Tuesday, 5 May 2009

‘Twisted Metal’ – Tony Ballantyne (Tor UK)


If you’re anything like me then you’ve got a ‘reading pile’ and you know how hard it can sometimes be to pick the book you want to read next, especially when it’s a hot Bank Holiday weekend and all you want to do is sit out in the garden with a good book... I find that the best way round this is to pick out three or four books and dip into all them. The winner is the book that grabs your attention from the start and keeps you reading.
At least, that’s what I thought until this weekend when Tony Ballantyne’s ‘Twisted Metal’ became my Bank Holiday read. You see, the first few pages didn’t grab me at all but the rest of it did...

The world of Penrose is home to a race of intelligent robots, a faction of which are dedicated to making war on the rest. The robots of Artemis adhere to a creed that demands expansion as a scarcity of resources means that they must consume everyone else’s. The robots of Turing City are all that stand against complete Artemis domination of the continent and Karel is a Turing City robot, or is he? When Turing City is finally attacked, Karel finds himself conscripted into the army and sent to the frozen wastes of the north. It’s here that he will find the truth about himself and what he must do next...

While I love watching robots on television (I’ll pretty much drop everything if there’s a chance of watching a ‘Terminator’ film) I’m not so keen on reading about them. I’m more into watching robots rip bits off each other rather than read about situations arising from ‘Robotic Law’ as these always come across as a bit dry. Neal Asher’s ‘Mr Crane’ showed me that robots (in books) can be fun and that I should give them a chance. Tony Ballantyne’s robots confirmed this but it was so nearly not the case...

If I’m reading about a robot then it needs to be human enough for me to identify with but ‘robot enough’ for me to know that I’m reading about a robot, this wasn’t really the case for the first couple of chapters. Ballantyne spends a lot of the opening pages getting inside the heads of his characters and showing us what’s going on and while this sets up things to come there wasn’t a lot of ‘robotness’ to hand; especially when a lot of the robots have human names (Susan?). Comments about robot mechanics didn’t seem to add a lot to the overall picture and just seemed to be put in order to signpost that the characters were robots... This approach may be a sign of things to come, in future books, but it didn’t work for me.

I stuck with it though (as the opening scenes raise questions that I really wanted to know the answers to!) and I was glad I did as Ballantyne’s slow and steady doling out of facts and scenery builds up a world and ideologies that are worth the read and give you plenty to think about.
When you add a hefty dose of action to the mix (which Ballantyne certainly does!) then you have a story that rockets along to a heady finish. Ballantyne has a great time sending opposing robots up against each other and he does this with great panache, leaving no diode un-wrenched in scenes of full on robot warfare. No robot is safe against a conquering army scavenging for metal and this makes for certain scenes that would attract criticism if they involved human characters. I didn’t feel any pangs though and it was at this point that I realised Ballantyne had found that missing ‘robotness’ and was using it to good effect.

‘Twisted Metal’ is very much the first book in a series and you shouldn’t expect to have all your questions answered. Ballantyne compromises in that he answers questions relating to the immediate plot but leaves the more far reaching stuff hanging. I enjoyed reaching the conclusion of Karel’s plotline (especially the last minute curveball which I didn’t expect) but the tightness displayed here only served to emphasise what was left hanging elsewhere. While I’m sure that a sequel to ‘Twisted Metal’ will make things a lot clearer, things were left feeling disjointed in the meantime...

Despite this though, ‘Twisted Metal’ proved to be a fun read and a great way to spend the Bank Holiday weekend. Maybe reading about robots isn’t so bad after all...

Eight out of Ten

4 comments:

David Barnes said...

Got to admit it sounds like a pretty good read but experiments that start at 25.00 (Amazon) are a little rich for my blood. I'll keep an eye out though...

ediFanoB said...

Sound promising but before I decide to buy I wil wait for paperback.

Luke Forney said...

No kidding, even Amazon doesn't have a discount off the cover price. I can't wait to see this hit paperback.

Graeme Flory said...

It's a good read but that is a little steep...!