" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Dolly by Elizabeth Bear

 I have over the years read lots of SF, which explains the large number of books and SF themed troikas around here. it also explains why I have decided to devote a part of my retirement to reading and writing about SF. But it spares me from handing out leaflets outside the community centre or being a greeter for the evil empire so it’s all good.

I read this in The Year's Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection ed. by Gardner Dozois, cover illustration by Shutterstock.

This predilection for SF means that often when I read SF it becomes associational for me. And these associations often add an extra layer of enjoyment. This is the case with Elizabeth Bear’s short story "Dolly". It is Sunday in Birmingham, Alabama and a billionaire Clive Steele has been found eviscerated in his living room, the only other occupant of the locked home is a blood covered “Dolly“ a robotic sex toy next to the body. It is up to detectives Rosamund Kirkbride (Roz) and Peter King to figure out what happened. I enjoyed the story, the first obvious association and one I was happy Bear makes herself is to Asimov and his positronic brains. “Whatever a positronic brain is, we don’t have it. Asimov’s fictional robots were self aware. Dolly’s neurons are binary, as we used to think human neurons were. She dosen’t have the nuanced neurochemistry of even. say, a cat”. (66)

Another association that came across right away was of ARM investigator Gil Hamilton in Larry Niven’s short story “ARM” viewing the body of Dr Raymond Sinclair in another locked room mystery. But I am also drawn to Ghost in A Shell Two, the animated films of the 1990’s not the one currently featured in trailers, with Scarlett Johansson playing the Major. (Not only would an Asian actress be preferable in my mind , but Johansson is already grossly over exposed through her appearances in the MARVEL franchise.)

Lastly I remembered the character of Richard Daniels from Simak’s All the Traps of Earth the first work I reviewed on this bog. Which is not to say that Bear’s story is a mashup, the genre’s of SF and Mystery fiction have long spawned hybrids, Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, Blade Runner to name a few, it is fertile ground. Bear manages to add some nice twists, we don’t have to endure the worn trope of an over bearing supervisor pushing for a quick solution. We do have a brief appearance by an odorous corporate shill bent on minimizing negative publicity, in this case Doug Jervis a VP of Corporate Relations for Venus Consolidated, but maybe this is a constant like gravity rather then a trope per se. 

The story is nicely balanced in only six or so pages, Bear intertwines sufficient dialog and description to show rather than tell, integrating the near future environment with the rest of the story seamlessly. The detectives are nicely drawn with distinct personalities and Bear allows the reader to pick up on the nuances of the action without belabouring anything. Also she stops at the correct point in my mind allowing the reverberations of this murder to ripple out across the readers mind rather than the page.

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