It’s been over a year since Made to Kill, the first book in Adam Christopher’s crackling robonoir series, came out and I’ve been practically twitching with anticipation for the sequel. Even though Killing Is My Business doesn’t release until July 2017, stemming the tide is Standard Hollywood Depravity, a striking novella that’ll have you hooked from page one.
The story takes place over one brisk fall evening in a patch of Los Angeles that tourism forgot starring characters who prefer to remain in the shadows. Robot hitman Raymond Electromatic takes a case that’s starts off easy and ends up with a pile of corpses and a gang war. He is hired by unknown forces to bump off a young go-go dancer named Honey. In theory, it’s a simple job, but the girl proves harder to kill than he or his computerized handler Ada anticipated. As the night progresses everything spirals rapidly out of control and Raymondo finds himself outsmarted, manipulated, and caught up in a femme fatale’s killer caper. Some criminals are bad, some are worse, and some just have a job to do, but all of them make an appearance in Standard Hollywood Depravity.
Christopher’s Ray Electromatic series are mysteries set in an alternate 1960s Southland where Ray is the world’s last robot. Once robots were abundant, so abundant that unemployment soared as the machines replaced human workers. A deal was struck and all robots destroyed, save Ray. His maker, Professor Thornton, built him to aid the police, so he’s big, strong, and bullet proof. Before his death, Thornton uploaded his memories into Ray, giving him sentience. Whispers of Thornton’s memories that flash through Ray’s mind hint that his creator’s demise might not have been all that natural or peaceful. Ray may be the trigger man, but it’s Ada, the room-sized computer, who really runs the show. Due to the limitations of technology, Ray must return to the office every night to recharge, and so Ada can remove his memory tape and more or less blank-slate him each morning.
Which brings us to Honey, the mafia, a Britpop band, and a box with a million-dollar secret. Ray doesn’t know who hired him or why they want Honey dead, but it doesn’t really matter. He’s programmed to kill so kill her he must. Until those pesky memories start tickling his curiosity. Perhaps there’s more of Thornton in Ray than he or Ada realize. Whatever the reason, Ray allows himself to be swept into Honey’s chaos and winds up with more than he can handle. Honey is one tough cookie and Ray’s murderous edict may be no match for her will of steel.
The Ray Electromatic series is basically Raymond Chandler crossed with Isaac Asimov. Adam Christopher’s writing is crisp and evocative. He absolutely nails Philip Marlowe’s caustic, laconic patter and the foreboding tone of hardboiled detective noir while balancing the twists and turns of mystery with the fantastical technology of sci-fi. Fans of Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade and light science fiction will find plenty to love here, especially with Ray’s tricky relationship with Ada.
Ada is at once his secretary, boss, researcher, and quartermaster. Although Ray knows that physically Ada is just a massive computer, he still imagines her as a person as real(-ish) as he is. When they converse he imagines hearing her movements like when she “leaned back in the big chair behind my big desk in my small office and put her stockinged feet up on the big desk and watched her own toes wriggle in the dim light from the street that came in through the big window behind her.” Sometimes he pictures her reactions to his quandaries: “It was still Ada and there was still the creak at the back of her voice and when she spoke I still had the image of an older woman with hair that was too big and lines on her face that were kind. But there was something else there now. It was harder. More metallic. Like she was pressing the phone tight against her jaw and squeezing the mouthpiece with a hand that was too tight.” But every now and again, the real Ada breaks through like the “ticking of a clock, the second hand of a fast watch curving around and around and around. The sound of the computer room back at the office.”
Like its predecessor Made to Kill, Standard Hollywood Depravity is a darkly funny book with compelling characters and an intriguing plot. The novella isn’t quite as double-edged as the first in the series, but it’s still a fun little entry in series I love spending time in. If you haven’t read Made to Kill, you can still jump on the Raymondo bandwagon with Standard Hollywood Depravity, although you’ll lose the worldbuilding nuances, particularly around how Ray analyzes, challenges, and contradicts his Ada-enforced programming. But you should really read Made to Kill anyway. It’s worth it, trust me. Standard Hollywood Depravity is a satisfying sci-fi noir snack between meals.
Standard Hollywood Depravity is available now from Tor.com Publishing.
Made to Kill and Killing Is My Business (July 2017) are published by Tor Books.
Read excerpts from both the novella and upcoming novel here on Tor.com.
Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.