Raymond Chandler meets Astounding in this pulpy, hard-boiled detective pastiche, the first of a trilogy by the author of The Empire State and The Spider Wars series (The Machine Awakes, 2015, etc.).
In 1965, Raymond Electromatic is the world’s last remaining robot. He and a powerful artificial intelligence, Ada, used to run a private detective agency in Los Angeles. That was before Ada, who apparently was “programmed for profit,” figured out they’d make much more money using Raymond as a hit man. (Although the author explains that Ada and Raymond’s creator, the late Professor Thornton, intended his creations to be financially independent, we never learn what benefit they would actually gain from the money. What use would they even have for money—to pay the power bills, possibly?) Their latest client, film actress Eva McLuckie, hires Raymond to kill missing actor Charles David. Intending to kill both his target and his client, the robot follows their trail to find Russian spies conducting secret and highly radioactive research underneath an exclusive nightclub. His struggle to comprehend the plot is made more difficult by his memory limitations: every 24 hours, his magnetic tape runs out and he must replace it with a blank one. Christopher’s afterword explains that this novel is both a carefully researched homage to Chandler and a response to Chandler’s ridicule of science fiction. The result certainly borders on the ridiculous, and it’s more parody than homage. While it nods at noir, it lacks that genre’s bleakness, which may be intentional. None of the characters, biological or constructed, are all that sympathetic—we feel for Raymond, victim of technologically induced amnesia and Ada’s manipulations, but his programmed indifference to murder is…uncomfortable—and the villains are cartoonish.
A small idea stretched until it snaps.