Review of THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE by A. Lee Martinez (see his website)
Tor Books, February 2008
Probationary citizen and 'Bot' Mack Megaton was developed to allow a mad scientist to conquer the world--so it's not too surprising that he has some socialization problems. Still, Mack has learned to care for his neighbors and when he discovers a low-rent hoodlum terrorising the family, he breaks his non-interference pledge and butts in. Unfortunately, the family is still kidnapped and Mack has to make a choice--will he go on with his ordinary life, drive his cab, serve out his term and achieve citizenship, or will he risk everything to save the family? Logic tells him to ignore the problems and he's a robot, he's supposed to be driven by logic. But the free will bug won't let him walk away from the problem.
As far as detecting goes, being a multi-ton robot has distinct disadvantages. Sneaking around isn't very possible, for one thing. And then there's the whole issue of being a world-conquering robot. Still, with the help of a gorilla-buddy, Mack does his best facing down various other robots, mutants, and normal biologicals. What he uncovers is more than a simple kidnapping, however. There's an alien plot to disrupt the very being of Empire City--the one place on earth where the mad scientists, mutants, robots, and alien life forms run wild.
Author A. Lee Martinez (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Martinez) draws for inspiration on a combination of hardboiled detective fiction from the 1930s and 1950s/60s comic-book futuristic earth (think of the mad scientists who confront Superman or Dr. Doom). The result works. Mack is an engaging protagonist--with an inpenetrable alloy finish, he's about as hardboiled as a detective can get. His gorilla sidekick is properly gorilla-like, and the love interest combines wealth, beauty, and high-tech savvy.
Rather than attempt to resolve the internal contradictions of the future worlds postulated in the comic books, Martinez glories in them. Although robots can be fairly compact and highly intelligent, computers are still room-sized devices and Mack laughs at the idea that there'll ever be one in every home. This is very much the future as seen from the viewpoint of someone living in the 1940s, but our current viewpoint allows us to see this future differently than a contemporary would have.
I'm a fan of hardboiled mystery and have fond memories of the mad scientists and the Flash-Gordon style views of the future. THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE triggered my funny bone. I'm happy to recommend it.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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