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Literature / The Norby Chronicles

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A middle grade Science Fiction series begun by Janet Asimov, and her husband Isaac Asimov, in 1983. Based on Isaac's commentary in several places, the series is primarily her work, while he just did a bit of editing and lent his fame to increase the books' popularity. The last novel, Norby and the Terrified Taxi, was written after his death, so is purely Janet's work.

The series stars teenaged Space Cadet, Jefferson Wells, has a robot, built by a lone spacer from a scavenged alien spaceship, who is both the cause of, and the solution to, a myriad of problems. Norby is often mixed-up because he was assembled from human, Mentor, and Other technology. He is completely unique and is ready to remind you of that at any opportunity. Together, they have adventures by way of Norby's amazing, but uncontrolled, talents for traveling in time, space, and even to different dimensions.

The series name is taken from the Omnibus of the first two books, published in 1986, which was followed by an omnibus of the third/fourth and fifth/sixth. Ace Books published the omnibuses, with an agreement from Walker And Company, who holds the original publisher rights to the novels.

Books in The Norby Chronicles:

The Norby Chronicles provides examples of:

  • Advertising by Association:
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • McGillicuddy, the lone spacer/prospector who assembled Norby from a wrecked (alien) spaceship found on an asteroid, preferred to be called Mac, so Norby usually refers to him that way.
    • Mentor First, an alien robot, built Searcher, the alien spacecraft that ended up wrecked in the Solar System's asteroid belt. After helping him refuel, Norby calls him "Father".
  • Artificial Gravity: Antigrav was invented fifty years ago and the generators are now small enough to fit in your car, providing the ability to float in the air. The titular Norby has one built into his small barrel-like body.
  • Bald of Authority: Admiral Boris Yobo is head of Space Command, which puts him in charge of Space Academy, where Space Cadet Jeff Wells is in training. Initially it appeared that Fargo had left the service, but the first book reveals that he'd actually become a secret agent working with Yobo to discover the secret identity of the first book's villain. So aside from being the highest-ranked person that we meet in the Solar Federation, he takes a personal interest in the Wells family and is directly responsible for Jeff having enough credits to purchase Norby in the first place. The novels tend to describe him as the descendant of African kings, emphasizing his skin-tone and leadership skills at the same time. His baldness is emphasized in Norby and the Court Jester because the planet Izz insists on everyone wearing braids, and since his natural baldness prevents him from having any other hair, he has to grow a mustache and braid that instead.
  • Billed Above the Title: All three omnibuses fit Janet and Isaac Asimov at the top of the cover, then mention another book by Isaac Asimov before including the title.
  • Bio-Augmentation: The planet Jamyn is where the Others left instructions for genetic experiments. The Mentor robots turned the dominant lifeforms from sub-sentient brutes into a civilization and First created a brand-new lifeform, which he named the "All-Purpose Pet" due to its Empathic Shapeshifting abilities.
  • Cartoon Creature: The "All-Purpose Pet" is described as normally looking like a cat, but is capable of shifting shapes to appear more "cute" to their owner. She is essentially a pet that is designed to look like a pet, no matter who the "owner" is.
  • The Charmer: Fargo Wells is Jeff's much more handsome and much older brother. He's not as disciplined and tends to flirt/harass women, although he tries to rein it in now that he's gotten engaged to Albany Jones (the cop who wrote down his address while arresting him). It's almost inadvertent how he charms even non-human women, proving he's still as charming as ever.
  • Child of Two Worlds: Norby is a robot built by a Terran spacer from his scraps and the wrecked computer of a Jamyn spacecraft. The process has left him quite mixed up, and he initially is uncertain exactly where he belongs, but chooses to stay with Jeff because of their friendship.
  • Colonized Solar System: The Solar Federation (alternatively, the Terran Federation) has colonized the Lunar State, Mars, and built at least one space station for Space Command. Travel between colonies is relatively quick, facilitated by scoutships that can make the trip in one week and matter transmitters that can make it in less than a day. They are trying to crack FTL with the invention of a hyperdrive.
  • Deflector Shields: Personal shields create a protective bubble around the wearer that prevents attacks. They are rather expensive and can contain even large people within the sphere. There are also shield-equipped hovercars and presumably they're on the space ships as well. Norby discovers he has one built-in, and it's necessary for hyperspace travel.
  • Empathic Shapeshifter: The "All-Purpose Pet" is an animal/species created by Mentor First, from genetic samples across multiple planets. Only two are ever mentioned; the original Pet (who Fargo named Oola), and her child, which was given to Jeff. Both animals look somewhat like a cat normally, but are sensitive to the minds of those around them. The reason why they're an "All-Purpose" pet is that they adapt to be the sort of pet you'd like. If you prefer dogs, then she'll bark and turn into a beagle. If you prefer cats, then she'll purr and become a miniature simoladon. If you want a nununiy, then she'll grow sixteen legs and tentacles at each end. They'll take whatever shape you want them to, if your thoughts are strong enough.
