Book Review: Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg (Audiobook narrated by Stefan Rudnicki)
Simeon Krug, creator of androids, has a new vision. Earth is receiving a transmission from deep space, and he’s determined to answer it. He’s building a tower in the Arctic tundra, a tall tower that reminds many of the Tower of Babel. With this tower he will send a return transmission to whoever is sending the message to Earth. He also has his androids building a spaceship, to be entirely manned by androids, to try to reach those sending the transmission. However, the androids he designed that now outnumber and serve humans have other things on their minds. They want to be recognized as equal to humans, their brothers of the womb. While some seek this politically, others seek it spiritually, worshiping their creator Krug.
Robert Silverberg wrote one of my all-time favorite books (The World Inside), so I now have an informal goal to read most (if not all) of what he has written. This one was, unfortunately, a miss for me, but at least the world he has created was fascinating to visit. The book presents a fascinating possible future that is marred by the rampant misuse of the term android and the length of time spent on the “android” religion.
I loved the idea of this book, and I love books about ai/androids/robots. I thus was horrified when within the first chapter we discover that the “androids” are, in fact, clones. They’re not machines at all. They are genetically engineered humans, created in vats, and whose genetic code is changed enough to give them plasticine skin so that humans can tell themselves apart from them. I like the concept of GMO humans vs non-GMO humans. I like the idea of the vat versus the womb. I cannot, however, tolerate the fact that everyone calls these folks androids. That is not what an android is! (Merriam-Webster definition of android). It really put a sour note on the whole book for me, and the misnomer is never explained. Did Krug just call them androids to make people think of them as robots when they actually aren’t? If that’s the case, he himself would not think of them as androids. But he does. He calls them machines. What scientist would genetically manipulate humans and then call the outcome machines? It just makes no sense, and in a scifi book, it’s something I can’t look past.
The plot is a bit of a bait-and-switch. The reader thinks it’s going to be about the tower, the possible aliens, etc… In fact this is the backdrop to the story of the “androids” fighting to have their humanity recognized. I liked that the book was ultimately not the Tower of Babel retelling I originally thought it was going to be, but potential readers might want to know that the “androids” and their fight for human rights are actually the focus of the book.
Readers should also be ready to have every minute detail of the “android” religion worshiping Krug outlined for them. While that type of scifi book definitely has its audience, it might be different from the one expecting the tower story. The one aspect of the telling of the “android” religion that I found incredibly annoying was how they recite their DNA strands as prayer. Think of it as like a Catholic person saying the rosary. Only instead of words, it’s series like “AAA-ABA-ACA-CCC-BBB-AAA,” and it goes on for a very long time. Perhaps this is less annoying to read in print than to hear in an audiobook, but going on for such long stretches of time each time an “android” prays seems unnecessary.
The characters are all fairly well-rounded. There is Krug, his son, a high-ranking “android,” Krug’s son’s “android” mistress, a couple of “android” politicians, and more. There are enough characters to support the complex plot, and it’s fairly easy to get to know all of them. The “androids” are also given the same amount of characterization as the humans.
The audiobook narrator was somewhere between pleasant and unpleasant to listen to. He has a very deep voice that doesn’t fluctuate much for various characters or narration. It works really well for Krug but not so great for the female characters. If the narrator’s female voices were better and if he emoted more for emotional scenes, his narration would be more enjoyable. Between this fact and the reading of the DNA mentioned earlier, I definitely recommend picking up the print over the audiobook version.
Overall, the book presents an interesting world of GMO humans worshiping their creator and seeking freedom while he is entirely focused on the project of communicating with the stars. The misuse of the term “android” throughout the book will likely bother most scifi readers. Some readers may find some aspects of the “android” religion a bit dull. Recommended to scifi readers more interested in the presentation of future religions than in contacting deep space or hard science.
3 out of 5 stars