Easiest because you have complete freedom with what you want to create, as long as what you create can be fathomed to be possible in a few millennia using current technology. The most difficult because when you are creating an entire universe, you need to create laws and rules by which the universe will abide, and by extension, which you will abide by, at all times, at any cost. Isaac Asimov, whom some call the “Father of robotics”, created the Three Laws of Robotics, which are as follows,
(i) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
(ii) A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
(iii) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Asimov then used these laws to create a universe where most of his robot-based fiction would take place, be it the Robot Series or the Lucky Starr Series. Roger McBride Allen, in 1990, modified the Three Laws, and seeking permission from Asimov, created his own trilogy (Isaac Asimov’s Caliban, Isaac Asimov’s Inferno and Isaac Asimov’s Utopia) based in Asimov’s universe. The New Laws being,
(i) A robot may not injure a human being.
(ii) A robot must cooperate with human beings except where such cooperation would conflict with the First Law.
(iii) A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First Law.
(iv) A robot may do anything it likes, except where such action would violate the First, Second and Third Laws.
Now, whenever you take an existing universe, and play around with some of the variables, leaving others constant, you are bound to get an exciting read. The first book in this trilogy, Isaac Asimov’s Caliban, was exactly that. It was a feeler to get the reader acquainted with the New Laws, and in the robot Caliban’s case, No Law robot. Add to that a murder mystery, and you’ve got yourself a compelling read. Caliban is accused of attempting to murder his creator, leading scientist of her generation, Dr Fredda Leving. What I like most about Allen’s writing style is that he doesn’t let this trilogy be the purely chase-catch-party detective novels that we are used to. In the process, Allen raises a number of valid sociological questions, questioning the line of reasoning of a society which is used to the subservience of robots to the point that ninety percentage of the population is happily unemployed, lazing around their houses, while robots do the heavy lifting.
We are also introduced to the communities that have formed after the robots became such an important part of daily human life. Spacers, the actively, pro-robot people, who would go to any lengths to ensure that they had a robot to serve them at all times. They travelled to other planets, once Earth grew over-populated, terraforming them to their needs, and established Spacer strongholds. Settlers, on the other hand, are famous for their mistrust of robots. They stayed back on Earth after the Spacers deserted them, and advanced their already vast knowledge of science and technology, while the Spacer science stood stagnant. Needless to say, there is much disagreement and politics between the two communities.
The trilogy takes place on the planet of Inferno, which is in danger of collapsing. Settlers are brought in to help with the terraforming because of their advanced knowledge of the subject. It’s a political disaster waiting to happen. You don’t put two people with diametrically opposite views of the world in the same room, without sparks flying. And in Isaac Asimov’s Inferno, the sparks are hot enough to set a wooden house on fire. The Governor of the planet Inferno, is found murdered in his bed, in Settler jurisdiction. Sheriff Alvar Kresh, who was brought in just as window dressing, finds himself at the core of what is most evidently a conspiracy to gain power. This novel works in almost the same way as Caliban, except this time, we have much more of politics and mistrust, what with a dying, leaderless planet at stake. This time, we gain a real insight into the minds of the robots. There is a trifling of bad blood between the Three Law and the New Laws as well, with the Three Laws regarding the New Laws as nothing but trouble, and New Laws looking down on their older counterparts as slaves.
The third and final instalment to this trilogy, Isaac Asimov’s Utopia, deals with the crisis at hand: the dying Inferno. The story revolves around an astrophysicist, Davlo Lentrall who comes up with a plan of quickening the slowly failing terraforming process. The conflict? The plan is to use a comet to dig a channel, forming a northern sea, which would be very much against Settler interests. Complications arise when it is found that the location where the comet would hit is the newly formed Valhalla: the town of the New Law robots. Chaos ensues, Lentrall loses faith in his plan, and is now up to Alvar Kresh, elected Governor of the people of Inferno, to take matters into his own hands and make the decisions that would either save or destroy the planet. It is a fitting end to the series. With Allen tying up all of the loose ends together in one grandiose ending.
All in all, the Caliban trilogy is a compelling read for anyone who loves his science fiction. Coming from the bestselling author of The Modular Man and The Ring of Charon, with approval from the Father of Robotics, Isaac Asimov, this series of books will make you think about what are the core qualities of a human society. Is our way of dealing with things the same, regardless of the time period we live in? Read on to find out.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
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