Monday, June 30, 2008

[Lisa’s Take] The Automatic Detective – A. Lee Martinez

As usual with Martinez’s work, this was an absolute delight to read. I really can’t fathom how goddamn creative this guy is – every book just has a zillion new and entertaining concepts.

The Automatic Detective is (relatively near) future sci-fi, in which an AI glitch in robots makes some of them human enough to apply for citizenship. Our protagonist is one such robot, a big, red, war-machine named Mack. Mack is going through the 4 year audit process to gain citizenship, working daily as a taxi driver, when events conspire to put him in the role of a detective. So – think your standard 30s, hard-boiled-detective story, and now cross that with an extremely creative sci-fi setting. There really aren’t words for how awesomely it works out. There are quite a few nods (direct rip-offs?) of the noir genre, and playing them out with Mack as the main character makes them a riot.

Martinez did a better job this time around balancing “cool ideas, humor and parody” with “actual serious story and characters.” JD pointed out that a lot of parody authors suffer from the problem where they’ll start out doing humor, then lose that perspective once the story progresses and gets serious. Early Pratchett is a good example. It takes a fine touch to keep up the satirical theme and keep things entertaining once the plot thickens – even more so to keep it fun without cheapening the storyline. Some of Martinez’ other works were heavily weighted one way or the other – starting out light and fun, then ending dire and plotfull – but TAD kept it well balanced. I’m pleased to see him growing as an author.

My one gripe with the book is one the seems to be cropping up a lot lately – it could have used a better editor. Just little things... a couple of stilted or unclear paragraphs, repeated words, etc. Not enough to really do my good review any damage, but a pet peeve that seems to be happening more and more often. Are editors just sucking these days, or have my standards risen?

Overall: super thumbs up. You can take this book out in an afternoon or so – like all of Martinez’s work, it’s a super fast, bite-sized read, and tons of fun. This book just begs to be made into a series; it has so very much potential, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will continue to parody the genre with many, many, many continuations.

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