Reviews

Review: MADE TO KILL, by Adam Christopher

PrintMade to Kill is the perfect example for the warning about not judging a book by its cover: although being aware of its existence, I never looked beyond the unappealing (for me) exterior appearance of the book, to inquire what it was about. That is, until the very positive review from a fellow blogger, whose comments piqued my interest.

This book is a curious mix between a classic noir novel and science fiction: Raymond Electromatic (the first name a clear nod toward Raymond Chandler) is a robot, the only one remaining after humanity decided to dispense with mechanical helpers, and he’s a self-employed private investigator – with a side activity as a hired killer. No one could image a more dispassionate, detached murderer than a mechanical creature, and Raymond fulfills this requirement most admirably, also thanks to his peculiar structure, one that requires a daily power recharge and the installation of a new memory spool. This 24-hour limit on Raymond’s storage capacity means he starts afresh every day as a new man – ok, robot – with no recollection of what previously transpired: no guilt, no danger of exposing one’s clients, plausible deniability.

Here is where Ray’s manager comes into play: Ada is a complex computer array tasked with running the office, taking care of the mechanical P.I., finding clients and managing finances. She is quite a character, and another nod toward the chandler-esque typical perky secretary acting as a buffer between her employer and the public. Apart from the human-like noises she emits – mostly puffing on cigarettes or swiveling on creaky office chairs – she’s graced by a quirky sense of humor and a sharp tongue, not to mention a keen business sense that is never clouded by emotional considerations of any kind.  Ada’s voice came through from the book’s pages much more clearly than Raymond’s for me: I enjoyed quite a bit her world-savvy practical approach to everything and the way she manipulates Ray who appears like very pliable putty in her capable hands, or circuits if you want.

The two move in a world that, despite some technological developments like robots, seems still very much anchored in the period between the ‘40s and the ‘50s – or at least this is the “flavor” I perceived from the book, that shares many of the tropes one could expect from a noir story from Chandler himself: dark ladies and shady characters move around in a Los Angeles still very much concerned with the Hollywood star system, and there’s a dastardly plot to be uncovered and neutralized, as Raymond runs through the city in search for clues.  Spies, night-clubs where dubious dealings go on while the music plays and alcohol flows, government agents and undercover operatives – they all make an appearance while Raymond applies his deductive skills to the complicated situation, and the whole scenario makes for a fast, entertaining reading.

My initial enthusiasm for this uncommon story did however flag a little past the book’s midpoint: while my interest remained the same about the story – after all I wanted to know what was behind it all and how the various threads would be resolved – the characters lost a little of their sparkle because of repetition.
For example, one of Raymond’s quirks concerns facial expressions: as a metal automaton, he does not possess a mobile face, of course, so from the very beginning of the novel we are told that all of his facial reactions happen on the inside – the first few times this information makes you smile, as do the offered similitudes for his attempts at a laugh or a cough or any human noise, but after a while and after reading about it a few times too much, the smile slowly fades and is supplanted by mild irritation.  The same goes for Ada puffing on cigarettes or the other behavioral traits she fakes when she wants to sound human. For me, these details are like a nice joke: once or twice it’s ok, but by the n-th time one hears it, it has lost its charm…

Another disappointing element came from the antagonists: even though I understand this story is modeled on period movies and books, I did not like the fact that the chief villain tends to laugh wickedly as he lays down his plans to a captive Raymond: I always wondered why the bad guys have this burning need to explain in full details their dastardly plots to a soon-to-be-killed prisoner. Need for recognition? Childhood traumas? Whatever it is, it always sounded phony to my ears, and here we have that in spades, mixed with that same villain’s endless laugh as he contemplates the upcoming success of world domination.

While I understand these are nothing more than personal pet peeves, I’m sorry that they detracted a little from the enjoyment of this unconventional and amusing book, that nonetheless was a very welcome change from my usual fare and is definitely worth a try.

