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WARNING, WHOPPING SPOILERS AHEAD. I write these pages as notes, records and reminders to myself of books I have read. You are welcome to peruse these reviews, but be warned that they will spoil your reading pleasure if you have not already read them.
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Twisted Metal   by Tony Ballantyne

Read: 2010-10-22 Reviewed: 2010-12-19
Re-read factor:

A story set on a world populated by anthropomorphic robots, which procreate by the man providing special blue wire containing 'life force' to a woman who knits it into a child's mind, from which point the child has to grow in intellect and build their body up just like a human child.

The human connection is over-done. Robots shiver in the cold, their 'gyros' spin when they become confused or afraid, they fall in love and feel for one another's existence. They also share body parts and help with each others mechanical engineering. I think there was scope to create a society which used the mechanics more, and thus was more alien; the author could have been (based on his previous books) much more innovative.

This is in fact a step-change from Ballantyne's previous works--much more grounded, less abstract, more mechanical, less pseudo-science (although he does pull proper nouns out of the science literature to use for place names).

The story is one of a global war, a single ideologically-led nation seeking to destroy all others and leave in place a world populated by a superior race; parallels with Hitler and the Second World War are obvious, complete with the holocaust and many other attendant atrocities. The ultimate moral judgement is that, while robots can always blame their actions on their programming, humans have no such excuse. Or it could be interpreted conversely, that human individuals are only a product of the society that raised them. Whatever sinks your biscuit.

The writing is simple. The book reads like a young adult yarn, and in my opinion does not really succeed in creating an immersive atmosphere--you are always reading about a foreign affair. The action scenes lack imminence. The whole book has a feeling (probably in common with its YA outlook) that the reader is being told about violence without actually being allowed to see it.

The final twist is a tad surprising, revealing the background and relationships between the protagonists, and leaves a clear ellipsis in place for a sequel to take up.

The good thing is that it does make you think if a completely autonomous society of self-building robots can happen. The book has it that the occurrence of robots is totally natural evolution on a planet saturated in metals, which I can't swallow. However, a robot society left behind by a human race could just happen something like the book describes, and it is interesting to see the whole concept of a robot society explored in this way. Despite the surface simplicity, it does turn out to be a deeply thoughtful, if not slightly sugary, read.

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