I think the genesis of this incredibly ridiculous premise must’ve been: What if a computer and robot were abandoned by their creator and decided to go into business together?
Ray Electromatic is the robot and Ada is his computer companion; although to be fair, Ada is really the boss and not a companion. At one time the world was filled with robots until it was decided they weren’t wanted anymore and every single one save Ray was dismantled. Ray was the last and for reasons not really explained he was allowed to continue…independently. Having been programmed as a detective he and Ada started up a little detective agency in Hollywood. According to Ada, even a robot needs to earn money; but then Ada was programmed for profit. And here’s where it gets really, really ridiculous…Ray has only enough memory tape for 24 hours. After which time, he has to download the day’s experiences into Ada and get a fresh memory tape. Some information, such as who and what Ray and Ada are, is part of his permanent programming but apparently nothing can be added. Then Ada reviews the day’s events and each morning she briefs Ray on what he needs to know to continue whatever job they currently have.
But somewhere along the way, Ada figured out there was more profit to be made in a killing-for-hire type business than the private dick business. Unfortunately, that sort of thing runs counter to Ray’s basic programming to protect people so Ray ends up being reprogrammed. Since he doesn’t really remember anything, he doesn’t seem to mind much. Except once in a while…
In this story, Ray gets disjointed information with no clear goal. When he can’t find the target for one job; it gets put on the backburner and he then manages to ingratiate himself with a local mobster in order to infiltrate his home and personal entourage. To what end is not clear to either Ray or the reader. As the days stretch on, Ray finds it more than a little confusing to put together the pieces each day based on what Ada gives back to him. Both Ray and the reader have reason to suspect Ada is not being completely honest. But what’s a robot to do?
It really is a most ridiculous premise but when it’s set in a 1960s noir setting with the most outrageous hyperbole rife on every page, what’s not to like? Okay, maybe it’s not for everyone but I found it very fun. Try this one on for size: “I lifted the hat from my head and gave it a little wave like a half-hearted revolutionary from a small Caribbean island.” Or this one: “Their bodies sat jerking in their chairs as the fusillade began to disassemble the corpses with appreciable violence.” Either I got used to it or the author slacked off near the end; the last few pages of the story seemed to have lost some of that tone and went to a standard detective-type extrapolation. While it’s hard to show a character growing or changing when he’s reset every night, Christopher does manage to figure out a way to do it. So I am very interested to see just exactly what, if anything, Ray can discover about his erstwhile companion/slave-owner, Ada. And will Ray ever enjoy any independence? Just suspend your disbelief about the viability of a seven-foot robot wandering around Hollywood without notice or just what Ada does with all their ill-gotten gains and enjoy the flavor of the story. ~~ Catherine Book
For a review of the first Ray Electromatic Mystery, Made to Kill click here