Tag Archives: Tony Ballantyne

Review of Capacity – Book 2 of the Recursion trilogy by Tony Ballantyne

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This apparently innocuous book comes with something of a health warning – it’s not a light read and if you’re trying to read with one eye on the computer/TV/games console, then this isn’t the book to attempt such multi-task tricks.

capacitySociety in the 23rd century runs smoothly and peacefully with the aid of Social Care operatives such as Judy 3. Meanwhile benevolent AIs, under the control of the near-mythical Watcher, seem to have solved all humankind’s problems, and with their aid humans have begun to explore the surrounding universe. But why does every AI that visits the planet Gateway commit suicide within just hours arriving there? Justinian Sibelius has now arrived on the planet to try and find a reason. Yet how can someone with merely human intelligence solve a puzzle that has defeated minds far great than his own – even that of the Watcher himself?

And what if the Watcher should turn out not to be as benevolent as people once believed?

This book bites into some really chewy subjects – the issue of VR versus the ‘atomic’ world, for instance. If a VR construct of a person is imprisoned and repeatedly raped and tortured, does that constitute a crime? Judy 3 of Social Care would argue – yes it does. However, the construct Kevin, who feels no conscience whatsoever, would claim that because he can easily clone yet another construct, then each one is worthless. What does this do to the issue of permanence and immortality? Who decides how humankind will age in this stable environment? And how does the right of the individual stack up against the needs of the many?

Ballantyne also examines the nature of intelligence, both human and non-human. As the complicated plot skips its non-linear path back and forth, he throws out a welter of information about this intriguing society where humankind is now in the hands of robotkind, who make the major decisions for them. But what then happens when for some reason, these apparently invincible AI’s with their ability to manipulate human emotion and behaviour, start malfunctioning? Who will be able to cope?

It is certainly an intriguing, thought provoking book that I’m very glad I picked up and read. But… I do think that Ballantyne has packed at least a couple of book-sized plots in this complex story and while I think he’s covered the concepts very well, I felt that I wanted to know more about all of his characters – with the exception of Judy, who I think is a triumph, given just how Other she is. However, Helen, Kevin and even Justinian could have done with a bit more character complexity and depth for me. It doesn’t help that while most of the time, Ballantyne’s prose is accomplished and effortlessly stylish, there were times when the dialogue became a bit clunky as the characters attempted to explain/expound their views regarding these weighty subjects.

That said, this book honourably fulfils one of the major briefs of science fiction – to look at major philosophical and moral issues that will probably affect our future and unpack them in a fictional backdrop. And for anyone who is at all interested in the possible future of our race against an increasing trend to resort to automate more and more aspects of our lives – this is a must-read.
8/10

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Review of Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne

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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…

twistedmetalPenrose: A world of intelligent robots who have forgotten their own distant past. A world where all metal, even that of their own wire-based minds, is fought over – a valuable resource to be reused and recycled.  Now full-scale war looms, as the soldiers of Artemis sweep across the continent of Shull, killing or converting every robot to their stark philosophy. Only the robots of Turing City stand in their way. Robots who believe that they are something more than metal. Karel is one such robot. Or is he?

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 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…

10/10