on 2 August 2010
Reading the other reviews, I'm slightly puzzled by some of the reasons given to dislike this book. One of the main drivers in the book is the concept that information from robot parents is blended together into their offspring. This 'twisting of the metal' is done without much technical detail and I for one think this is fine (how many readers want to read about meiosis in a standard fantasy novel?; or need a diatribe on comparative genomics / syntenics if the author needs a human/orc hybrid?). I for one would be INTERESTED to hear more about the mechanism but it is not essential for the plot; and I'm happy to believe that there is some element of nanotech/silicon-extrusion engineering to the mechanism of 'twisting metal' (blue is a perhaps a clue that it is not just pure elemental metal being 'twisted'). Many of the complaints in the negative reviews are akin to dismissing the Alien books/films because their weaponised / genetically engineered origin is not spelled out in bioinformatic detail ! Suspending disbelief and filling in the gaps yourself is part of the fun in science fiction and I haven't found too much so far that cannot be imaginatively filled in with a bit of creative licence (after all, who would have believed in miRNA's before they were discovered) - I'm only about 3/4 through so far (seriously restricted private reading time) but I came here looking for a sequel in preparation for finishing..
Throughout the thread of the book there is a clear inorganic/informatics equivalent of Darwinian selection (akin to Dawkins meme selection in some ways). To me this is one of the most intriguing aspects of the plot and reminiscent of 'Code of the Lifemaker' - which I recommend if you liked this book (especially the first chapter which is also available as a short story). To balance this, the evolutionary drives of these robots are in some ways more Lamarckian than standard biology permits which allows for some interesting possibilities. It also seems that their general development is more pre-determined than human development which somewhat restricts some of their choices (but doesn't stop potential future meta-regulation of development). I find this all quite self-consistent and I like the discussions of form vs function which manage to fit into (and progress) the plot without being contrived. I also like the shock tactics of making the reader suddenly question their own definitions of life vs mechanism - especially when it comes to the character 'Axel'.
In summary, this is quite a thought provoking book that also has a quite acceptable plot that allows the various characters to develop in parallel and interact (twist) together. It is a tiny bit shakespearian in one or two of its outrageous coincidences but then I'm OK with that..
You never know what you're going to get when you open a book from Tony and the unpredictability is what makes him an interesting read. The book presented here follows the beliefs, times and exploits of a robot civilisation as it undergoes changes due to the warlike state that they've adapted. Its fascinating to see human traits placed upon what many would state is an emotionally sterile environment with no understanding of anything other than the core programming yet the quirks along with the traits of the characters involved really do come across in the tale and allow you the chance to identify and sympathise with the myriad of characters within. If you're looking for a new author to take the mantle in the genre from the old guard you really could do a lot worse than trying Tony's work.
on 25 September 2011
This is a story all about robots, living in a robot world. But before you embark on this novel- know that the grim cover is far closer to the tone and style of this book than any cosy childhood memories you might harbour of Metal Mickey.... Ballantyne has pulled off a nifty trick, here. He has produced a credible world of metal beings who are gendered - the male robots provide the wire that the females can twist and weave into a mind that powers the average robot for somewhere between thirty to forty years. However, females in Artemis no longer take time to think and decide exactly what traits they are going to include into their children's minds - they are indoctrinated into the ethos of Nyros, that all minds are only metal, so each robot's needs and wishes is subordinate to the State. I'm sure this is starting to ring bells amongst the non-robots amongst you. While the action scenes and carnage surround the war are depicted with clarity and power, this book is so much more than a military shoot `em up romp.
As we are pulled into the action through the varying viewpoints of Ballantyne's cast of metal characters, we are confronted with some familiar themes and ideas set in a novel background. It works extremely well in giving a fresh spin on the themes of the rights of the individual, opposed to that of the State... the rise of myths in the need to create stories that make sense of our beginnings and our role within our landscape... the sheer brutality of war.... And if you don't believe that metal creatures who can replace severed limbs with a couple of clicks are able to be tortured, Ballantyne gives a disturbingly visceral plausibility to their ability to inflict all sorts of suffering on each other.
This is an engrossing, well-told story about an intriguing and original world and I'm currently halfway through the sequel, 'Blood and Iron', in which humankind puts in an appearance and it is every bit as good as the first book. I highly recommend this thought-provoking read that will be lingering in my mind long after I've finished with the series.
Tony Ballantyne writes high concept SF with some knowing in-jokes thrown in to boot, and I was intrigued to see where he would go with this start to a new trilogy.
The setting, on a world called Penrose (more on that shortly) is one where robots seemingly eveolved spontaneously, and where there is no intelligent organic life. The robots have emotions and male and female genders, and produce children - the male supplying a special metal wire and the female "twisting" it to form a new robotic mind. The mind produced has its characteristics decided by the way the mother performs the twisting, therefore creating a manufactured personality and even belief system.
