Volume 2, Number 1, Winter, 1984

Code of the Lifemaker

By James P. Hogan

Del Rey, 1983, 34l pg.
Reviewed by Victoria Varga
July 2020

Funnier, more imaginative, and less serious than Voyage from Yesteryear, James P. Hogan's story of a million year old robot civilization on Titan which gets invaded by bureaucrats from Earth is both fantastic and a great deal of fun.

The author not only has convincing reasons for the robot society to exist, but he also creates an interesting and complex (if in some ways too human) culture for them to live in. The robots, for whom machines are natural and alive and vegetable matter is artificial and used for building material, are undergoing philosophical growing pains and are in the process of emerging from their equivalent of the Dark Ages. Their various governments include a successful-but-threatened-by-jealous-outsiders limited government and several conventional monarchies, whose kings are at least partially controlled by priests.

One "robeing," Thirg, the Asker of Forbidden Questions, postulates that the world is round and that there may be other worlds beyond Titan's heavy and opaque sky. In time to prevent a certain heresy trial comes the invasion from earth of terrifying "gods" or scientists (depending on which robot's eye-view one is taking), and all of Titan's societies, and their presuppositions, are shaken to the roots.

Nor is human society untouched. Typically, the military and bureaucratic leaders of the expedition refuse, at first, to recognize the robots as more than machines and Titan as more than an unexploited and self-running factory. When they are forced to acknowledge the truth by several civilians, they then attempt to conceal the facts from the general public on Earth, the better to manipulate the situation (and the robots) for their own political ends.

What the robeings and the humans grapple with here are the oldest and most important questions about the nature of humanity, the stupidity of war, and the necessity of self-determination.

In the meantime, there are several wonderfully satisfying moments—like when the robot scientist-philosopher, Thirg, muses over the existence of the soul, or his joy when his "roundworld" theory is proven correct. Or especially when Thirg contentedly admires the beauty of a Titan sunset and the gentle breeze "… carrying the fragrant scents of distilled tar sand and furnace gas ventings, and a family of dome-backed concrete-pourers was laying out filterbeds on the far bank…"

All I can say, after nominating The Code of the Lifemaker for this year's Prometheus Award, is "Get back to your typewriter, Hogan, and write me another one!"

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