The Automatic Detective

Posted by : atcampbell | On : August 17, 2008

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

This special meeting was held at ArmadilloCon. Our topic was The Automatic Detective, a robot mystery novel written by A. Lee Martinez, one of the authors attending the con. We had a dozen attendees, including the ArmadilloCon Fan Guest of Honor and one visitor from Dallas. Six of us had read Martinez before. Ten started the book, and eight finished.

We enjoyed the narrator, Mike Megaton, who was built to be a warrior robot but developed the “free will glitch” and turned on his creator. Some commented that his narration and adventures (particularly getting beat up often) are reminiscent of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe.  We thought his descriptions were good, and appropriate for a noir adventure. The book had a clever innovation where robots who develop free will can enroll in a grassroots program to become citizens.

Another favorite character was Lucia, a beautiful, rich, and brilliant woman who emerges as a major character. The women in our group were impressed by how well Martinez, a male author, wrote with such insight about a female.

Several members of the group commented on how well the book was written and the story flowed. As one person put it, “the film did not break.”  We loved little touches like the robot putting a child’s drawing on the door of his (empty) refrigerator, bad robots painted orange and chartreuse, and an intelligent gorilla who loves Jane Austen. We liked the pulpish but well thought out future. One person commented on the clever scientific names for places, like “the corner of Einstein and Pythagoras.” We liked the tiny alien named “Greenman”, the flying cars, the ambling cars, mutants, pilgrims from outer space, government conspiracies, and mad scientists.

A few of the writers in the group had some technical issues with the book. One person said the narrative voice didn’t work for her.  Another had a problem with how effectively the first-person narrative was pulled off.

We were delighted when the author dropped by near the end of the meeting to say hello. Martinez mentioned that this book came out of his love of noir films and pulp stories. He had some clever answers about the relationship between Mike and Lucia. He said that he tries to make each book different, so he’s unlikely to write a sequel. He mentioned that he’s moving to a new publisher, and he hopes to continue writing one book a year.  The woman from Dallas who attended our discussion turned out to be one of Martinez’s friends.

After the meeting, most of us went back to ArmadilloCon. Several of us went to the post-con dinner at the County Line on the Lake.

— A. T. Campbell, III