I don't read much science fiction. I think it is because of the same reason I don't read much hardcore fantasy – I like my fiction as grounded as possible in the norm. I struggle to visualise worlds that I don't know, whether they be a distant planet orbited by 7 moons where the inhabitants worship mechanoids created millennia ago, or middle-earth-esque lands where hordes of orcs battle the elegant, a-sexual elves, it matters not. I also tend to get confused by technical talk, especially if that technical talk is nonsense.
So I'll admit now that Reality 36 by Guy Haley – with its plethora of futuristic techno-babble and host of fantastical worlds populated by computer generated Paladins and talking lions – was never high up on my reading list...
Oh, how I curse my narrow-mindedness!
Meet Richards and Klein – the Holmes and Watson of the 22nd century.
Except that Richards is a highly advanced artificial intelligence, and Klein his German ex-military cyborg partner. Their first case takes them into the renegade digital realm known as Reality 36 and through the Great Firewall of China, in search of a missing Artificial Intelligence Rights activist. What they find there will threaten every reality.
The first thing that should have suggested to me that I would probably like Reality 36 is that it is not just a science fiction novel, it is a science fiction detective novel, and I love a classic detective novel as much as anyone. The second thing I should have taken note of is that it is due to be published by Angry Robot, my new favourite publisher of speculative fiction. Thankfully about a week ago I found myself with nothing to read, so I switched on my Kobo and started Reality 36, the very first Richards & Klein Investigation.
It is excellent. I really loved it. I loved it more than I ever thought I would. Even when I was a couple chapters in I was still sceptical. I found there to be too much techno-talk, too many acronyms to remember, and the story was jumping from place to place. I was glazing over whole paragraphs. Then, suddenly, it didn't matter. I was got used to acronyms, learnt who was who, and was immersed in a gripping storyline that was part Blade Runner, part I-Robot and part Sherlock Holmes.
I should say that even when I was immersed in the story there were still times when the technical talk – most of it nonsense I believe – overwhelmed me, dragging me back to reality with a bump, but a few lines of glazing over then I was sucked right back in.
Richards – the main protagonist and level 5 AI – is extremely likeable, hiding his fears about his existence and doubts as to whether someone like he, a man-made creature can be truly alive, behind a cocky, wise cracking PI front. Klein – Richards' partner and genetically enhanced human - on the other hand is introverted and quiet, preferring actions over words, and is riddled with his own personal demons and haunted by his violent past. Both characters have a depth to them that is often missing from fun and fast paced action books like this one, and it is a refreshing change.
The story, as I have already mentioned, was immersive, and it throws up some interesting if not completely original questions on artificial intelligence and the effects our increasing population and reliance on non-renewable resources are having on our planet. Unfortunately as we came to the climax I was feeling that much of the story was superfluous, and felt that if some of the supporting characters, like the murdered Professor Qifang, had acted more sensibly then the whole situation would have been resolved chapters earlier. These feelings were short lived, as we hurtled into a dramatic and action packed final two chapters, which leave us on an unexpected but very welcome cliff-hanger.
Bring on book 2 of the Richards & Klein Investigations!
P.S. Don't miss the great time-line at the end of the book which details the evolution of AI and cyborgs, plus the disasters (natural and otherwise) that have shaped the world Richards & Klein inhabit. It was a lovely touch that helped flesh out the story nicely.
P.P.S. Read a guest blog post from Reality 36 author Guy Haley Here!
Order your copy of Reality 36 from Amazon UK