Isaac Asimov's Inferno
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First US edition
|Author||Roger MacBride Allen|
|Cover artist||Ralph McQuarrie|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
Ace Books (US)
|Media type||print (Hardback/Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Isaac Asimov's Caliban|
|Followed by||Isaac Asimov's Utopia|
This series deals with a new type of robots who do not have the Three Laws of Robotics. The Three Laws are integral to the functioning of a positronic brain, but these robots have gravitonic brains, into which it is possible to build any set of laws. For example, some gravitonic robots have already been built with the New Laws of Robotics which are designed to make them partners rather than slaves to humanity - in theory.
This book opens with the revelation of severe political upheaval and economic dislocation in Inferno society. New Law robots, once thought to be the ideal new partners of humanity, are incited by Prospero (one of the first New Law robots to have been constructed) to leave the island of Purgatory. In this, they are assisted by a massive underground "rustbacking" industry precipitated by a perceived shortage of robotic labor on the rest of Inferno.
Governor Chanto Grieg has initiated, and signed, a law mandating that all "excess" robots in a household be drafted for terraforming work. Spacers, unaccustomed to being limited to twenty robots per individual, respond by selling precious works of art or otherwise bartering for New Law robots. This funding is part of what drives the rustbacking industry.
Sheriff Alvar Kresh also returns in this book, brought along largely as window dressing for the Governor, since his jurisdiction is essentially nonexistent on the Island of Purgatory. He and the Governor have an argument about guaranteeing Grieg's safety at the party which is about to start at the Winter Palace. Donald, Kresh's robot, invokes the First Law in refusing to permit the Governor to leave the room until Kresh temporizes by activating the security robot detail in the Winter Palace.
Meanwhile, a rustbacker, Norlan Fiyle, is caught by a Ranger on patrol, and agrees to turn in another Ranger, a corrupt man named Emoch Huthwitz who has been taking bribes in exchange for tipping off the rustbacking network whenever a raid is about to start.
Caliban and Prospero, invited to the Governor's gathering at the behest of Dr. Fredda Leving, are present just as Tonya Welton, leader of the Settlers, gets into a fight with two supposed Ironheads, members of a fringe political group led by Simcor Beddle, which calls for the removal of all Settlers from Inferno and for the government to rescind the law drafting robotic labor for terraforming.
It is at this point that the action begins. After Grieg successfully carries off the gathering and demonstrates his political will while hobnobbing with all of the major players in Inferno's complex politics, Sheriff Kresh is called to a murder scene involving the Ranger, Emoch Huthwitz. It is this unsettling event that makes Kresh wonder if the Governor was a target, and after realizing that he has been communicating with a simulated Governor (later found to be the result of a simulator device plugged into the communications console), he rushes back to the Winter Palace and finds the Governor dead, in bed.
Kresh rapidly takes unorthodox steps to allow himself to take charge of the investigation of the crime scene. He orders Sheriff's Deputies sent over by high-speed aircars, and calls in Dr. Leving to quietly examine the destroyed security robots on the scene.
A man named Tierlaw Verick is swooped up after having evaded the initial searches by the deputies. Shortly after, Grieg's death is announced to the world of Inferno, and Caliban goes into hiding along with Prospero. Meanwhile, a Spacer import/export broker, Sero Phrost, meets with Simcor Beddle and blackmails him by pointing out where some of the Ironhead's money has been coming from. Settler Demand Notes have been funnelled from Phrost's illegal sales of Settler hardware (partly subsidized by the Settler faction on Inferno) over to the Ironheads.
Sheriff Kresh is informed some time later that Governor Chanto Grieg had foreseen the possibility he might be assassinated, and took steps to secure the office of Governor from being assumed by an ineffectual politician, Shelabas Quellam. The bombshell dropped on Kresh is that Grieg has named him as the Governor-Designate.
Governor Kresh takes the inaugural oath and pledges to pursue the killers of Chanto Grieg, and to run in a special election a hundred days from the date of his oath-taking.
After revelations that rustbacking connections seem to be coming from all corners of the case, Kresh realizes that Tierlaw Verick hired the killer, Ottley Bissal, in order to secure rustbacking profits because Grieg was going to let the New Law robots go free and decide of their own accord whether to stay on Purgatory.