It’s rare for me to dive into robot-centric science fiction, just as it’s infrequent for me to read works from British authors I’ve never read before. Both of these apply in approaching Tony Ballantyne’s Twisted Metal.
Before meeting with our main character, Karel, we get to experience his conception/birth. I’m noting that as a combined concept since, in the purely robotic society of Penrose, the last part of a robot’s conception is their birth. These robots are built by the mother, with the father providing conceptual insights, especially in weaving or twisting the wiring of the mind.
In Turing City, the primary social attribute is intelligence. Weaving a robot’s mind can make them more intelligent and independent, at the cost of their life expectancy. And, unlike the mysteries that surround most children and their personalities, mothers on Penrose know virtually every element of their children, at least in the form of raw psychological ingredients.
Since one of the great powers on Penrose, the city-state of Artemis, has taken to expanding, individuals from other city states have found themselves refugees in Turing City. As an adult, Karel has become a slightly odd Immigration Agent, tasked with gauging if an individual is intelligent enough to be offered citizenship. He tests a robot built for drilling in the initial pages, trying to not only find intelligence, but making an effort to convince this new robot that intelligence is a worthwhile gift.
The element that grabbed my attention most was Susan, Karel’s wife. Susan has been recording behaviors from the people around her, preparing to build a new child. She’s also found a propaganda poster made by those loyal to Artemis, calling on mothers to build their children with Artemisian designs to secure their future. While this is clearly an attempt at subjugation through fear, as well as an indirect attempt at recruitment, it makes Susan question how she should construct her and Karel’s newest child.
These elements combined set up not only a brewing military and political conflict rising from the expansion of Artemis, but also introduces the theme of independent thought conflicting with social acceptance.
I look forward to reading more.