This is an intruiging idea and Ballantyne uses it to explore concepts such as free will and totalitarianism. There is a considerable degree of action and good characterisation throughout.
There are some knowing in jokes too - in order to be admitted to Turing city, new robots are questioned to see if they are able to think, and the world the intelligent robots live on is named after Roger Penrose, who famously argued that artificial intellgence is impossible.
It is true that the mechanism by which robots become self aware is ignored, and other reviewers have criticised the book because of this. This is irrelevant to the story itself and even if the matter is not addressed in future books, I wonder if the concept of a single strand of metal forming the robots programming is a veiled reference to the archetypal Turing machine - it may be that the "twisting" we see from the robot perspective is not the true cause of intelligence, but the instructions embedded in the metal.
I would thoroughly recommend Twisted Metal and suspect there are many more revelations in store in the books to come.
on 9 December 2010
Set on a world of advanced robotic civilisation, Twisted Metal starts with two robots making love and working to conceive a child. The male robot is then shot dead by a passing representative of an aggressive military state called Artemis. The mother is forced at gunpoint to twist metal and continue the conception process. Under these circumstances what kind of child will she create?
Karel is the product of that fateful day and he now works as an immigration officer in Turin City. His job is tough, and the pressure of the flood of migrants into Turin City is immense, exacerbated daily by the aggressive actions of the state of Artemis. Turin City is a prosperous state, with a strong belief in individuality and the value of the robot mind. Karel works hard to ensure those beliefs are upheld, against those who raise doubts not just about the immigrant robots, but the nature of his mind too.
Artemis is on the move, a rapidly expanding empire that conquers all for the glory of a simple philosophy, a philosophy that sees no value in the individual mind, but only in further expanding its own reach. It's a philosophy of submission and assimilation, not totally unlike that of the Borg in the Star Trek Universe. But the robots of Artemis do not exist in a literal hive mind. They are militant extremists, bound by their unyielding belief in a materialist philosophy, where no mind exists, only metal. When Artemisian war hero Kavan decides the time is right to take on Turin City, a battle begins not just for land and resources, but for the minds of all the robots in the Southern Continent of Shull - Karel's included.
I didn't know what to expect of this book. I was sent the sequel by publisher Tor, and generally when I receive a book for review that is part of a series I've not read, I put it to one side and then decide later whether or not to read the whole series from the beginning. This is what happened here, I thought this Penrose Series might be a little different from the other, mostly fantasy, series I was reading, and so I bought this first book to give it a try. I wasn't sure what I would make of it. The cover art causes the book to appear a little like a teenage novel, or even one of those adventure gamebooks that were popular in the eighties. I also imagined that it was possibly going to be akin to Transformers without the transforming, something like the war on Cybertron. I was wrong. The twisted metal of the title is not a reference to the damage caused by warring robots so much as it is the means by which a robot mind is woven. This is a book about the mind above all else.
Although written in a straightforward and easy to read prose style, Twisted Metal takes a bit of time to come together, and I wasn't immediately engaged by the characters. Still, in the first chapters I found enough of interest in the potential of the story. Later, the further I read, the more intrigued I became. The central premise once it takes shape is very good indeed. As the narrative developed, I was drawn into the questions of character and identity integral to the creation of a robot individual.
The robots are written in a very human way, and they have very human foibles. Despite this humanity as I've mentioned, it took me a bit of time to relate to the characters, but after a while I found a lot of empathy for Karel and his wife Susan in particular. There is another secondary character, Olam, whose story I enjoyed for the colour it added to the unfolding events. I thought the world building element of the novel was handled well, the few info-dumps did not distract me, and later I found myself keen to learn more about the other regions of Penrose. I liked the fact that each new area offered the promise of a totally unique way of viewing the world.
Twisted Metal is a novel about perspective. It can be read as an allegory in-part of ideological driven conflict such as the so-called war on terror. It also, like many other works with AI themes, explores the nature of consciousness, and free-will. The aspect of a parent choosing traits for the creation of an infant robot mind is particularly effective in this regard. There is a very definite acceleration in the development of this novel. The second half I found much more compelling than the first and despite that the conclusion is clearly that of the first book in a sequence, it is satisfying as well as a great tease for the next volume.
If I have given the impression that Twisted Metal is only about the mind and there is no action, then it should also be said that there IS plenty of action in this book, but that the action is not the main focus of the story, and I imagine someone looking for an action sci-fi par se might be disappointed. I certainly wasn't disappointed, and by the time I reached the end of the novel I was keen to read the sequel. This has been a surprising read for me, one I'm glad I took the risk to try. This isn't a pulpy robot smash em-up for teenagers, but an intelligent meditation on the nature of identity, consciousness and belief.
on 26 August 2010
A lot of what's being said in the negative reviews is based on two things: the concept at the heart of this book and the way that characters are used to explore this concept.
