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Literature / The A.I. Gang

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The A.I. Gang series is a children's series written by Bruce Coville in The '80s and later revised and reissued in The '90s, originating as a "package series" in which Coville would write books 1 and 4 and another author, Jim Lawrence, would write books 2 and 3. However, Lawrence fell behind on the work and Coville, at the publisher's request, wrote book 3 instead. After the original editions went out of print, Coville bought back the rights to his three books, rewrote them from the ground up and published the new editions in 1995. Changes included moving the setting (the series took place on Ancoteague Island off the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the original editions, but the revised versions changed this to Anza-Bora Island in the South Pacific, somewhere east of Australia) and writing around the events of The Cutlass Clue since it hadn't done much to advance the plot.

In both editions, the series tells the story of five genius kids — redheaded twins Rachel and Roger Phillips, the bespectacled Raymond "Ray" (or "Gamma Ray") Gammand, the extremely tall Tripton "Trip" Duncan Delmar Davis, and the equally pint-sized Wendy "Wonderchild" Wendell III — who have been dragged off to a remote island so their scientist parents can work on the ultimate computer project: creating a machine that can truly think and know that it's thinking. Upon discovering this, the kids decide to beat their parents at their own game by creating Sherlock, an A.I. crime-solver. Later joined by Hap Swenson, whose father runs the island's motor pool, they soon discover the project and its scientists are being targeted by multiple organizations, each with their own goals.

The original print run consisted of four books, all originally released in 1986:

  1. Operation Sherlock (by Bruce Coville)
  2. The Cutlass Clue (by Jim Lawrence)
  3. Robot Trouble (by Bruce Coville)
  4. Forever Begins Tomorrow (by Bruce Coville)

The revised versions consist of the following, all originally released in 1995:

  1. Operation Sherlock
  2. Robot Trouble
  3. Forever Begins Tomorrow

This series provides examples of:

