Nothing beats a leisurely weekend browse in my local bookshop. While I love discovering new reads online, there’s a special pleasure in picking up a physical book you had no intention of buying, and realising that you have to have it, because it’s exactly what you fancy reading right now.
This is how I came by Adam Roberts’ The Real-Town Murders, which first caught my eye due to its quirky title and beautifully designed cover. And once I realised it was a science fiction / crime mash-up, I was completely hooked (next to crime, SF is probably the genre I have the greatest weakness for…)
Adam Roberts, The Real-Town Murders (Gollancz, 2017)
First paragraph: ‘Where we are and where we aren’t. Where we can and cannot go. So, for example: human beings were not allowed onto the factory floor. The construction space was absolutely and no exceptions a robot-only zone. Human entry was forbidden. Nevertheless, and against all the rules, a human being had been there.’
The novel opens with Alma, a private detective in a near-future England, investigating the discovery of a body in the boot of a car. As the opening paragraph indicates, it shouldn’t be possible for the body to be there, because the factory floor where the car has just been manufactured is completely off-limits to humans. So how on earth did the corpse get into the boot?
This nifty locked-room mystery is immediately given an added twist: the crime is committed in a complex future world where an evolved version of the internet – the Shine – lures many citizens into living almost completely virtual lives. Even those who stay in the Real, like Alma, are almost permanently plugged into their feed, and navigate a world in which AI robots are ubiquitous. The tension between the virtual and the real, and the political power struggles it unleashes, are explored via the high-octane drama Alma finds herself caught up in. And there’s one important additional constraint that ratchets up the narrative tension: Alma must return to her partner every four hours on the dot to administer life-saving drugs (and it absolutely has to be her and no one else for a fascinating reason I won’t reveal here).
Alma is a great character – clever, resourceful and tough. And if I’m not mistaken, almost every other major character in the book – goody and baddie alike – is a woman. How refreshing is that?! The writing is sparky, noirish and packed to the brim with wry humour – such as when Alma gets into a chatty AI-taxi and unceremoniously says ‘small talk deselected’, after which it falls into a sulky silence.
The entire novel is a rollicking, highly inventive and hugely enjoyable ride that raises some genuinely thought-provoking questions about our future relationship with technology. If you fancy something completely different, look no further. The sequel, By the Pricking of her Thumbs, is also on its way.
Oh, this does sound good, Mrs. P.! I really like that mashup of different genres, and the premise is interesting. I’ll have to tell my
husbandin-house sci-fi expert about this. I’ll bet he’d be interested, too.
Sounds like a marriage made in heaven, Margot! Those genre mash-ups are a definite favourite of mine – they usually have such great verve and imagination.
Hm. This sounds like a must-read . . .
It pushed all the right readerly buttons for me 🙂
Sounds like my kind of book too. It will be available here in trade paper in September so I will wait for that. Thanks so much.
Like the sound of this one, will pay my local waterstones a visit tomorrow. Been a fan of Sci FI for more years than I care to admit to! Reading book 1 of Philip K Dicks collected short stories, my favorite Sci FI book is still his ‘The man in the high castle’. You may be interested in a book that caught my attention ‘Moderan’ by David R Bunch its been out of print for a long while, but NYRB Classics are bringing out in August. It sounds a similar type of world to Adam Roberts, although a lot darker,look it up, also go to Wiki to read about him & his world of Moderan.
Hidden just gets better every week, if you’ve not watched it yet I do recommend it.
Oh, that goes sound good. Another one for my list!
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