By Randall Garrett
Published by Librivox.org
Read by Mark Nelson
I’m not sure if this story was intended as an homage to Isaac Asimov’s robot stories or a commentary of his Three Laws of Robotics or maybe both. Along with using the famous “Three Laws of Robotics” there is also a murder mystery involved here so there are clear parallels with the Elijah Bailey stories although, as usual, Garrett handled this in his own manner and was obviously not simply copying Asimov.
Michael Raphael Gabriel, aka Mike the Angel, is the designer of the power plant that is to propel the Starship Branchell to its secret and ultimate destination. The Branchel, he later learns, is to transport the super-computer robot, Snookums. Snookums is a learning robot. He started out with a completely blank mind and has been learning win his childlike and inquisitive way ever since. However, when he learns about nuclear explosives it is decided to ship him far, far away to distant planet lest he build one to see what it does.
Yes, yes, I see the plot hole. Why not just tell him that setting off such an explosion is likely to kill humans (a violation of the First Law of Robotics)? Well, Snookums has the mind of a child and maybe he just would not consider that in advance. Tell him humans are everywhere? Hard to convince him, maybe, since he has been kept isolated from most humans. Whatever the real explanation, Snookums is being shipped to another solar system along with his designer and child psychologist.
However, once in space, the medical officer on board is murdered and Snookums seems to be guilty. It is up to Mike the Angel to figure what really happened.
The story is a bit convoluted as though Garrett was reaching for something that was not quite there. This was not his best murder mystery (he wrote some great ones in my opinion). Maybe it was just that there were too many unique, albeit interesting, concepts being thrown into the mix and they seemed to get in the way of the plot/ I’m not sure, but in spite of it, I did enjoy the story and if science fiction murder mysteries interest you, you may enjoy it too.
It’s been a while since I listened to a recording by Mark Nelson and it was good to hear his voice again. Mister Nelson reads stories in a nice, no nonsense manner. He does not resort to funny voices and seems to allow the dialogue to delineate the characters rather than vocal tricks. I’m not sure how he manages that since some authors don’t seem to know how to do that themselves, but so far, at least that has been my impression. However, he accomplishes it, I find it is always a good listening experience when he reads.
So, it’s a story filled with interesting concepts and with some concepts that are unique to Randall Garrett and well worth the time to listen to.