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Claudius Rex John P. Murphy

Happy Sharky2 We love science fiction. Haven’t read a whole lot of it but we love what we have. And we love mysteries. Again, we’re not authorities on mystery stories but we love what we’ve got.
Default Smiles And we especially, especially love sarcastic main characters who aren’t above cracking jokes or being cheeky. Doubly so if they’re the narrator so that the whole story takes on that cheeky tone. Now put all of that together and you get a book-
Default Sharky That Smiles actually forced into our review queue in place of the one we were actually going to upload today.
Shocked Smiles Hey- … well…
Default Sharky He discovered it last week and he’s just been following me around reading quotes.
Surprised Smiles … but I do that with everything we read.
Angry Sharky 3 I know.
Surprised Smiles Oh right, I should mention there's a liiiiiitle bit of strong language in this book, though there isn't anything else adult about it. So don't just hand it off to a kid without giving it a look through. Now! Imagine. You’ll have to do a little extra imagining here, because it’s a fancy techy future. Imagine you live in a world where everyone has a computer implanted into the back of their head. This little guy holds your messages, appointments, phone functions, GPS, bank access, whatever.
Surprised Sharky Helpful. Ominous.
Default Smiles Shh. Imagine YOU are an ex-private investigator, on your way to a job interview, when your newly installed polite brain-computer isn’t so polite after all. In fact it’s downright bossy, and tries you boss you into going into a random building and standing around for ten minutes. Well obviously you don’t. Then it offers ten thousand dollars and well obviously you do. In and out, nice and simple, what could possibly go wr- OH MY GOD THERE’S A DEAD BODY ON THE FLOOR!
Sassy Sharky You couldn’t even last ten minutes without getting into trouble?
Sassy Smiles We’re disappointed in you. Stepped right into the middle of a dangerous case of murder, theft, and more murder. But it’s going to be fine. The artificial intelligence in your head, who calls himself Claudius Rex, is extra, amazingly, wonderfully intelligent.
Sassy Sharky And stuck-up.
Default Smiles And overconfident.
Sassy Sharky And doesn’t listen.
Happy Smiles But it’s going to be fine, because this is a mystery, and he’s read… ten mystery novels so he knows how they go. Just like everyone in the world who reads mysteries and fancied themselves a detective for a bit. Come on, we’ve all done it.
Happy Sharky It’s a terrific setup. Rex as an AI has access to a staggering amount of resources, but no experience when it comes to people. The guy with the body he’s in, Andy Baldwin, makes up for it by having a huge amount of people experience. And arms and legs. It would have been really easy to make Rex the one who knows everything, and Andy just the poor guy who carries him around and gasps at his brilliance, and lord knows we have a lot of THOSE in detectives stories. But thankfully that doesn’t happen. They balance each other out well and don’t really get anywhere without putting their skills together. One hacks into personal computers, the other convinces people to talk to him, and they both run off at the mouth.
Surprised Smiles It also would have been really easy to make this into a story where the AI is constantly in control in a negative way, in this world where the brain-computers have all your information, and make things creepy and tense and dystopian. Or have there be another AI just as intelligent but more dangerous as the murderer. And while that could be an awesome story for other characters, I’m really glad that doesn’t happen either. The cheeky sarcasm couldn’t shine anywhere else. It’s a fun, straightforward detective thriller where one of the main characters just happens to be a computer.

 

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A robot suit was the best costume we could make for an AI. Smiles offered to climb on Sharky’s back to be the ‘brain computer’, but Sharky said it would have to be over his dead body.
Happy Sharky2 It’s a little like those old shows where the ‘sentient’ car or computer or robot was… just a partner who was shaped like a machine. Maybe a little more literal and confused about people, but a near-to-human partner all the same, with all the entertaining back and forth that deserves. You know, before every artificial intelligence was either tragic or deadly or both.
Happy Smiles Andy is amazing at being in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. You can’t help but laugh when half the events in the plot can be summed up by ‘damn it what are YOU doing here?’
Happy Sharky2 He’s not even obliviously stumbling into stuff or following people. Well, unless he’s being offered money I guess. He’s sensibly suspicious and paranoid about things. He just… has the worst timing in the world sometimes. And it’s great.
Default Smiles There’s also this tense but weirdly hilarious moment where after all the hacking into systems and phones and apparently being in total control of the electronic atmosphere of the future, the great super-intelligent AI gets stumped by… a door. Because it doesn’t have anything electronic on it. Because crooks have more sense than to have everything be computerised in a world where computers can snitch on you.
Sassy Sharky Not to mention the fact that Rex insists on gathering all the witnesses in a room together before the big reveal because detective novels do it.
Default Smiles Honestly I hope this is just the first book of a series. My favourite detective stories have always been the ones less about the mind-bending mystery itself and more about investigators full of personality. So let’s have more. SHARKY. WHAT DO WE WANT?
Surprised Sharky 2 Uh. More?
Happy Smiles WHEN DO WE WANT IT?
Confused Sharky … soon?
Sassy Smiles … yeah. Sure, let’s go with that.

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