Friday, October 21, 2016

The Immorality Clause by Brian Parker review


    Bladerunner was one of my favorite movies growing up and it's easy to see why. It's a Noir Detective story which just so happens to take place in a proto-cyberpunk future. Replicants took the place of Blacks as an exploited underclass but they were actually in a state of full-on slavery again.

    Bladerunner's hero, for lack of a better term, was the kind of man who existed to hunt them down and exterminate them when they went rogue. A few novels have managed to recapture that sort of world with Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective Mystery by Jim Bernheimer and Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan being the two best off the top of my head.

    The Immorality Clause is a more low-key version of the story with true Replicants not having yet actually emerged, just robots. There may be true A.I. in some of the more advanced models but most of them are merely life-like dolls which serve a variety of functions for men and women in the setting. Particularly sex because this is a Noir story.

    Homicide Detective Zach Forrest is invited down to Easytown, a kind of Storybrook-esque slum of New Orleans, to investigate a murder in one of the sexbot establishments there. This gets him involved in a strange and dangerous mystery which involves a serial killer and a political assassination on the eve of worldwide robotic legislation.

    The book has a nice down-to-Earth feeling which I felt made it stronger. Zach is a Detective but even he can afford an A.I. to manage all of his affairs. New Orleans, already one of the more diverse cities in the world, now has a bunch of Arabic immigrants. The world-building is subtle rather than in your face and works better for its groundedness. It simultaneously manages to have a 1940s-esque feel in some places while also feeling like it could plausibly take place in the future.

    Zach Forrest is a much nicer man than Bladerunner's Decker but he's still an individual who is deeply set in his ways and both repulsed as well as fascinated by the newest models of sexbots. Paxton is a character who exudes so much mystery the audience almost certainly thinks she's a robot herself but may well be something more complicated. The serial killer, himself, is a figure which doesn't get much in the way of development but shows himself to be clever but not quite as much as he thinks he is.

    The supporting cast is also interesting as we get to see New Orleans citizens from all branches of life. I also felt like the book did a good job of stretching out the investigation. As opposed to it all happening in a couple of days, the story takes place over a couple of weeks and feels more realistic. There are times when leads dry up and they just have to wait for resultd which made things feel more authentic.

    Finally, I give credit for how they handled the issue of A.I. It didn't spontaneously develop but is something which the developers have very clearly designed within limitations. Machines never suddenly go "rogue." They may malfunction but the majority of problems in the world with robots are because people programmed them to be problems--a nice change of pace from most science fiction. This is, overall, an excellent work of science fiction. Brian Parker did a wonderful job of creating a seedy Noir future setting which invokes Bladerunner without copying it.

9.5/10

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