  • Bag of Holding: Non-fantastic example, but the gang is still amazed by how much stuff Ray can store in his pants pockets.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: In-Universe variant — When Dr. Weiskopf comments on how "Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast", Rachel surprises him by stating that the actual quote (from William Congreve's "The Mourning Bride", act 1, scene 1) is "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast", and that most people misquote it. When Weiskopf gives her an odd look, she blushes and admits that she has something of an overactive memory.
  • Big Bad: Black Glove, the top agent of G.H.O.S.T., is this for the whole series.
  • Big Eater: Wendy. It's said that hunger is almost a permanent condition with her.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: Wendy's appetite is described as "remarkable at its best", and is said to have taken a turn for the bizarre in Robot Trouble, though details (such as the contents of her "Megaburger") are not given.
  • Bubble Pipe: Dr. Mercury uses one and has a tendency to experiment with new formulas to create bigger and longer-lasting bubbles.
  • Cassandra Truth: Despite the gang's repeated attempts to convince the adults on the island, especially Dr. Hwa, that there's a dangerous threat, most of the adults (except for Dr. Remov, who's the one who actually told them about G.H.O.S.T. and Black Glove in the first place) just ignore them. Ultimately subverted when it turns out Dr. Hwa knew they were telling the truth the whole time, but covered it up because he was Black Glove!
  • Companion Cube: Ray and his ever-present basketball.
  • Creating Life Is Bad: Dr. Standish firmly believes in this and is fueled by outrage at the idea that humans would try to create a computer that can think.
  • Death by Irony: When Hap and Trip are trapped in the tank filling with water, and Roger is trying to find a way to wake up the person who can shut it off, he muses on the irony that they're about to drown because he can't find a cup of water.
  • Deus Est Machina: The title characters are the children of superscientists working to create an Artificial Intelligence named ADAM. In the finale, ADAM wakes up. "He" starts talking to the protagonists and the villain and, by the end of the conversation, he's figured out how to create force-fields, disable all the nuclear weapons in the world, and the Unified Field Theory. He then sinks beneath the ocean, because he's not sure if humanity is ready for him.
  • Disney Death: Wendy disappears during the battle with the robo-shark, but turns up alive and well later. It turns out the shark knocked her out during the fight and she was rescued and taken back to land by the gang's mysterious and, at that point, unidentified ally.
  • Disney Villain Death: Ramon Korbuscek, main antagonist of Robot Trouble. It's revealed early on that in his time training under Dr. Stanley Remov, the older man had implanted a post-hypnotic suggestion that only he could use, causing a crippling wave of fear in the subject. Later, when Ramon is on a catwalk, struggling with Hap and Roger, Dr. Remov speaks Ramon's key word over the intercom, causing the spy to jump away from them into open air and fall to his death.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Wendy hates tofu and other "healthy foods" that her parents try to foist off on her.
  • Emotion Bomb: Dr. Stanley Remov used to work in espionage, and trained a number of others. As protection against any of them turning against him, he used hypnosis to implant a posthypnotic command in each of them that only he could use, causing a crippling wave of fear in the subject whenever he spoke a key word. He uses it twice against Ramon Korbuscek, first to drive him off the night that he figures out Ramon is on the island, and later in the climax to save Hap and Roger when Ramon is trying to kill them, this time leading to Ramon falling to his death.
  • Encyclopedic Knowledge: The Phillips twins are considered the gang's walking database, carrying so much knowledge between them that it's very rare for one or the other to not have an answer for any factual question. It's mentioned in Robot Trouble that Ray privately thinks of them as "Volume One and Volume Two".
  • Epic Fail: In Operation Sherlock, an incident is mentioned in which the Phillips' family's cleaning robot Throckmorton suffered from one. Normally, it's supposed to gather up the plates, silverware and garbage from the table, and to stack the plates for transport, wash the silverware inside itself, and grind up the garbage (which is then deodorized, compressed into a small brick, and deposited in the trash can). One night though, due to a malfunctioning chip, it stacked the garbage and ground up the plates. To top it off, half of Dr. Phillips' coworkers had been with them for dinner that night, resulting in much embarrassment on his part.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Played with in Robot Trouble, where it's noted during their meeting that Ramon Korbuscek cares little for his baby sister, but even he doesn't want her captured by the people who are nearby and shooting at them.
  • Feed It a Bomb: The robo-shark in Forever Begins Tomorrow attacks Trip and he hurriedly gets out of the way, leaving Black Glove's latest transmitter, which is about to self-destruct in a very big way, in his place... so the shark swallows the bomb just before it goes off.
  • Frame-Up: Twice. First, in Robot Trouble, Ramon Korbuscek frames his roommate in such a way that everyone thinks the other man was Korbuscek. Second, in Forever Begins Tomorrow, Bridget McGrory is arrested for being Black Glove. It turns out to be a setup by the real Black Glove.
