The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts

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The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts

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Category: Dystopian Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Sam Tyler
Reviewed by Sam Tyler
Summary: In a world in which most people have plugged into The Shrine, Alma has decided to solve crime in the Real World. Join her in this science fiction/crime mash-up that has some great ideas that are not always executed as well as they could have been.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 240 Date: August 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781473221451

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If you had the choice would you live your life online? In the future, this may be possible, with the development of fully realised virtual reality you may feel that the online world is more real than your own. Even today we spend hours each day looking at phones or checking statuses. The only thing is that with most people online, some of us will have to stay in the real world to deal with unexpected events – such as a real town murder.

Alma is a Private Investigator who works exclusively in the real world, this means that she refuses to enter The Shine – an online ecosystem that the vast majority of the population have given themselves to. She is tasked with solving what appears to be the impossible murder of a man whose corpse has been found in a newly manufactured car. Nothing that strange about that? Except for the fact that the car was made in a fully automated factory that cannot allow humans to enter. So how did he get in the trunk?

The Real-Town Murders is the type of ideas science fiction that comes up with some thoughtful scenarios, but does not execute them brilliantly. There is a real issue in science fiction of trying to create both an interesting futuristic premise, but also write an entertaining story. With this in mind, the PI is a very popular science fiction mash-up – these crime stories are often quite linear and allow you to drape your dystopian ideals around it without destroying the central story thread. However, whilst crime fiction may be easy to write, good crime fiction is not so easy.

Roberts introduces some great concepts from the very beginning. The idea of a real-world and a virtual world is not new; The Matrix and Surrogates spring to mind, but setting the entire story in the real world is. Alma finds herself walking around empty streets only interacting with robots and AI. The only humans to be seen are those locked into The Shrine who have sent their bodies out in mech suits to prevent their muscles atrophy. There is also the clever use of Alma's partner as a timing device as she is suffering from an incurable disease that only Alma can treat every four hours. This means that whatever actions Alma takes, she knows she has to be home soon.

It is not the science fiction elements of the book that let proceedings down, but the crime and action. For some reason, an intelligent book devolves into a series of action set pieces that are a bit dumb and a bit dull. One scene even has our hero hiding in the nose of a famous bard. In the right book this scene would have worked, but in Real-World it just feels a little cringy as the tone was off. These tonal issues also reflect in Alma's attitude at times. She is a fast quipping PI, even when she is suffering from a possibly fatal case of nanobot stomach. Alma seems to pay no heed to her impending demise and waffles on as normal.

Roberts has undertaken what a surprising number of science fiction writers have attempted before and that is to splice their normal genre with crime. Like many of these other authors, it has been the crime element that has let the side down, it is not as easy as some make it seem. Good sci-fi and crime can be intelligent, but Roberts decides that more action is needed to spice up the criminal case. All this does is produce meaningless scenes that detract from what is a very interesting central concept.

Adam Roberts is by now somewhat of a stalwart of the science fiction genre and you can find one of his more successful books here. For a better splice of sci-fi and crime check out From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters. You might also appreciate Depth by Lev Rosen.

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Buy The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts at


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