Tin Stars

Sloth, indolence, sickness, and working on another review for Innsmouth Free Press mean you get another retro review.

It’s a robot book and a August 26, 2000 retro review.

Review: Tin Stars: Isaac Asimov’s Wonderful World of Science Fiction #5, eds. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles Waugh, 1986.

“Robots in Judgment” was editor Asimov’s preferred title for this anthology since the stories cover more ground than just robot detectives.Tin Stars

Oh, there are robot detectives here all right. Asimov’s famous human and robot detective team of Lije Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw are here for their only short story appearance, “Mirror Image.” The murderous mobile law enforcer of Ron Goulart’s “Into the Shop” captures the same criminal — again and again. A robotic Sherlock Holmes, his Cockney-rhyming robot dog, and a Watson of mysterious origins investigate the case of a possibly mad industrialist on a future greenhouse Earth in Edward Wellen’s “Voiceover”.

Wellen also gives us an interesting, proto-cyberpunk story, “Finger of Fate”, with its hard-boiled, if immobile, computer who prowls databases and public records to solve his cases. The machines of Harry Harrison’s “Arm of the Law” and Harlan Ellison’s and Ben Bova’s “Brillo” are not exactly detectives but robot cops, and each must deal with police corruption and the difference between theoretical law enforcement and carrying a badge in the real world of humans. “Brillo” also deals with blue collar fears of being replaced by machines. The tin stars of Larry Niven’s famous “Cloak of Anarchy” supervise a Free Park where anything except physical violence goes — until an artist decides to put his political ideas into effect and disable them. Stephen R. Donaldson’s “Animal Lover” is a cyborg federal cop sent to investigate a hunting preserve with an oddly high body count of hunters.

Stories that don’t feature robotic investigators and law enforcers are Christopher Anvil’s tedious “The King’s Legions”, a tale of political machinations and a nearly-magical, sentient spaceship. Technological innovations since its original publication date of 1963 make Larry Eisenberg’s “The Fastest Draw” a fully realistic story. In it a man obsessively tries to make his fast draw competitions with a gunfighter simulacra more realistic. Harry Harrison’s “The Powers of Observation” is a predictable but involving tale of espionage and androids in a Cold War Yugoslavia. “Faithfully Yours” by Lou Tabakow, about a convict fleeing some implacable retribution, is flawed by an irrelevant beginning and an ending that stops at the point where things get interesting. The strength of Donald Wismer’s “Safe Harbor” is undercut by the rather unbelievable motivation of a central character who opts out of a world largely automated and administered with the help of “bugs”, skull implants that monitor health and track their users in case they need emergency aid. Henry Slesar’s “Examination Day” is famous but doesn’t really work. Its surprise ending is probably there to make a satirical point but about what, exactly, is unclear.

Robert Sheckley’s “The Cruel Equations”, though, is a clever and funny story about an inflexible guard robot and the man who has forgotten his password but must pass by it — or die on a desert world.

Not every story is perfect but, with the exception of Slesar’s and Anvil’s, they’re all worth reading, and readers should, especially with the Wellen stories, find some overlooked gems here.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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