2021-05-27 02:22:09 UTC
This is the first in a two-book series. I don't know if more were
planned, but Wolfe died a couple years ago, with the sequel to this
coming out in 2020.
Ern A. Smithe (with a silent 'e') is a reclone. Someone banked DNA and
a memory scan, and years later a reclone was produced. Reclones are not
people. They are property that is owned. In particular, E. A. Smithe is
owned by a branch of the public library. That's because he was a 21st
Century author, writing mysteries. Patrons can consult or check out the
recloned authors as needed.
This is set somewhere 150-200 years after present. Humans have explored
the solar system via robotic probes but radiation prevents much human
exploration. The stars are just too far away. Humanity has hit a wall
and is collectively tired. The population is down to a billion and many
think it should be lower.
A woman, Colette, comes to the library to check out Smithe. She has a
book that she is certain holds a secret. The book was given to her by
her brother, supposedly the only thing found in their late father's
safe as her brother began settling the estate. After that, her brother
She feels certain that the book has the secret to her father's wealth.
Oh, the author? Well, E. A. Smithe. He initially doesn't remember
writing the book, but later recalls that it was a boutique printing,
which makes is nearly impossible to find another copy to see if the
text is altered.
Colette is also fearful that she is being followed or bugged, a fear
that seems reasonable when two men get past the security at her
apartment, looking for the book. Smithe, however, hid the book.
Colette and Smithe go to the old family mansion. There are several
rooms in the top floor that were her father's domain and forbidden to
everyone else. They are locked and no one has key cards. The pair
investigate aspects of her father's and brother's doings. During that,
Colette disappears from a hotel. Smithe follows library rules and turns
himself in to the nearest branch for return to his.
After return, he is checked out by two policemen. Colette lived in
their jurisdiction and they are investigating her disappearance. They
take Smithe to a "safe house" for some interrogation. That includes
beatings and other mild torture. That night, he manages to escape.
So, no point in going back to the library, and with his patron missing
the best he can think of is to go back to her mansion and try to figure
out the various mysteries of Colette's disappearance, her brother's
murder, and her father's secrets in the upper floor. And the
inconsistencies of Colette's story. Plus the initial puzzle of the book
and its message or function, and the men looking for it. He is a
mystery writer (or was), so it's kind of in the recloned blood.
I liked this. It was quirky, and I'm often drawn to SF mystery tales.
It's interesting to see how they play fair with the reader with an
unfamiliar background. One way is that, as is so often the case, things
150+ years in the future aren't as different as you might expect. Sure
there are flying cars available, but Smithe catches a bus with human
driver at one point. Their "eephones" and "screens" aren't that much
different than what we use, although the AIs and 'bots are more
sophisticated than Alexa and her lot. But only a degree or two. Smithe
is essentially a 21st Century man with some bits he's picked while at
the libary, but he gets by pretty well with some help from friends he
picks up along the way.
There's a melancholy undertone regarding the lives of the recloned. As
property, they have no rights. When the library doesn't need them, they
are either sold or destroyed, usually by burning (although reportedly
they're drugged first).