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THE PRESERVE by Ariel S. Winter


by Ariel S. Winter

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-4767-9788-5
Publisher: Emily Bestler/Atria

In a world ruled by robots, a police chief races to solve a murder on a reservation set aside for humans.

Jesse Laughton is chief of police for the newly created SoCar Preserve, a designated area for humans spreading out from Charleston, South Carolina. After a plague almost wiped out humankind, highly sophisticated forms of AI took control. It’s been nine months since the preserve was populated by people, and no one has been murdered. Until now. The body slumped in the alley behind a grocery store is that of Carl Smythe, who turns out to be a cyborg (a human with a robotic arm and leg) and a hacker who developed and sold something called sims. The sims are illegal programs that are the robot equivalent of heroin or hallucinogens—they provide a one-time thrill that can be addictive. The last thing the dedicated Laughton wants on his turf is robot interference with law enforcement, but now it’s inevitable. He’s not at all surprised when his former partner from the Baltimore police department shows up. Kir is a robot so finely designed he’s barely distinguishable from a human, except when he does something like mend a shotgun wound by twisting a few wires in his shoulder back together. Kir is also probably Laughton’s best friend. It turns out he’s not even there about Smythe’s murder, although it may be connected to five robocides he’s investigating back in Baltimore. Winter does his worldbuilding gracefully, weaving the details of this future into the investigation as it builds rather than veering off into long blocks of exposition. He also grounds the story in Laughton’s family life. His wife, Betty, is dedicated to two subversive causes: She helps run a school to educate human children and a fertility clinic to grow the population (“A Baby in Every Belly”). Laughton’s relationship with his 8-year-old daughter, Erica, is a believable bond of loving exasperation. One quality humans and robots still share is prejudice toward each other, and Laughton and Kir must struggle with that to solve the case.

Robots may not be so different from humans in this fast-paced futuristic mystery.