Standard Hollywood Depravity
by Adam Christopher
"This seemed to be my lucky night for going undercover, which was something I rarely did on account of the fact that I was not only a robot but the last robot, which tended to make me stick out in a crowd just somewhat."
"Robot noir"? Just those words and I'm already a fan. Raymond (get it?) is the last robot in Hollywood. Intended to replace the human police, general robophobia left Raymond a lone and lonely robot, his only friend the profit-obsessed supercomputer Ada, these day he makes his money as a hitman (hitrobot?). Raymond's newest job is a dancer at a club--doesn't matter who or why she is wanted dead, just that someone is willing to pay for it. But when Raymond finds himself within a web of instincts, his detective instincts take over.
Christopher's noir pastiche is pretty perfect. Femme fatales and fast-talking gangsters abound. Fast-talking gangsters abound, and there's the standard noir sexism and proliferation of femme fatales, despite a near-but-not-quite-successful subversion of the trope. But what was most important to me was that he has the patter down perfectly. It's hilarious. Some of my favourites:
"I thought it all went rather well against my chassis , which was bronzed and the color of those sculptures by that guy who did sculptures in bronze."
"Being a hit man— hit robot—is an interesting business. It requires a certain level of what I like to call not being caught. There were ways to avoid that particular outcome and I liked to think I was pretty good at a few of them. I had several advantages in my favor. I didn’t leave fingerprints, for a start."
Despite the comedy and all of the noir spoofiness, there are also some really interesting elements I'd love to see Christopher expand upon. Raymond has been reprogrammed--by Ada-- to be a hitman. As he puts it:
"A little adjustment and I was invited to the party. Which was also fine. Because I was programmed to think it was fine."
His personal memory is constrained to a short tape reel that is overwritten when he returns to Ada, which reminded me a bit of Person of Interest. And how did Ada become the ultimate evil scheming femme fatale in the first place? I'd love to better understand her background and how she interacts with her clients.
Overall, it's a great little novella, and I'm looking forward to another adventure with Raymond the Robot. The plotting is tight, the story moves fast, and the ending manages to be both somewhat ambiguous and, to me at least, entirely unexpected, which was fun. If you're looking for a short punch of scifi noir, Standard Hollywood Depravity is well worth a look.
I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the novel as a whole.
~~Cross-posted on Goodreads.~~