Commander Pirx, who drives space vehicles for a living in the galaxy of the future, here faces a new series of intriguing adventures in which robots demonstrate some alarmingly human characteristics.
Five more tales featuring Pirx — a bumbling rookie in the original Tales (1979), now a seasoned and level-headed (but coolly cerebral) space jockey. The first three pieces are short, ironic, and somewhat thin on ideas: Pirx fails to intercept a drifting alien hulk thanks to a shipboard comedy of errors; he searches for a robot that has inexplicably cut loose to go mountain climbing; and he survives a close encounter with a berserk mining robot. The two long yarns, unfortunately, are not so much fiction as rather pedantic reflections on the nature of artificial intelligence: a choppy and overinvolved Turing test, in which Pirx must identify (and foil the murderous plans of) the robot among his crew as they fly through the rings of Saturn; and a talky, motionless analysis of why an intelligent computer aboard an experimental ship went neurotically haywire and crashed on Mars. A ruminative, often discursive bunch, wanting in urgency and drama — without the mature idea-wrestling of last year’s Memoirs of a Space Traveler. (Kirkus Reviews)