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Dead Formats and the sci-fi detective crossover

Dead Formats (A Rand Hoté Mystery) is my new book, available now on Amazon. It’s a science-fiction mystery novel, featuring a detective investigating a murder in a near-future world that’s extrapolated from our own. Here’s the blurb:

When holo lawyer Rand Hoté meets Tegan Kolechko, she hires him to investigate her death

Tegan’s been resurrected as a hologram, but has no memory of the last two weeks of her life – and by 2064, being an immortal light-being is not what it used to be. Other afterlives are available, the company that generates the holos is acting suspiciously… and the holos of Light City are protesting every night.

As Rand looks into Tegan’s death, along with his repurposed sex-doll assistant and his toy-dinosaur accountant, the team uncovers the strands of a dark conspiracy – one that means the holos may not get to live happily ever after, after all…

Dead Formats is a twisty near-future mystery set in a gritty cyberpunk world, with snappy dialogue and inventive characters – for fans of sci-fi, detective stories and Black Mirror-style dystopias.

The grand genres of detective fiction and science fiction actually have a long history of crossover, even if they might not seem natural bedfellows. Here are 10 sci-fi-mystery reads worth checking out… 

1] Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? – Philip K Dick (1968)

Androids dream cover

Written in 1966, Dick’s extraordinarily prescient and fierily imaginative tour de force takes the idea of humans becoming like machines while machines become more human, and maps that convergence onto a plot structure of a bounty hunter (Deckard/Descartes) retiring human-like androids, in order to afford a totemistic rarity – a real animal. 

2] The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester (1953)

The first novel to win the fabled Hugo Award back in 1953 is also one of the first SF/crime thriller hybrids. A police procedural in a world of corruptible telepaths, we may know the killer from the off, but that doesn’t make the cat-and-mouse game of the investigation any less intriguing.

3] Altered Carbon – Richard K Morgan (2002)

The Netflix sci-fi series is what the majority of us know, but Morgan’s three books naturally offer a richer storyworld. In a 25th-century world where humans travel between the stars and transfer consciousness between bodies – or sleeves – we follow a soldier-turned-convict-turned-private-detective as he investigates a murder in exchange for his freedom.

4] Red Planet Blues – Robert J Sawyer (2013)

Sawyer’s first novel, Golden Fleece, was also a SF-detective story and here, narrator Alan Lomax, P.I., plies his trade on New Klondike, a domed city on a decadent Mars a few years past its fossil-rush heyday. He tackles failed prospectors, rife corruption and transferred minds in a complex sci-fi-noir trip. 

5] The Caves Of Steel – Isaac Asimov (1953)

This 1954 novel set 3,000 years in the future saw the introduction of NYPD detective Elijah Baley and his robot helper R Daneel Olivaw, who Asimov said were his favourite characters. The plot revolves around the unlikely pair investigating the murder of a space-colonist ambassador against a backdrop of sprawling underground cities that give the book its title. 

6] Gun, With Occasional Music – Jonathan Lethem (1994)

This 1994 blend of SF with hardboiled detective fiction is a story taking place in a world where questioning is banned and drugs are pacifying the population. Its protagonist, a Private Inquisitor, negotiates a vividly crafted dystopia of genetically enhanced animals and altered humans. 

7] Leviathan Wakes – James S. A. Corey (2011)

Rightly celebrated for its fastidious application of physics, the first book of the Expanse series introduces us to Miller, an ex-cop and futuristic detective who’s a throwback to the hardbitten noir characters of yesteryear.

8] Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World – Haruki Murakami (1985)

Plots from two seemingly very different areas of Murakami’s unique mind gradually entwine in this dazzlingly imaginative book which is part noir parody, part futuristic dystopia, part mythical fantasy and much more besides. 

9] The City & The City – China Miéville (2009)

Another detective story with an outrageous sci-fi twist, this takes place in the fictional Eastern European cities of Beszél and Ul Qoma, which are separate city states which exist in the same geographical space. Residents of the two cities are presided over by a surveillance organisation called the Breach, and residents of both cities block out details of their environments: when a body is discovered, the investigation uncovers a reality that’s stranger still. 

10] Within Without – Jeff Noon (2021)

The genius British surrealist’s Nyquist detective series is typically dreamlike in its theme, even though its protagonist is a regular private eye. Each book in the series (this is the fourth) takes place in a different city or town, each with its own fantasy power: ranging from an obsession with storytelling to having a million borders. 

Honourable mentions to three I haven’t read yet… The Gone World – Tom Sweterlitsch, Anonymous Rex – Eric Garcia and Noir – K.W. Jeter.

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