Twisted Metal (book, Tony Ballantyne, 2009)


From Death Ray #19.

THREE AND A HALF STARS

Author: Tony Ballantyne

Publisher: Tor

A fantasy saga starring robots?! Let me explain…

Originality is a rare thing in fiction, but Tony Ballantyne manages to pull a new and metallic rabbit out of his (admittedly familiar) hat with his story of warring robots living in a world of metal whose divergent city states are falling rapidly to Artemis, a kind of alloy version of revolutionary China, where individuality is subsumed entirely to the state. The lives of numerous robots are swept up in this epic conflict as Turing City, the last independent realm, is crushed under the iron heel of Artemis – Karel, an immigration official whose mother did something odd when making his mind, Susan, his wife; Maoco O, a wardroid who learns the value of individuality; and Kavan, who leads the Artemisian armies and who is ruthlessly devoted to the city’s creed.

There’s a certain element of sleight of hand here, because this is not really SF, but a full-blooded fantasy story running on train tracks and clad in sheets of robotic steel. There’s much of what you find in fantasy in Twisted Metal: existential debate of a simplistic kind, braided storylines, a lost holy book and, of course, war. Fantasy’s playground is sweeping, continent rocking war, and Twisted Metal has that in spades. I’s SF credentials beyond its cast and technology are, by contrast, dubious, but as fantasy it runs just fine, with the winning characters the best of what that genre does so well, and a world that sticks to its own well-defined rules (how the robots breed is the most inventive aspect of the book, if the least convincing in SF terms).

It’s a great adventure, and at a certain level a good parable for the wars that shook our own world in the 20th century, but you can’t help but feel that a somewhat more sophisticated story could have been played out on the same stage.

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