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Tag Archive: Killing is My Business


Review by C.J. Bunce

Every fan of Stranger Things will likely approach a Stranger Things novel looking for something like an “X-File.”  Adam Christopher’s new novel Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is about Jim Hopper (played by David Harbour in the Netflix TV series), and it takes place in 1977, seven years before a Christmas in 1984 where he is enjoying a winter in his cabin with his newly adopted daughter Eleven (played on the series by Millie Bobby Brown).  A few weeks after the events of Season Two, Eleven finds a box of Jim’s mementos and wants to know more about his past, so he decides to tell her a crime story from his days as a New York City detective.  So it will help the reader’s 432-page journey to know this is not an X-File–there is nothing fantasy or science fiction about Hopper’s past to be learned, no demogorgons or other monsters, and although it includes a few scenes with his wife Diane and daughter Sara, we never learn more about why they aren’t around when the series takes place.

Understandably reader expectations might be wrongly set by the folks advertising the book.  This is how Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is marketed:

Chief Jim Hopper reveals long-awaited secrets to Eleven about his old life as a police detective in New York City, confronting his past before the events of the hit show Stranger Things.  

I don’t know what “long-awaited secrets” could mean for Stranger Things fans other than learning what happened to his wife and daughter.

But if you can get beyond a sci-fi/fantasy assumption, or if that is not even your expectation, then you’ll learn more about what makes Hopper tick.   In a story laid out like a 1970s prequel Law & Order episode, Hopper goes undercover in the style of Donnie Brasco or The Departed, except the undercover work begins and ends not over several months but inside of 12 days (making Hopper very lucky or some kind of supercop) between the Fourth of July 1977 and the aftermath of the real-life July 13-14 city power outage.  As a crime story for beginning readers of the genre, Christopher’s storytelling provides a thorough tale of an alternative cause for a real-life event.   He uses gangs, connecting Hopper, a new partner, federal agents, and research on returning prison inmates to the public after serving out their sentences in a hot summer where the Son of Sam was still yet to be captured.  It may very well say something about Hopper’s character, that he would select this story to tell his daughter.

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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.

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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.

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