Review by C.J. Bunce

Bradley W. Schenck’s sci-fi-meets-retro novel Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, was our favorite read of 2017.  Schenck created a unique story within a world we’ve never seen before, a world only hinted at in early 20th century pop culture, early pulp novels, and film.  For fans of classic sci-fi and all things retro, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom handled science fiction futurism like rarely seen before.  With the same imagination and fun, Schenck is back again in Retropolis with a new book of short stories, Patently Absurd: The Files of the Retropolis Registry of PatentsAll but one of the stories were originally published in 2016 and 2017 in Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, and the new story ties together the other stories in the volume, which all really read like a single narrative with clever titles to the chapters.  As with last year’s novel, it’s all great fun and smartly written.

Readers again revisit Retropolis’s day-to-day, the mundane, and the ordinary, in an uncertain world of tomorrow where nothing could possibly be mundane or ordinary, but this time Schenck hones in on one segment of the city, the Registry of Patents and new heroes of the office: Ben Bowman, investigator of patents, and secretary to the Registrar, Violet the humanoid robot.  Ben does not have aspirations of greatness, he’s content to do his job, but Violet is a robot who knows she was built to be an investigator.  The problem is that she’s gone through more than 14 bosses now–the Registrars–and still hasn’t been promoted.  Is it because they leave each other notes in the locked safe in the Registrar’s office about Violet?  And is it possible the office keeps losing Registrars because Violet is working her way through them?  Nah.

Big, bright, and detailed, like Tron, Logan’s Run, Walt Disney’s vision of Tomorrowland, a bit Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, a larger dose of Metropolis, and an equal dose of Office Space and The Office–readers won’t find anything like Scheck’s world elsewhere.  The final story in the volume, “The Enigma of the Unseen Doctor,” is as compelling, rich, and poignant as any other master of science fiction’s take on what it’s like to be a robot.  Scheck turns the tables as we meet a robot with compassion for what it’s like to be human.  Patently Absurd provides the next step in science fiction’s investigation of the soul.

As with his Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, Schenck creates the futuristic artwork for this book, some 44 images in all.  Schenck also knows his way around a legal office.  His details of the patent office are first-rate, complete with the monotony and red tape of processing real-world intellectual property applications.  Scientists in Retropolis are all (wisely) segregated in the Experimental Research District.  Think lots of explosions and scientists running experiments, and it’s up to the Registry of Patents to keep the scientists in line.  Replicants, cyborgs, cybermen, androids–Schenck’s 1930s meets 1950s meets 2100 delves into the day-to-day life of utopian humans and their mechanical counterparts, taking into the future ideas we’ve seen from Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Dick.  Retropolis belongs in the sub-genre alongside The Rocketeer, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and Iron Giant.  And it would also be a great companion read to Adam Christopher’s Killing is My Business.

A great follow-up to Bradley W. Schenck’s Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, Patently Absurd: The Files of the Retropolis Registry of Patents is available now here from Amazon.

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