Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Humanoids by Jack Williamson

The Humanoids is set in a universe in which humans have colonized an unknown (and apparently high) number of proximate planets, and have access to interstellar flight. At some point, capable androids (the humanoids) were created to protect and help people. The problem is that they do it too well! The book follows the human resistance to the humanoids. This review contains minor spoilers, but nothing to obviate the book!

I was initially prepared to be disappointed by this book. I immediately noticed that some of the language was dated. I don't tend to like classic science fiction as much as newer stuff, a lot of it seems heavy on the science and light on things that make for good fiction, like character development. This might have been the case here to a limited extent, but I still really enjoyed the book.

The book was set up in sort of an unusual way. There was a preliminary short story, and then it jumped to another planet and another plotline. There was one point of view character for each. I never felt as connected to the main character as some books make you. He was very flawed and maybe intended to be unlikable. For example, he was repeatedly described as appearing gnome-like. Whatever that means. However, nothing makes me empathize with fictional characters like unfairness and frustration, and once those factors kicked in he became more relatable. Maybe not a strongly developed character, but the events in the story made me deeply root for him somehow!

The interesting thing about The Humanoids is the way the setting explores sort of a reverse dystopia. The Humanoids take over every kind of work, and prevent people from taking any even infinitesimal risks. And they don't take no for an answer. It made me wonder how Williamson feels about pet ownership! The conflict and setting were not like anything I had read before, it surprises me that this concept hasn't been overused and turned into movies yet! The idea of people fighting for their right for freedom against a system that provides for their every need perfectly really appealed to me for some reason.

It does get a little fiction-sciency at some points. The main protagonist is some kind of gifted engineer, and you occasionally embark on long descriptions of his insights into... things. Enjoying The Humanoids might take some suspension of disbelief and tolerance for detailed descriptions of fictional laws of physics!

The ending was... not what I expected. I can't decide if I am disappointed or merely disturbed by it, but I keep thinking about it. It makes me think about our right to our flaws and the contradictions between what's in someone's best interest and what they want! I would have been more satisfied with a different ending. I'm sure of that. But maybe this ending is to be preferred since it raises my hackles and is still making me think about the book days later.

So despite a few things that diminished my enjoyment of the book, I would highly recommend The Humanoids to fans of science fiction. If the author's goal was to make the reader think, he succeeded 100%. This would be an ideal book choice for a book club, as the ending inspires lots of discussion topics! Go forth and read this excellent piece of science fiction!


  1. What kinds of fictional laws of physics? Depending on the sort of science fiction, I have varying levels of tolerance for shaky science. For example, in a sci-fi setting where the science itself is not really integral to the plot (say, Star Wars, Star Trek, most modern sci fi), I am more forgiving of things like superluminal travel. If the science IS actually an important part of the plot in and of itself, I'm way less tolerant.

  2. It is important to the plot, so they go to great lengths to explain it. It mostly has to do with "undiscovered" forces that sort of mirror electromagnetism and allow all the technology and stuff in the story. It might annoy you!

  3. All of electromagnetism annoys me. It's basically all I've dealt with in school for the past few years!


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