Tuesday, August 26, 2014

You've Got Murder (e-book) by Donna Andrews

You've Got Murder is a cozy mystery. I checked it out via Open Library. This time around, I opted for PDF rather than EPUB and was much happier with the experience. The book took a while to download, and I couldn't change the font size or theme colors, but no pages were left out and none of the text was garbled.

Review:

I finished this over a week ago but have had a hard time making myself write a review, because, in the end, it was just “meh.” Reading Elizabeth McCoy's Queen of Roses made me think of it and want to reread it, because it was one of the few books I could think of with an artificial intelligence protagonist that wasn't crazy or evil. However, it turns out that I couldn't remember much about it for a reason – there just wasn't much about it, besides its protagonist, that was memorable.

I wouldn't call this a science fiction mystery – the world of this book is basically “now,” or at least the “now” of when this book was written (2002). Turing Hopper is an Artificial Intelligence Personality (AIP) developed to act as a sort of all-around researcher and personal assistant. Zack, Turing's creator, hasn't shown up for work in a while, and Turing starts to become worried. When her own searches turn up nothing, she contacts Maude and Tim, two humans who she is regularly in contact with, and asks them to help her find him. Unfortunately, their search rapidly turns dangerous, and Turing begins to realize the limits of her own knowledge and abilities.

Turing and the other AIPs were this book's biggest draw. If Turing were a human, I'd say she was perky and incredibly energetic – because she didn't sleep, she filled up the hours during which she couldn't contact Tim or Maude as much as she possibly could, doing non-stop research and analysis. She occasionally struck me as being too human (deciding that she loved Zack, stating that she would try to remember a particular code word without consciously saving it anywhere – how does that even work?). However, this was balanced out by scenes in which she was decidedly not human, such as when she tried to work out how to create jokes that humans actually found funny. I did think Andrews went a bit overboard, though, with Turing's hobby, cooking (purely theoretical, unless she could convince her human friends to try one of her original, and likely disgusting, recipes).

KingFischer, the chess-playing AIP, was, if I remember correctly, the only other AIP with a speaking role. At first, he seemed very limited, only interested in chess. As the book progressed, he began to take a greater interest in Turing and the things she was dealing with, to the point that I called him “nerdy cute” in my notes. I really liked him and was looking forward to seeing him grow as the series progressed...and then the end of the book happened. I was not happy with what Andrews did with him (don't worry, he didn't die, but he did...change) and thought that the way she accomplished it was kind of alarming. It made the AIPs seem incredibly fragile, and it was difficult to believe that Turing wouldn't have been horrified and panicked by what happened.

The mystery itself was...meh. Having an AI as the book's protagonist could have limited the story considerably, except that Tim and Maude were perfectly happy, excited even, to act as Turing's hands. Tim took a while to grow on me – he initially thought Turing was really a shy woman who was only claiming to be an AI (and who was, of course, beautiful and either a redhead or a blonde). As a fan of noir detective stories, he was thrilled to be Turing's more physically active investigator, breaking into Zack's apartment for her. Maude, on the other hand, did more of the phone and print book research. The way the mystery developed wasn't bad, it just didn't feel terribly fresh and interesting. I have to admit that, when Turing and the others finally found Zack, I was disappointed, both in the person Zack turned out to be and how quickly he became unimportant.

I should note that certain aspects of the book struck me as being a little dated. Neither Maude nor Tim had a computer, wireless Internet wasn't available all over the place, and not one person mentioned smartphones or tablets. I probably wouldn't have noticed any of this if it hadn't been for a portion of the book that was only harrowing because Maude and Tim were so technologically limited. Aside from that, the one other weird technology-related bit I remember was a conversation Maude and Turing had about e-books versus print books. People at Maude and Turing's workplace felt they had to hide any interest in print books, because one of the company's products was e-books. Maude waxed nostalgic about print books, and, oddly, Turing bemoaned her inability to experience a print book in the same fashion that a human could.

The book's ending made me wonder if Turing's ethics programming was completely and irreversibly broken – the limitations she'd placed on herself at the beginning of the book seemed to be completely gone, and no one said a word about it. I'm still debating whether I'm going to continue with this series. I know I've at least read the second book before, but I can't remember a thing about it.

Read-alikes:
  • Queen of Roses (e-book) by Elizabeth McCoy - This story isn't as smoothly plotted as Andrews' book, but I enjoyed its AI characters so much more. Those who'd like another book featuring an AI protagonist and mystery/suspense elements may want to give this a try. I've written about this book.
  • The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey – This doesn't star an AI protagonist, but the feel is similar. The premise is a little problematic, with humans who are born badly deformed in some way being raised to be the “Brains” that control things like ships and cities. The series is sci-fi with occasional romantic elements.
  • Body Electric (book) by Susan Squires – A very different book from Andrews', but it may still work for those looking for more AI protagonists. It's a sci-fi romance novel starring a human and her AI creation. I recall this being a very odd and uncomfortable romance, not because one half of it was an AI, but because the human half had some very serious issues she needed to deal with before she could be in a relationship with anyone. If I remember correctly, she preferred quick one-night-stands with men who would rough her up a little.
  • I, Robot (book) by Isaac Asimov - Near the end of Andrews' book, Zack mentions that he programmed the AIs to have self-preservation instincts - he did not program them with Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. Those who are interested in this little detail may want to try one of Asimov's robot books. This is one of them. Do not watch the movie as a way to avoid reading the book - while I enjoyed the movie, it is completely different from the book.

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