Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Norby the Mixed-Up Robot by Janet & Isaac Asimov

Lowdown: A barrel like robot has more than meets the eye.
Following the success of the first science fiction for kids book I recall reading, the Hawkings’ George's Secret Key to the Universe, I thought I’d try more of the genre. And what could be more natural to turn to the supreme commander of science fiction, Asimov? Turns out the maestro wrote some kids books, too; luckily for me, a couple of his science fiction for kids books series involving a character called Norby the robot have been recently republished. I put my hands on the series’ first.
Norby the Mixed-Up Robot is a shortish hundred page long book that, to an adult, feels more like a booklet. Set in a space age future it follows a space academy cadet called Jeff. An orphan to a family with financial trouble, Jeff gets expelled out of the academy due to his mischief. The academy’s admiral still has his faith in Jeff and gives him some money to buy a teaching robot so that one day he could return to the academy. The money is not enough to buy a new model, so on his way home to his poor and derelict neighborhood (Manhattan) Jeff buys an old robot that looks like a barrel: Norby.
Together they have some adventures as they celebrate summer solstice, allowing Jeff to learn there’s more to Norby than meets the eye: things like anti-gravity facilities, to name but one. It appears Norby is mixed up with alien parts that give him these special qualities as well as, well, mix him up. Soon enough, our heroes find themselves in the midst of a plot to overthrow democracy and place a guy called Ing as the emperor of all humanity.
Although never uninteresting, I cannot honestly say that Norby the Mixed-Up Robot is a good book. It’s characters are rather shallowly developed, the plot just moves from here to there to everywhere, and whenever things seem to get stuck Norby just comes up with some new magic from under the barrel. True, the book is still a science fiction book and as such not a bad way of introducing kids to the concept and perhaps to reading for fun in general (although some of the book's elements probably cross the border between science fiction and fantasy). And true, this is a kids’ book, so maybe I’m expecting too much. But still, there are good children books that to things at kids’ level yet are still highly entertaining. Roald Dahl, anyone? Or, for that matter, Stephen Hawking, even if his George series of books is aimed at slightly older kids.
Overall: A bit of disappointing fun at 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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