I’m working on new stuff, so you are getting a retro review from June 9, 2013.
Review: The Humanoid Touch, Jack Williamson, 1980.
This novel is a reminder of the short novels that masters of science fiction like Williamson used to write.
Williamson wroughts a new twist on his humanoid menace, those robots who efficiently and implacably stifle humanity while carrying out their Prime Directive “to serve and obey and guard men from harm”. Theirs is a menace that can be seen as warning of dire consequences from well-intentioned technology or a political allegory for well-intentioned totalitarianism. In either case, if you think of this series as sort of intellectual horror, this novel shows a change in the behavior and motives of the monster, but, to fully appreciate the horror of the monster, you should read the earlier novel The Humanoids. Here, in a couple of scenes where they talk with humans, the humanoids take on the air of earnest communists defending their subversions or of creepy inquisitors really concerned with the fate of those they are about to inflict pain on.
The plot is something like a young adult science fiction story. Young Keth, growing up on the poor world of Kai, attempts to earn the affections of his distant father, the leader of the Lifecrew. Once a powerful and influential organization on a world settled by humans fleeing the smothering attentions of the humanoids, now the Lifecrew’s warnings of ongoing humanoid menace and possible humanoid infiltration of the neighboring world of Malili, also settled by humans though of a mutated sort, seem ridiculous and outdated. But, of course, the humanoids do show up, and Keth takes up his father’s struggle.
But the novel is also a story of family, how Keth learns about his father and mother’s past, a struggle for identity and belonging also shared by the enigmatic Bosun Brong, a half-breed of Kai and Leleyo stock. The Leleyo are the human mutant inhabitants of Malili, a primitive lot whose world thwarts settlement and exploitation by Kai due to the twin menaces of the metal destroying rockrust and the lethal bloodrot. Brong claims to have knowledge of a growing humanoid menace in the star system of Kai and Malili, but his claims are hurt by unbelievable stories of how he escaped the humanoids. Readers of the earlier series entries will correctly guess what’s going on there.
Will the third encounter with the humanoids (The Humanoids is actually a fix-up of two separate stories) show man victorious? At the end of a concise tale blending action and worldbuilding and human love thwarted and grimly affirmed, Williamson does give us a new wrinkle on humanoid-human relations. However, like the ending of The Humanoids, I think a sort of irony is present in the resolution.