This was a fun retro-style story. The author asked himself the question: What if Raymond Chandler wrote a science fiction story which he reportedly hated.
Our ‘hero’ is the last robot on earth, fittingly named Raymond, who has hung out a shingle in Los Angeles as a Private Detective. He is assisted by a roomful of computer called Ada. They were both created at the end of the robot age by a scientist named Thornton. The time frame for the story is the early 1960s so Thornton didn’t have microprocessors at his disposal; memory storage was a big problem in a small enough chassis to mimic the size of a human. So while Raymond’s memory card only holds 24 hours, Ada was built as a super-computer. Each night Raymond downloads the day’s memories into Ada who can then access all his memories. Each morning she updates Ray with the information he needs to continue a job. Thornton programmed Ray to be a detective and Ada to be his business manager she is programmed for profit. One assumes that in this way Thornton expected to make a lot of money. After all, what do a couple of computers need with money? Unfortunately for the good professor, he programmed Ada too well. Eventually Ada decided they would be able to make more money in a different profession so she reprogrammed Ray to be a hired killer. When he discovered Ada’s machinations, he went directly to Thornton for help. Unfortunately, Ada had anticipated that and his new programming took over. After all, neither Ray nor Thornton could be allowed to interfere with the new business plan. And so the story begins…
One day a mysterious gorgeous woman walks into the office with a large satchel of gold. Mysterious because she won’t give her name or any information beyond the name of the person to be killed and an address that seemingly leads nowhere. Ada and Ray have no problem taking the job but the fact that the woman knew to come to their office for a hit is very troublesome that’s not how they get their clientele. So Ray needs to employ his rusty detecting skills to learn more about the woman and her mission and then kill her, too.
What he eventually uncovers is a delightfully convoluted plot involving the movie industry in Hollywood, and the Soviets planning a take-over of America, and a dead director whom Ray killed a couple years earlier but whom seems to have survived that well enough if you discount the decaying flesh… If you like the Chandler-style detective noir stories, you are going to looooove this one. The prose is straight out of that era. Delightful descriptions and analogies abound; like this one: “… looking a hell of a lot like the Mystery Girl who had walked into the office with a bag full of gold and an offer I couldn’t refuse.” And this one: “Up close the black bar was actually a deep scarlet veneer that really was worth writing home about and I would have hated to see a lug like me scratch it up.” Chandler and his ilk relied heavily on physical description to impart characterizations and give the reader a sense of atmosphere; but, with a robot protagonist that is a bit difficult. Ray can’t change his expression, for example. And Ada can’t be the girl-Friday who smokes or drinks or wears singular clothing. But that doesn’t stop Christopher; he plays that into the story just fine but you have to experience it for yourself; I can’t really give a description justice.
The story progression and climax were rewarding. It all came together at a nice pace with just the right amount of explanation no long-winded extrapolations, thank you very much. And there was growth of Ray’s character that should play well in the next book.
This was a fast read with less than 300 pages but it was great fun. I look forward to more Ray and Ada. ~~ Catherine Book