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Auxiliary: London 2039 (SF) - Jon Richter ***

Jon Richter shows a lot of promise in this dystopian murder mystery set in a dark, future London. The main character, detective Carl Dremmler, polices a world where pretty well everything is run by a blend of AI and the internet called TIM, where humanoid robots are commonplace and where total immersion gaming is so beguiling that players regular die, failing to emerge into the real world.

Things get intriguing when a man who murders his partner claims that his artificial arm attacked her of its own accord. Despite doubts from the police hierarchy and opposition from mega-IT companies, Dremmler and his partner begin to suspect the man is telling the truth and something dark is happening. Things get particularly interesting - and the writing particularly engaging - when Dremmler visits the mega factory where the artificial arm was created and sees a production line making what he had thought was a real person.

The book really takes off at this point. Admittedly, sometimes the concepts feel a little derivative: TIM feels awfully like HAL in 2001, to the extent at one point there's almost a recreation of the pod bay doors scene with Dremmler yelling 'Stop the Pod and open the door!' and TIM replying 'I cannot comply with your request at this time.' Dremmler himself is distinctly reminiscent of Rick Deckard in Blade Runner and there's a distinct echo of Susan Calvin from Asimov's I, Robot in a factory boss. However, this really only adds to the fun. I'd also say 2039 is far too soon for things to have changed this much from the present, especially in terms of the perfection of humanoid robots. But for about three quarters of the book, things were going really well.

At this point, it's as if the author got a bit bored with it and finished it off as quickly as possible. What had been an intriguingly ambiguous character suddenly becomes a straightforward evil Bond villain. We get clumsy writing such as 'They ran. But the door was locked... And then it wasn't.' followed a couple of pages later by a closed grille where we get '"It won't budge!" she yelled back, but then it did...' And the book ends with a classic short story ending, fine for something you've invested a few minutes in, but entirely inadequate for a novel.

So, it's a difficult one. This could have been a really good book, but Richter doesn't carry it through to the end. However, as mentioned at the beginning, there's a lot of promise here, and I hope it will be fulfilled in the future.

The book is published by TCK Publishing and you can find more about Jon Richter at his website.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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