  • Fair Cop: Albany Jones is introduced in the first book, acting on a report of a public disturbance. While Fargo Wells is known to attract women, Albany is the first one he decides to try settling down with. She is also the only member of the cast shown to fight, having learned karate and taught some of it to Jeff off-screen.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Religion: The Wells brothers are Solarists, which involves meditations on the belief that everything in the world (more accurately, everything everywhere) is connected. They have a religious observance that is supposed to happen at sunrise on the Equinox, but their attempt to do so in the first book is disrupted when they’re attacked by terrorists. Aside from those two points, religion doesn't impact the story.
  • Flying Car: The flying police cars, taxis, and other vehicles have antigrav motors.
  • Humans by Any Other Name: Rather than being introduced as Earthlings, human characters tend to introduce themselves as Terrans, and they speak Terran Basic. There is a small impact on the plot with this; Ancient Astronauts came and visited Earth in the distant past and brought a community to colonize the planet Izz, so there are technically two planets of human beings and Terrans would distinguish which race of humans are meant.
  • Implausible Deniability: Norby is easily embarrassed and inclined to outrageous claims to defend himself against accusations. The fact that he ends up in unbelievable situations means that his honesty is often called into question, even when he isn't making up stories about winning walking contests and dignity being upside-down dancing. "I didn't intend to bring a lion from a Roman coliseum" is not a good excuse when the Admiral had to sacrifice his dinner to tame it.
  • In-Series Nickname: Farley Gordon Wells insists on shortening his name to Fargo Wells. His brother, Jefferson Wells, is usually just called "Jeff", but isn't as insistent on the nickname.
  • The Magnificent: Ing likes to add adjectives to his aliases, starting with Ing the Ingrate (he's actually Gridlow in the first book). Other characters add other alliterative epithets, from mocking to respectful, such as "Ing the Incomparable" and "Ing the Intriguer".
  • Matriarchy: The planet of Izz has been ruled by (mostly) women since paleolithic times. However, since there are very few labour-intensive jobs, society as a whole is fairly egalitarian, with almost everyone spending more time inventing games and hobbies than real work. There are a few biases that act like a flipped patriarchy, most notably in the sense that women are expected to be brave, combat-focused, and leaders, while men are expected to submissively defer to them.
  • Multi-Armed and Dangerous: The Others, Neglectful Precursors of the galaxy, have a head with three eyes, four arms, and two legs. The Mentor robots they left on Jamyn are built in imitation of them, much like humans tend to envision robots built in their own form.
  • Neglectful Precursors: The Others are an alien race that intentionally minimize the evidence of their existence. The Others are responsible for creating the robotic Mentors of Jamyn, leaving instructions to uplift the native species of fire-breathing lizards. They also transported the original colony of humans to the planet Izz and established a Computer General on the planet Garden. They have three eyes and four limbs, but are otherwise humanoid. During the "present", they have become dedicated space travellers, and won't revisit the people that they've helped.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Norby was (re)assembled by McGillicuddy from a wrecked (alien) spaceship found on an asteroid. Unfortunately, Mac died before he told Norby everything he did, so Norby and Jeff have to discover his antigrav, hyperdrive, and other unusual talents on their own.
  • Omnibus: Ace Books began releasing omnibuses for the Norby books in 1986, starting with The Norby Chronicles (containing Norby, the Mixed-Up Robot and Norby's Other Secret), then Norby: Robot for Hire (containing Norby And The Lost Princess and Norby And The Invaders), and ending with Norby Through Time and Space (containing Norby and the Queen's Necklace and Norby Finds a Villain) in 1988.
  • One-Gender Race:
    • The Jamyn dragons are all spoken about with female pronouns, but actually reproduce by budding, establishing that they reproduce asexually.
    • The All-Purpose Pet are an intellectually simple species that is designed to reproduce by laying eggs. Norby announces that they’re supposed to be "she", just like the dragons. Oola is adopted by Mentor One, but the egg is given to Fargo so that he can have Oola Two.
  • One World Order: A Downplayed example because while the Solar Federation is a government for the entire Colonized Solar System, it doesn't have absolute command. Even places like Manhattan International Territory are considered part of the Solar Federation. The organization is probably intended to be similar to the different jurisdictions of Federal, State, and Municipality governments in America.
  • Only One Me Allowed Right Now: In this setting, you cannot travel to a time where you already exist, although how the universe resolves that tends to vary. Norby cannot travel to a time where he already exists, but he can take passengers along with him. Norby's Other Secret establishes that if one of the passengers already exists at that time, that passenger would disappear, and would only reappear when he travelled to a time where they don’t currently exist. Norby and the Queen's Necklace establishes the necklace device, which tries to merge with other copies of itself (including Norby). When they first use the necklace, the past version wriggles towards Albany, who is wearing the present version, so that the two can become one object again.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The Jamyn dragons are were bioengineered from four-limbed lizard-like creatures that breathe fire. The Mentors who modified their genes gave them wings and mini-antigrav collars to help them fly. They also gave the dragons a language and Telepathy that they can share by biting other organics.