My Rating:


 

A new post for the 2016 Sci-Fi Experience, an event hosted by Carl  V. Anderson over at Stainless Steel Droppings (follow the links to know more!)

2016scifiexp300

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21 thoughts on “Review: MADE TO KILL, by Adam Christopher

  1. I’m working on a contemporary noir novel (no SF), and avoiding repetition is, indeed, tough. The reader want to read the story for the snap and dialog, but even snap and dialog can get old. It’s not an easy problem to address.

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    1. It’s probably the kind of problem that Stephen King addressed by encouraging other writers to “kill their darlings”, to let go of something they enjoyed for their own sake, and not the reader’s… And only King would use the word “kill”, of course! 🙂

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      1. Killing stuff only you (as the writer) would appreciate is very necessary.

        On the other hand, with age and perspective comes realization. My first two novels were so bad, not only did I delete them off the PC, I deleted the backup copies _and_ shredded the print copies. You may now thank me. 😉

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          1. Trust me on this one. Or, these two. 🙂

            If you want to get a feel what they were like, pick any indie romance novel on Amazon Kindle with zero sales. Then reduce the quality by half.

            Thankfully, this was years ago and I have learned just a little since then. I hope.

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          2. Actually, let me add a further writing comment here about going back to look at and possibly resurrecting an old manuscript:

            If you writing skills have improved significantly since those mss. were written, I’ve found that going back to them to “fix” them almost reverts your writing skills to the time in which the mss. were written: you pick up the flow, the voice of yourself from that time. At least, I find it so. Others may be able to avoid this.

            If the mss. are not THAT old, then a contemporary edit may do good. I was able to do that with a couple of the stories in my specfic collection, and those turned out well. But I was also surprised at that.

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            1. Granted, there is no going back – not just in writing, but in everything connected to life.
              That said, all past work must be considered as milestones down the road: they might not have been the important stops in the journey, but they sped it along. So it’s important not to underestimate them.

              In my experience – limited as it is – emerging writers who constantly doubt themselves and their abilities are the ones with real potential. Two of my friends who are going down this road speak of their writing as you do – and they are good storytellers, good writers. IMHO it’s the ones who never doubt, who are extremely convinced of their own worth, the ones that turn out the disappointing material.

              My two cents… 🙂

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              1. I’m at the point where I can now tell if my writing is readable vs. eyestabbing. I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I can, consistently, tell if my writing is _decently_ readable vs. just readable.

                BTW, recently put in a KVM switch to toggle between my two systems and it wouldn’t recognize my keyboard, so I had to go back to an older keyboard that doesn’t always catch all my keystrokes. I say this in case anyone sees my earlier posts and thinks I don’t know that 1st-person singular present case ends in “s”, among other gaffes.

                But as far as KVM switches go, if you buy a 4-way KVM to tie together 2 or 3 PC’s, the KVM is a quick way to blank your monitor (if you have writing kibitzers) or kill your keyboard (if you have a cat and you need to leave the room)–just KVM to a nonexistent PC.

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                  1. Yes, there is. BTW, I’ve been meaning to “Like” a number of posts here, not just on this thread, but while I can post a comment, to do a “Like” I need to sign up with WordPress, and I’m signed up with too much already. Just wanted you to know that I wasn’t being stuffy.

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              2. BTW, KVM = keyboard/video/mouse toggle. Here’s a quick link:

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KVM_switch

                They’re pretty cheap and pretty available. OCCASIONALLY you’ll have problems with keyboards or mice not being recognized, but not often. If you buy one, don’t get flustered when you open the package–it’ll look like an octopus is ready to jump out at you; there are so many connectors.

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  2. I’ve been interested in this one for a while, even though I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews. Some of your negatives echo some of what I’ve been seeing, so I don’t know. One of these days I still want to give another one of his books a try, I’ve only read one (Hang Wire) and I hear his style is very versatile and kind of differs from novel to novel.

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