by Roger MacBride Allen



351pp/$13.00/November 1996

Cover by Bruce Jensen

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

I would like to start out this review by stating that I am not a big fan of share-cropping, the practice of authors writing in another author's universe. Working in a bookstore, I used sharecrops to try to interest the buyers in the author's other works, for instance, if a customer was enjoying Roger MacBride Allen's "Star Wars" novels, I would point out his The Ring of Charon or Allies and Aliens. However, I have read and enjoyed the three novels Allen has written set against the background of Asimov's Robot Novels.

Shortly before Asimov's death in 1992, he approved an outline for three novels written by Allen. These three books, Caliban, Inferno, and Utopia, would tell the story of the terraforming of the Spacer planet Inferno. In addition, the most brilliant roboticist on Inferno, Fredda Deming, was creating a robotic revolution by inventing a No Law Robot and then New Law Robots.

Allen sticks with the mystery motif Asimov set forth in Caves of Steel and its sequels. His Lije Baley is replaced by Allen's Alvar Kresh, the sheriff of Hades.

The third novel, Utopia, is Allen's payoff. The novel tells the story of Davlo Lentrall, a brilliant astrophysicist who believes he can terraform Inferno faster than the Settlers by carefully dropping a small comet to form a north polar ocean on Inferno. After he meets with Alvar Kresh, now Inferno's governor, Lentrall draws the attention of both the Settlers and the Ironheads.

This novel is really the pay-off for the entire series. In addition to the major plot, the time has come for Allen to tie off the overriding plot which has threaded its way through the entire series. Because of this plot, these books, in some ways, rise above Asimov's original novels. Asimov imposed an overriding plot on his Robot novels as an afterthought, Allen had that plot at the beginning. He was able to include information about the Ironheads in the first novel, even if it wouldn't become important until the final book in the series.

If there is one fault with the novels, it would be the frequency with which Allen reminds the reader of the Three Laws of Robotics. However, in all fairness, this may be an holdover from Asimov's own writing. It also points out the importance of the Three Laws, and their juxtaposition to Allen's New Laws, in the series. Nevertheless, rare was the page which did not include a reference to the Laws.

One other minor fault with this edition. It would appear that Ace Books needs to hire a proof reader or two. Several errors appear throughout the book, not spelling errors, but words which were either reversed or completely left out of the text. Off hand, I can think of at least a dozen instances where the reader has to provide the missing word.

If you haven't read anything by Roger MacBride Allen, I urge you to do so. His robot books are among the best sharecropped novels I've ever seen. His original works, especially The Ring of Charon and The Shattered Sphere sequence are even better. Based on his handling of Asimov's world, I'm almost tempted to take a look at what Allen has done with George Lucas's.

Pruchase this book in paperback from Amazon Books.

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