Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective Mystery review

    Prime Suspects is an homage to Ridley Scott's Bladerunner without being a rip-off. The premise is Dave Bagini wakes up in a genetics lab, hating clones and remembering he's one of the universe's greatest detectives. The problem is he's NOT Dave Bagini, or at least he's not the original. Dave is the forty-second clone of Dave Bagini. In the future, the best at any profession can have themselves cloned and live off the proceeds from taking a tithe from their offspring's salaries. In the three years from when the original Dave had his clone sample taken, he learned to get over his hatred of clones and learned to love money more. Which sucks for Dave-42.

    Dave-42 doesn't have much time to adjust to the fact he's the latest in a small army of clones before he's sent to solve his first murder. Someone has killed Dave Prime, the original Dave so to speak, and all indications are that it was one of the previous forty-one models. Dave has to outwit himself as many times as it takes to solve a case which, literally, endangers them all. After all, if a clone line is defective, there's nothing to do but cancel it.

    There's nothing new about gritty noir detective stories set against a science-fiction backdrop. However, there's nothing new under the sun period and Prime Suspects manages to make a maximum use of its Raymond Chandler-meets-Dolly the Sheep premise. It's a good example of speculative fiction, which is something I don't get to say very often. It takes the premise of cloning technology, examines how it would impact society, and then draws much of the story from how it had radically altered the lives of people in society.

    We not only get the perspective of society on clones, which is to treat them as subhuman cheap labor, but also the perspective of how the clones feel about their situation. All clones are sterile from birth so they have nothing to spend their money on but self-indulgence. Clones also try to individualize themselves in ways both big and small. All of them are enslaved to their contracts, though, and every Dave is a police officer whether he wants to be or not. The fact all of them are genius detectives with some stuck behind desks or serving as patrolmen leave more than a few frustrated. There's always more clones than opportunities.

    Really, this is my favorite part of the book as we get plausible but wild changes in how society alters with such a set up. Dave-42 is unsettled, for example, by the fact one of his alternates is shacked up with a trio of female clones of the same model. The reverse being true for other clones of his. Also, that newborn clones often end up set up with clones from models the rest of them have gotten with because they "know" they get along. The clones all have a reverence for the Prime's wife and child, too, as if they're somehow all of their line's chief priority. Dave, due to having an earlier memory source than them, is less than convinced of this.

    The fact the majority of the books cast are variations on the same person works well as we see how events and the periods of memory they were drawn from have affected their development. Every one of the Daves was an elite detective and now they're filling out an entire police force with all of them holding a torch for the same woman their Prime married. The fact the Prime also gets a cut of everything they made gives a financial reason for their murder as well.

    Is it cyberpunk? Aside from the fact it has so many Blade Runner references and is an homage, I'd say it qualifies under the "high tech meets low life" definition. Technology is certainly screwing over all of the clones and has simply made bigger and better ways for humans to screw one another over. There's a lot of low comedy about how dark and desperate the world is for clones and that worked well for me. The fact it takes place in the far future on a still-terraforming colony world, the ass end of human society, doesn't distract from its seedy urban feel.

    Are there flaws? I think the book may be a tad too upbeat for its premise. Dave-42 adapts remarkably well to being what amounts to a debt serf for the rest of his life. There's also less of an existential crisis from our protagonist than you might have expected given the premise. Indeed, Dave becomes far more interested in the case than his new life's quirks very quickly. Then again, if he doesn't solve the case he and his brothers will probably be "discontinued" so maybe I'm being overly harsh on his prioritizing.

    I liked almost everything about this book, which is something I don't often say about works. The mixture of noir and science-fiction just gels for lack of a better term, though. The fact Jim Bernheimer remembers to establish something like the fact the colony smells vaguely like rotten eggs and it coats everything comes up just often enough to remain a persistent setting detail. It's an ugly place, this colony, and we get insights into how all of it works. We even get an understanding why revolts or civil rights campaigns don't happen often. But don't take my word for it, check it out yourself.

Buy at Amazon.com

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