Tor (US) / Titan (UK), out now
Meet Raymond Electromatic – the world’s only robot detective… in fact, now, the world’s only robot…
What if Raymond Chandler wrote an SF story? That’s, in part, the conceit behind this very clever tale from Adam Christopher that melds noir tropes with science fiction ideas to produce an enthralling melange of mean streets and computerised circuits. Set in an alternate Los Angeles of 1965, where Kennedy is still President since he didn’t have his fatal encounter in Dealey Plaza, the story sees robot gumshoe Ray hired to find a hot actor – and then kill him. It doesn’t help that Ray’s memory needs to be replaced every 24 hours – so he’s highly reliant on his “boss”, supercomputer Ada, for any sort of continuity in his life – or that he’s now the only robot left functioning, which makes a lot of people very wary of him.
Made to Kill (a title whose cleverness becomes increasingly apparent as the tale unfolds) throws curveball after curveball as Christopher adds the Cold War spy genre into the mix, and Ray finds himself in perilous situations all around the City of Angels as a deadly plot is revealed. (Yes, a huge robot can find himself in perilous situations…) The story is told in first person, as befits such a Chandler-esque homage, and Christopher pulls off the difficult trick of keeping the reader empathising with Ray’s situation while simultaneously acknowledging the often ridiculous way that it must look objectively. The humour is suitably wry and occasionally a little meta (so someone who uses two first names is suspicious, huh, Adam Christopher?), but the threats involved are real to those involved, and draw the reader in.
This is the start of Christopher’s LA Trilogy, and there are a number of questions left unanswered at the end of the book – and I look forward to discovering the truth… although perhaps not quite in the same way that Ray does!
Verdict: A highly enjoyable SF noir. 9/10