  • Our Time Machine Is Different: One of Norby's talents is to travel in time. Somehow, this is part of the same device that allows him to travel into hyperspace, so he can extend his "bubble" to take passengers that are in physical contact with him. This includes unwanted passengers, as established in Norby's Other Secret.
  • Power Incontinence: Despite having amazing abilities, Norby isn't always certain how to use them. In the first novel, he explains to Jeff that he knows how to travel in hyperspace, but doesn't know how to do it, much like you know how to raise your arm, but probably don't know how the message gets there from your brain, which muscles are pulling and which ones are relaxing, or how the bones shift with your ligaments.
  • Robot Buddy: A series of novels by Janet and Isaac Asimov. The titular Norby is partner/friend/property of Jefferson Wells, built inside of a stainless steel barrel, with Touch Telepathy, Hyperdrive, Time Travel, and other assorted abilities. Incidentally, as it was written in 1983, he may be the first of the Deadpan Snarker bots.
  • Secondary Character Title: The main character is Jefferson Wells, a cadet in the Space Academy. The title character is Norby, who was purchased to be Jeff's teaching robot. Instead Norby tends to drag him into insane adventures involving aliens from other times and other dimensions.
  • Space Cadet: Jefferson Wells is a cadet at Space Academy, training to become a member of Space Command. He purchased Norby to be a teaching robot, who was made an Honorary Cadet for helping to defeat a terrorist. Norby tries to teach Jeff school subjects the normal way, but they keep getting drawn into interstellar, pan-dimensional, and Time Travel adventures instead.
  • Subspace Ansible: The hycoms, or hyperspacial communications, provide instantaneous communication throughout the Colonized Solar System.
  • Subspace or Hyperspace: Humanity has figured out hyperspace exists because of their hycoms, which provides instantaneous communication throughout the Colonized Solar System, as well as antigrav, but as of the start of this series, they haven't developed a hyperdrive that will shunt the ship from normal space into hyperspace. Norby, however, has an alien hyperdrive built-in. When he takes Jeff into hyperspace, it is completely blank; a gray nothingness, potential energy for all universes, lacking space and time.
    Hyperspace is the field of everything, including normal time and space. The field is timeless and dimensionless, the groundwork of all that is, was, and shall be.
    Norby and the Queen's Necklace
  • Tagline: The Omnibus editions include “More Asimov Robots!” as a tagline beneath the title.
  • Telepathy:
    • The Jamyn dragons can send/receive surface thoughts, and grant this ability to their human visitors such as Jeff, who can now use Touch Telepathy with his Robot Buddy.
    • One of Norby's many talents is his ability to communicate surface thoughts to people. When he first met Jeff, he inadvertently sent his feelings of loneliness when Jeff touched the stasis box that was holding him.
  • Teleportation: Humanity has invented matter transmitters, or the transmit for short. It takes enormous power and complex equipment, but can send people from one location to another at around half the speed of light. Jeff is surprised to find that the used robot he purchased, Norby, has a built-in hyperspace teleportation device.
  • Three Laws-Compliant: Robots within the Solar Federation have positronic brains and are said to follow the laws of robotics. Norby, however, was created from a crashed repaired alien spaceship which used entirely different technology and doesn't contain the laws. This has caused several of the human characters to object to Norby's behaviour on the basis of disobeying orders and putting human life at risk.
  • Tin-Can Robot: Norby is built into an old barrel of nails, and Jeff was able to purchase him for cheap because the salesman insists it "doesn’t work right". He has a short head that pops out of the lid, with two eyes both front and back. He also has telescoping arms and legs that can retract fully into the barrel.
  • Touch Telepathy: The ability to send telepathic thoughts through physical contact is very common in this series. The Others may have been born with it, and their technology was used to grant it to the dragons of Jamyn. Through their bite, humans also gain the ability to send/receive surface thoughts. Additional species encountered, such as the Biguglies from Norby Finds a Villain and the Jylot from Norby and the Court Jester, often have enough latent Psychic Powers that they can join in with people who have telepathic powers.
  • Two-Faced: Norby is a short barrel-like robot built with telescoping arms that can bend in either direction, his feet attach to his telescoping legs in the middle rather than at one side, and an expressive pair of eyes both in front and in back. Essentially, he doesn't have a back, just two fronts. If he really wants to concentrate while he's looking at something, he closes the eyes looking away from it.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: All purchases within the Solar Federation are made with credits. It cost Jeff eighty-five credits to purchase his Robot Buddy Norby from a used robot salesman, and that was when the salesman considered it a piece of trash that needed to be sent to the junkyard.

Alternative Title(s): Norby