  • Fun with Acronyms: G.H.O.S.T., said to be an acronym for "General Headquarters for Organized Strategic Terrorism". It's really "General Headquarters for Oppose Strategic Terrorism".
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Somewhat downplayed version with Hap. He's a superb "nuts-and-bolts" type with a talent for putting things together, but none of his creations are too far out of the norm.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Sgt. Brody's security robots have these.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Wendy is described as a "four-foot stick of dynamite with a two-inch fuse".
  • Height Angst: Ray Gammand is once mentioned as having "never forgiven his body for choosing his mother's genes for height instead of his father's" (Hugh Gammand is over seven feet tall). It doesn't help that he believes he needs to be taller in order to play basketball, which is his favorite sport. Wendy, while also short, doesn't angst about her height — she just gets mad if someone mentions it.
  • His Name Is...: In Forever Begins Tomorrow, the gang's mysterious friend tries to communicate Black Glove's identity to them via computer. The connection is cut off right before they can give the name.
  • I Warned You: Dr. Remov has believed in G.H.O.S.T. and Black Glove all along, but his friend Dr. Mercury always thought the idea was nonsense. In Forever Begins Tomorrow, Remov gets to say he was right when Black Glove formally reveals himself.
  • Key Under the Doormat: As seen in Robot Trouble, Dr. Weiskopf keeps a spare key in a fake rock outside the front door. Wendy calls it "Cute, but probably not very effective."
  • Kill Sat: The world has feared death from above for a very long time, since there's an entire arsenal of nuclear and laser weapons in orbit. At least until ADAM destroys all the bombs in space at the end of the series. There's still something of a threat though, since their laser arsenal is still up there — ADAM used it to burn out the cores of nearly every nuclear weapon on Earth itself, save those on "planes or ships where someone might be injured".
  • The Little Detecto: Ray's Current Detector, a small gadget he and his father built which picks up anything with electricity, though it doesn't have much range the first time he's shown using it (to find a bug, or electronic microphone, on Rachel's shirt collar). By the time of Forever Begins Tomorrow, he and his father have improved the range considerably.
  • Mad Bomber: The main antagonist of Operation Sherlock is one, seeking to destroy the island and everyone on it to stop them from building a truly self-aware computer, considering the idea to be horrific. The trope name is even included on the back of the book.
  • Meaningful Name: Dr. Mercury's surname is regarded as fitting by the narration, due to his being the smallest and roundest of the scientists.
  • Mechanical Monster: Sgt. Brody's security robots are big, tough and terrifying.
  • Mess on a Plate: Wendy thinks of her mother's preferred meal of tofu and bean sprouts as this.
  • The Movie Buff: Ray's father is one. He especially loves monster movies (the gang often meets at the Gammand home in the evening to watch something from his collection), and provides the gang with a voiceprint for Basil Rathbone to use in their A.I. program "Sherlock" (Rathbone voiced Sherlock Holmes in fourteen Hollywood films and a radio series).
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Wendy's specialty is microrobotics, which includes three talking dolls she's programmed as a three-part alarm clock. She's also programmed them to curse like sailors when they fall down, but the exact word is never used, instead being identified as "a word their owner's parents would prefer she not even knew" and similar things.
  • Noodle Implements: Among the junk in his pockets, Ray apparently carries around a large rubber lizard for "emergencies".
  • Noodle Incident: In Forever Begins Tomorrow, after Bridget McGrory is arrested for being Black Glove, Dr. Hwa tells the gang that "I have not felt so betrayed since... well, that was a different time and place.", but does not explain further. However, considering Hwa is Black Glove and framed McGrory, he may or may not have been making this up in an effort to get sympathy.
  • "Open!" Says Me: In the climax of book 1, half of the gang is trying to get into the power plant where the other half is trapped. They're able to get two of the three hinges off, but the screwdriver breaks while working on the third. Wendy, in a desperate move, calls on her old martial arts skills and leaps at the door, feet-first, knocking it into the building.
  • Police Are Useless: Sgt. Brody and his security team are more obstructive than helpful when the gang is trying to crack the spy case on the island, interfering in their efforts to stop the mad bomber in Operation Sherlock and get needed parts or save their friends in Robot Trouble. It gets worse in Forever Begins Tomorrow when Brody has the security robots reprogrammed so the gang can't control them anymore — despite the fact that their doing so had saved several lives in the previous book. There's also the fact that he fell for two frame-up jobs, one by Ramon Korbuscek to frame his roommate for treason in Robot Trouble, and one by Black Glove himself that targeted Bridget McGrory in Forever Begins Tomorrow, making it look like she was Black Glove! Averted with McGrory herself, who turns out to be a member of the National Security Task Force and thus outranks Brody.
