THE ROD OF LIGHT
By Barrington J. Bayley
The Rod of Light is Bayley’s sequel to his SF classic, Soul of the Robot. It picks up with Jasperodus, the robot who wanted to have consciousness, visiting the last Zoroastrian temple. There the priest expounds on the nature of the cosmic struggle between light and dark, spirit and matter. He makes it pretty clear that for followers of Ahura Mazda’s light, robots are from the dark.
The dialectic of dark and light permeates the action-filled story that follows. Jasperodus and other free robots are marked for destruction (can artificial minds die? are they even alive?) by the Bogor Empire. Meanwhile a group of super-intelligent robot scientists are developing their own technique for instilling robots with a true sense of self-awareness, a sentience beyond mechanical mimesis, a soul. Jasperodus is caught between his own desire for self-preservation, the Bogors’ hatred of robots, and his revulsion at the soulless methods of the robot scientists. Souls are granted freely to humans, but robots acquire them at a steep price.
Along the way there are interludes of truly bizarre wonders: an eternal soccer game, a recapitulation of Plato’s analogy of the cave played out in a coal mine, battles, airplane crashes, and startling revelations. Bayley’s dry humor and pointed observations on society are in abundance. As always Bayley’s work has something of the chameleon about it. Only a master can make lines like, “This vessel holds my soul. For technical reasons it cannot be united with my brain,” both funny and poignant.
Rod of Light is a refutation of all the pretentious goofs who think SF needs to avoid quality storytelling, wild scientific fantasy, and suspenseful thrills in order to be serious literature. Bayley achieves the high distinction of writing adventures thrilling to the soul and stimulating to the mind.