Saturday, February 12, 2011


Short Story by Elizabeth Bear

Roz is a detective in a futuristic police procedural with a fair tip o' the hat to Asimov, and a light amusing yet noir-ish style. Joking-Asimov meets Caves-of-Steel Asimov meets Raymond Chandler. With a faint touch of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Bear's narration here is interesting, several lines made me chuckle just a bit and several others were sort of sardonically poetic. The opening line itself is great, but also threw me off a bit as it doesn't match well with the rest of the story. The first sentence or two are from a different point of view than Roz's third person limited which the rest of the story is told from. I liked the line, but I'm not sure I like it enough for an abrupt viewpoint switch on page one.

I'm also impressed that Bear managed to use pulchritudinousness although it strikes me as weird for the character who says it, and there mostly to have one big word in the story. I don't think "le mot juste" when I see it here, which is generally what you save big obscure words for.

Also, a minor advance in cost efficiency of PCR is hardly the Nature headline I'd expect to be a point of interesting discussion in a world with robotic sex slaves, autopilot cars, and DNA reconstruction of suspects' appearance. It's downright jarring to see an advance that could be published in next month's Nature being used as an indicator of intelligence in this far future. Over-conservative technological advancement predictions are taken to a whole new level with that one.

But I shouldn't spend quite so much time complaining about one-line complaints for a story that held my interest overall. Roz is a well-rounded, complex female detective, avoiding both the standard female-cop tropes and the classic noir-detective trope with a girl's name. She has her own sexbot at home, complicating the moral dilemmas she has to deal with at work. And the very fact that she is a woman improves the story, since we start with the initial theme of men abusing their sexbots, and how smart do they have to get for that to stop being okay? It makes the argument more about sentience and less about gender, which is a good decision for this story, at this time in history.

The ground this covers is nothing new, but it is a take on some things I haven't seen presented quite this way before. The line between thing and person is explored through the line between murder weapon, victim, witness, and murderer. And the nice touch is that Bear's story points out, rightly, that it doesn't so much matter what the correct answer is. More important is how legal precedent, popular opinion in a jury, and profit-motivated corporate lobbying can twist the outcome and fate of everyone involved. This one held my interest all the way through, despite a few hiccups. But despite the good writing, it's too familiar to be memorable.

3 billionaire industrialists out of 5 get killed in the sort of room you hire someone else to clean.

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