Annabel Scheme: A short, clever high-tech thriller

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAnnabel Scheme by Robin Sloan science fiction book reviewsAnnabel Scheme by Robin Sloan

Set in an alternate world in which Google’s place is filled by a company called Grail (a brilliant name for a search engine, by the way), and Wikipedia’s by “Open Britannica,” Robin Sloan’s Annabel Scheme is difficult to categorize. Is it a detective novel? An urban fantasy? A technothriller with a touch of cyberpunk? It’s all of those at once. It reminds me a little of Charles Stross‘s LAUNDRY FILES novels with the mix of high technology and demons.

Annabel Scheme is narrated by an AI in the Watson role, observing events through detective Annabel Scheme’s high-tech earrings. That’s clever, because the point of view follows Scheme and yet isn’t her POV. It also means, though, that the first-person narrator can, when the plot requires it, both go with Scheme and also be separated from her, observing from a distance, just by means of detaching one earring.

I thought briefly that the book was going to consist of a series of loosely linked cases featuring Scheme, but the second part turned out to be closely related to the case apparently resolved in the first part, and quickly escalated to involve someone who had been very important to Scheme in the past (nice raising of the stakes there). The ending, though, I felt had a couple of issues. The lawyer-barista is credited by the AI, Hu, with finding a loophole that saved the day, but I somehow completely missed what that was. He didn’t seem to contribute anything as far as I could tell. Also, the hint dropped by Scheme’s mentor seemed completely obvious to me, but puzzled both Scheme and Hu.

Apart from those weaknesses (and I may just have missed something in the first case), I thought this was very well done. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Sloan, having recently enjoyed his debut novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Publication Date: November 26, 2010. ANNABEL SCHEME is a detective story set in an alternate San Francisco where the digital and the occult live side-by-side. It’s a short read, perfect for people who like Sherlock Holmes, Douglas Adams, ghosts and/or the internet. In Scheme’s San Francisco, an indie rocker’s new tracks are climbing the charts, even though the rocker herself is long dead. A devout gamer has gone missing, and the only trace of him that remains is inside his favorite game, the blockbuster MMORPG called World of Jesus. And the richest man in the city, the inventor of the search engine called Grail, might just have made a deal with a devil. Meanwhile, Annabel Scheme has just hired herself a Watson, an A.I. assistant who’s now learning the ropes on a case that will quickly transform into Scheme’s biggest—and possibly her last. Come on. Fog City is waiting.

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MIKE REEVES-MCMILLAN, one of our guest reviewers, has eight bookcases which are taller than he is in his basement, and 200 samples on his Kindle. He's trying to cut down. A lifelong lover of the written word, he's especially a fan of Jim Butcher, Lois McMaster Bujold, Terry Pratchett and Roger Zelazny. He reads a lot of indie fiction these days, and can report that the quality and originality are both improving rapidly. He himself writes the Gryphon Clerks fantasy series, and numerous short stories. Mike lives in Auckland, New Zealand, and also in his head, where the weather is more predictable and there are a lot more dragons. He rants about writing and genre at The Gryphon Clerks and about books he's read at The Review Curmudgeon.

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One comment

  1. After MR PENUMBRA I wondered where this writer had gotten to. This sounds like a lovely romp. Thanks for reviewing it!

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