Ripped from the headlines? Two robots conspire to kill in new novel “Killing is My Business”

Review by C.J. Bunce

Yesterday the international press reported that Facebook shut down an artificial intelligence experiment when two robots named Alice and Bob started to communicate with each other in a non-human dialect of their own.  Intended to test the robots’ ability to negotiate with each other, the programmers did not include coding that required their discussions to be intelligible to humans.  A new novel takes the story further as its two lead characters Ray and Ada, also robots, work together to carry out missions to kill businessmen in Los Angeles for a secret client.  Adam Christopher’s new sci-fi novel Killing is My Business is a 1960s noir story, only it’s a different kind of noir.  Not steampunk noir–maybe call it robot noir, it features Ray the robot, not a futuristic android or cyborg, he’s the last of the robots after their use came and went years before the story begins.  Ray was formerly programmed as a private investigator–he has the skill and resourcefulness of Chinatown’s Jake Gittes–only he’s been reprogrammed as a hitman.  He does his business in the city like any P.I. would back in the ’60s, and despite his obvious robotic appearance he still blends in.  It’s still Los Angeles, albeit a parallel Los Angeles, with gorgeous cars, a pulp novel’s worth of detective work, and, of course, plenty of murder to go around.

We read the story through Ray’s eyes and his analytical voice carries some of the innocence of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but mixed with the decisive actions of Robocop, only subtract the ethical subroutines.  He’s smart but a bit of a Pinocchio, somewhat naïve, and his handler Ada only gives him the information he needs to know to do the current job.  His limitation is a 24-hour recording memory, which is wiped when he returns to his alcove each night, but his morning briefings include relevant bits from his past jobs so he’s not completely a blank slate each day.  The stakes are raised if he doesn’t get home, and no, he doesn’t turn into a pumpkin, but he can fail like any machine.

When we meet Ray he thinks he’s embarked on another typical case, only a strange trend may be emerging:  Why are his targets turning up dead before he gets a chance to pull the trigger himself?  Killing is My Business is a mash-up of pulp noir and science fiction, but it’s also as much a robot’s horror tale.

Killing is My Business stands up as a good noir read, and its unique approach to the genre may act as a springboard for those interested in delving into classic crime noir.  Christopher’s novel is actually a sequel to his 2015 book Made to Kill, although no familiarity with that book is required to jump into the new story.  It’s handling of thinking like a robot may appeal to fans of Bradley W. Schenck’s Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis Ray is a mechanical tool, but he’s a sentient one.  Does he violate Isaac Asimov’s “robots can’t kill” rule?  Sure, but this robot never heard of Asimov.  Other works in this series include Brisk Money and Standard Hollywood Depravity.

The novel is dotted with several interesting types, the most fleshed out and rich voice is that of Alfie, a shady thug hired on along with Ray by a local kingpin as Ray goes inside a mob organization as part of one of his missions.  Alfie is part Jason Statham in Transporter, The Expendables, The Italian Job, or any of the rest of his action flicks, and part Zeb Orrelios from Star Wars Rebels, a good old-fashioned, street-talking thug with a British accent.

Published by Tor Books and part of Adam Christopher’s Ray Electromatic Mysteries, Killing is My Business is a new hardcover novel available now here at Amazon.

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