As for the concept itself, you have to be willing to accept a strange core conceit: life in robot form. The way that these robots reproduce is novel - the man supplies wire and the woman weaves a mind from it, and this appears frequently throughout the book. Through this he explores free will, nature versus nurture, and depicts what would be sexually graphic scenes, such as a rape, without the immature graphic description of some of his peers (the otherwise brilliant Richard Morgan for example) leaving just the emotional resonance of the act. It is a credit it to the author that he renders what would appear to be simple weaving a deeply emotive act to the reader.
If you can't get on board with this model though, steer clear, you won't enjoy this book.
The other complaint levelled at this book is the weight of apparently unnecessary characters - I presume referring to the story of Olam, which could have been entirely omitted without any detriment to the plot. This story thread is present to give more of a texture to the world and to give the reader a broader view of some of the mysteries of the world of Penrose later in the story. Again, whether you find this thread distracting or enjoyable is entirely down to personal preference.
I for one loved the concept and, though the Olam thread of the story does fizzle by the end, it kept me as hooked as the rest of the book.
The only complaint I would have is that the story is left so open for a sequel that its conclusion feels a little unsatisfying.
Overall, this is one of the most thought provoking and emotionally moving works of SF I've seen in a long time and, like the Schrodinger's plants of his 'Recursion' series shows that Tony Ballantyne is one of the most creative minds writing today
on 7 May 2011
This is the first book of Tony Ballantynes that I have read. Such an original concept and well executed. A quick check on the author to find he is another Brit with real originality in Sci Fi.
I have just ordered the sequel and will be looking at other books by Tony Ballantyne in the future.
If you are into SciFi and want a read that is different than this story is a great choice.
on 24 April 2009
I like robot stuff, from transformers to Terminator, it's all good. The only problem I have is that I never seem to read enough of it. In SF there are plenty of books that contain AI and the singularity, but I've not come across any that read like Twisted Metal - a book that focuses on robots as a culture, exploring their story. Tony Ballantyne has very successfully created a complete society of robot kind that can very easily be compared to a human society. It's a very effective take on the idea that works exceptionally well.
Looking at the world of Twisted Metal shows how much thought has gone into this. The story of Artemis and its nature is the main plot. The way their philosophy (Nyro's philosophy) is twisted into each new mind gives no room for compromise - either join Artemis or die. This is shown first by the invasion of Wien where we see first hand how the Artemisians deal with their enemy when the conversion process happens - very haunting in the way an individuals choices are used to weed out the unwanted minds. On the opposite end of the scale is Turing City, a place where any mind that can show it is free is welcome and standing as the last hurdle to Artemis' rule over Shull. The conflicting ideas and beliefs of its citizens show how a seemingly more advanced nation compares to the single mindedness of another.
Thrown into the mix we have some very interesting characters. Kavan, a robot fighting in the Artemisian army who takes control of it and successfully guides it in the image of Nyro's philosophy; Karel, a Turing City citizen with a mind twisted in an unknown way; Eleanor, Kavan's right hand robot and second in command of the army; Susan, Karel's wife; Spoole, the ruler of Artemis; Maoco O, a member of the Turing City Guard; Banjo Macrodocious, the enigmatic robot that seems to be at the center of all events.
The events that we got through with all these characters gives a very personal feeling to them. Many times during the novel I had to remind myself that I was reading a story about robots, not that it really matters as Tony Ballantyne has done a remarkable job of bringing these characters to life. The pain that the characters feel is conveyed in an emotional and relatable way, as is the unending belief that one philosophy is the correct one.
One of the most enjoyable things is the way that everything just makes sense. This is a very complex and involved story that flows along at quite a pace with very few elements needing further description. The ideas behind the robot civilisation gel nicely together and work on all the levels needed in this novel.
As I mentioned, the story of Artemis is the central one to this plot and as such we don't get to see the bigger picture on the planet of Penrose. The glimpses we do get show just how well planned the world behind Twisted Metal is and how much fun Tony Ballantyne could have exploring it further. Luckily Twisted Metal is the first part of a new series and as such it has set up the sequel with some very interesting and promising situations. I can't wait to see more from this setting and will be eagerly awaiting the sequel.
Twisted Metal is one of those novels that has many layers. It's not just the obvious robot/AI science fiction novel, it has the military aspect and also has a fantasy feel to it. Above all it's the characters that carry it to deliver an excellent story set against an exciting backdrop! This is highly recommended and well worth the time.
on 4 June 2013
Amazingly this novel worked well despite being in many respects quite simliar to the first book. I would still have liked the book of robots to be explained a bit more particularly since this seemed to the point of existence for one section of the robot society. the appearance of the humans also seemed a bit baffling, why were they there? A nearly great read, well recommended.
on 23 April 2012
I very much enjoyed this book as I have all his other books. I like the idea behind the series and look forward to following the central characters through the series. The different strands of the novel were also well developed.