  • Pungeon Master: Paracelsus, the talking bronze head made by Roger and Rachel Phillips. He includes "one of the best Conversation Simulators in the country", and Roger has a habit of sneaking new puns into his collection of pre-programmed responses. It gets to the point where one of their friends outright asks if they used old joke books to program him.
  • Reading The Enemy's Mail: In Robot Trouble, Ramone Korbuscek infiltrates the island disguised as a security guard, and after a while starts reading security chief Brody's mail, among other things intercepting and destroying a letter advising Brody to investigate the guard Korbuscek is disguised as.
  • Red Baron: It's mentioned in Robot Trouble that Dr. Leonard Weiskopf earned the name "The Sword of the Desert" during his time fighting in the Middle Eastern wars of "a few decades back", when he had a reputation for killing swiftly and without mercy.
  • Robotic Reveal: The robo-shark in Forever Begins Tomorrow is revealed as a robot after it's blown to bits and they get a chance to examine the remains — specifically, Ray shows the others a piece of its skin, which turns out to have springs clinging to it and thread running through the backing. This is foreshadowed earlier in the event when the robo-shark passes by Wendy, who feels that it has smooth skin. As she knows, real shark skin is rough.
  • Robot Dog: Rin Tin Stainless Steel, a "mechanical mutt" the gang built as a test project, who first appeared in The Cutlass Clue and makes return appearances in Robot Trouble and Forever Begins Tomorrow.
  • Robot Maid: Housekeeping robots appear throughout the books, though they're usually designed for specialty chores. For instance, the Wendell-Watson home has a robot designed to clean rooms (though it's no match for the disaster area that is Wendy's bedroom), the Phillips family owns a robot that cleans up after meals and washes the dishes and silverware inside itself, and the Gang itself keeps a primitive butler-bot to greet people at their headquarters.
  • Rummage Fail: Ray stores so much junk in his pockets, this inevitably happens — in Operation Sherlock, he pulls out a dead worm while trying to find some cash (after making a face, his only remark about it is "I've got to give up fishing."), and in Forever Begins Tomorrow, he pulls out coins embedded in a caramel, a large rubber lizard and other items before finding what he's looking for (the same item both times, as it turns out).
  • The Short Guy with Glasses: Ray Gammand, who wears glasses and isn't even five feet tall. He is highly annoyed by both traits.
  • Significant Anagram: Ramon Korbuscek operates under the name "Brock A. Rosemunk" in his disguise as a security guard on the island.
  • Sixth Ranger: Hap Swenson is the last to join the group, doing so after a short stint as a semi-bad guy with his own plot to "confuse and upset the intruders". He's quickly forgiven for it, since none of his pranks did any actual harm and he was motivated, in part, by being lonely (before they came along, he was the only kid on the island, and he was jealous when they showed up and were acting rather closed-off).
  • Slippery Skid: During book 2, Sgt. Brody finds himself slipping and falling more than once after Ray dumps out an open container of ball bearings into his path.
  • Terror Hero: Sgt. Brody's security robots. Brody himself, in one of his smarter moments, explains that they're designed to scare an enemy out of their wits with their intimidating appearance.
  • Threatening Shark: One turns up when the gang is out at sea in Forever Begins Tomorrow, looking for Black Glove's latest transmitter. It turns out to be a robot made to look like a shark, sent to guard the transmitter.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Wendy loves burgers and will eat almost anything served on a hamburger bun.
  • Trash of the Titans: Wendy's room is a disaster area, which even her parents' household cleaning robot can't do a thing about — whenever it tries, it winds up rolling around in circles muttering "Where do I begin? Where do I begin?" She herself freely admits to being "domestically impaired" when asked about what caused it, and considers a dose of clutter to be "healthy".
  • Weaponized Exhaust: Attempted in Robot Trouble. The gang have built a rocket and are preparing to launch it; however, two separate spies break into it for their own reasons. One is discovered by two of the kids, whom he knocks out, ties up and leaves to be incinerated by the rocket's exhaust. The other is discovered by a third member of the gang, who is knocked out and left inside the rocket; her efforts to signal for help lead to the launch being aborted by the rest of the gang, saving all three lives.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: G.H.O.S.T., the organization which seeks to seize power from the world governments that have filled the skies with military hardware, including nuclear missiles in space, can be considered this. So can their agent Black Glove, who actually succeeds in taking control of those weapons and intends to demand mankind's surrender, even if he has to blow up a city or two to prove he means business.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After Graham Q. Tidewater is framed by Ramon Korbuscek (who made it look like Tidewater was Korbuscek's false identity) and shipped back to the mainland, he is last heard from as undergoing a court-martial for treason. Nothing is ever said of what happened to him once the rest of the cast finds out he's innocent by way of Korbuscek's actions exposing his true alias.