Standard Hollywood Depravity: Killer-robot conceit succeeds in shorter format

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Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher science fiction book reviewsStandard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher science fiction book reviewsStandard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher

The very thing which makes Adam Christopher’s Ray Electromatic a compelling character — he’s a robot P.I.-turned-assassin for hire with a 24-hour memory — is simultaneously the best and most-frustrating thing about his RAY ELECTROMATIC series. When Christopher is restrained by the shorter word-counts of the novelette “Brisk Money” or this novella, Standard Hollywood Depravity (2017), there’s no room for unnecessary repetition or extraneous plot devices, and the “robot noir” at the heart of this series takes center stage.

Set between the full-length novels Made to Kill and Killing is My Business, Standard Hollywood Depravity covers one eventful night and a seemingly simple assignment for Ray: go to a nightclub, murder a specific go-go-dancer, and head home to Ada, the computer bank-housed A.I. who arranges Ray’s jobs and keeps track of their finances. But once at the club, Ray sees quite a few other trenchcoat- and fedora-clad gents skulking in the shadows, and figures there’s more going on than a simple kill-job. The more he learns, the more questions he has, until he starts to wonder how much even Ada knows about this assignment.

Book 1

As both Bill and I have expressed, a robot with a limited memory-span tends to repeat himself, and that’s been a drawback for each of us in reading the novels, as they each take place over multiple days and, by necessity, Ray experiences memory gaps or repeats certain ideas and turns of phrase. That’s less of a factor here, though there was an early description that was a near-perfect copy of an observation from Made to Kill, which bothered me because I couldn’t see any reason for that particular phrase to be repeated (unlike the fragments of memories from Made to Kill floating around Ray’s mind and haunting his actions, foreshadowing plenty of problems ahead for the big lug).

The plot underpinning Standard Hollywood Depravity is your usual gumshoe-in-over-his-head stuff: someone is supposed to die, someone else dies first, a deeper scheme is revealed, and the P.I. must decide whose interests would be best served by his actions. Ray’s emerging conscience and struggles against the fetters of his programming provide surprising emotional depth, especially as Christopher drops a few more miniscule breadcrumbs about Ray’s creator, Professor Thornton, and Ada herself. There’s a brief glimpse of a figure who becomes central to Killing is My Business, but their actions in Standard Hollywood Depravity add more to the overall atmosphere and characterization than anything specifically nefarious.

The shorter format of a novella works entirely to Standard Hollywood Depravity’s advantage. Sticking to a strict noir formula with no wacky sci-fi diversions streamlines the tale and keeps the focus on Ray’s detective work and uniqueness as the last robot in the world. I’m curious to see where Christopher is taking this series, and what will ultimately become of Ray Electromatic.

Published March 7, 2017. The moment Raymond Electromatic set eyes on her, he knew she was the dame marked in his optics, the woman that his boss had warned him about. Honey. As the band shook the hair out of their British faces, stomping and strumming, the go-go dancer’s cage swung, and the events of that otherwise average night were set in motion. A shot, under the cover of darkness, a body bleeding out in a corner, and most of Los Angeles’ population of hired guns hulking, sour-faced over un-drunk whiskey sours at the bar. But as Ray tries to track down the package he was dispatched to the club to retrieve, his own programming might be working against him, sending him down a long hall and straight into a mobster’s paradise. Is Honey still the goal—or was she merely bait for a bigger catch? Just your standard bit of Hollywood depravity, as tracked by the memory tapes of a less-than-standard robot hitman. Standard Hollywood Depravity is a Ray Electromatic mystery by Adam Christopher.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L’Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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One comment

  1. Looking forward to checking this out since as you say, the long form hasn’t been all that beneficial to these stories. This looks better. Thanks!

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