The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez is a smart, entertaining science fiction romp that satisfies even though initial brilliance fizzles into mediocrity.
Mack Megaton is a robot or ‘automated citizen’ of Empire City, who has evolved because of a freewill glitch in his programming. Mack’s not like other automated citizens since he was created by a mad scientist of sorts who was hell bent on taking over the world. The government and his psychologist keep a close eye on the nearly indestructible robot as he integrates into society.
The beginning sequences, as we are introduced to Mack, are simply fantastic. This isn’t your typical artificial intelligence type of of fare. It feels like a real look into what a self-aware robot might actually deal with as it evolves.
I dreamed. Not in the same manner of biologicals. My dreams weren’t confusing and symbolic. They were replays, tours of my memory matrix, dissections of every single nuance as my evolutionary program sought to adapt to better functionality.
The exploration of Mack’s personality, how he thinks and how he deals with the world are the best parts of The Automatic Detective. They alone make it worth reading.
Mack hesitantly intervenes in a dispute at his next door neighbors. Soon after, they disappear, he’s attacked by drones and his apartment blows up. Mack feels compelled to find his next door neighbors, particularly April, a purple-eyed child who took a shine to Mack. Of course, Mack wouldn’t mind a bit of revenge too.
This simple plot device puts Mack on a collision course with an assortment of mutants and other robots. At first, the action scenes involving Mack are interesting and fun. Mack calculates odds before smashing things and inventories damage by percentages. It’s a bit like what I think Spock would be like in the midst of ‘roid rage.
The problem is that once the decisive turn in plot is reached, the rest is paint by numbers with more brawn than brains. It’s not bad really, but it pales in comparison to the first half of the book.
It almost felt like two books, the first part an intriguing, intelligent mystery with a truly unique protagonist and the second part a Transformers 2 like sequence of action devoid of real thought. Did Martinez just run out of good material? Or did he get caught up in his own creation, birthing it and then just wanting to watch it run wild? Was Mack his Frankenstein?
I’m being hard on Martinez, but only because the first half of The Automatic Detective made me think I’d found the literary equivalent of a Hope diamond. So pick up The Automatic Detective and get ready to be entertained in a variety of ways.