Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne

On a world of intelligent robots who seem to have forgotten their own distant past, it is a time of war as the soldiers of Artemis City set out to conquer everything within range on the continent of Shull, killing or converting every robot they capture to their philosophy, while viewing their own wire-based minds as nothing but metal to be used or recycled for the cause.

Elsewhere, the more individualistic robots of Turing City believe they are something more than metal, but when the Artemisian robot Kavan sets out on a determined crusade to prove himself, even Turing City can’t stand against him. Increasingly tied up with Kavan’s destiny is Karel, a Turing robot with elements of Artemis’s philosophy already woven into his mind … as well as Karel’s wife Susan, and their recently created child..

Following the inevitable violence and destruction, Artemisian ambition focuses elsewhere and a journey begins towards the frozen kingdoms of the north … and towards the truth about the legendary ‘Book of Robots’, a text which may finally explain the real history of this strange world …

In a completely alien but brilliantly realized landscape, here is a powerful story of superb action, barbaric cruelty and intense emotional impact.

twisted-metalI 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.

6 thoughts on “Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne”

  1. Hi, I am a bit embarrassed by the spamming and such, but I am organizing a new event for review bloggers to get to know other review bloggers [mainly because I want to interact with the community]. It’s called “Reviewer Time” and will post each Sunday a review of a review blog and an interview of its owner and contributors, if any are game.

    I really like your blog and such, so I hope you would be game. Here is the link for the original post, where you can sign up for the interview part at least, if you want to: http://templelibraryreviews.blogspot.com/2009/04/anniversary.html

  2. This book definitely leaves you wanting more, which is always a good things!

    I had tried Divergence last year, really enjoyed it and it read so easily. Only problem is that I discovered it was the third book in the series so put it to one side until I got the others – still not there yet :( They’ve moved swiftly up the pile though after reading this one!

  3. :) i just recently read this review, just wanted to say its kinda funny the name for the city :)

    Turing City :)

    I think the writer is having fun with the "turing test" in which a robot will be tested for "intelligence" :)

  4. Took me ages to get around to it, but I've just finished Twisted Metal and have to say: what a brilliant book! I was like a WW2 novel with Nazi robots but was also surprisingly philosophical too. I'm very much looking forward to the sequel now: just pre-ordered it 😉

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