Audiobook Review: The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

3 04 2012

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

Read by Mark Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 9 Hors 3 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Automatic Detective combines the best aspects of crime fiction and science fiction to make a truly unique comic romp full of unexpected heart and a ton of fun action. If there was a Mack Megaton T-Shirt, I’d totally buy it.

Grade B+

The Automatic Detective is an Audie Award nominee in the Fantasy Category.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about Genre, particularly after reading this blog post on Staffer’s Book Review. I abhor labels, yet so much of fiction is defined by labels. Tack the label “Science Fiction” on a title and certain people will instantly be compelled to it, while others will reject it out of hand. I have personally never come across a definitive definition of science fiction. I am one of those strange people that define the genre of a novel in a very wishy washy way, by feel. Some novels just feel like Science fiction, while others feel like Fantasy. For the first time ever, The Audies have broken down the Speculative Fiction nominees into three categories, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal. Scanning over the nominees, I find some of the choices of which category a title belongs in interesting. When I originally reviewed SM Stirling’s The High King of Montival, I labeled it as a Post Apocalyptic Fantasy, yet the Audies have it listed as Science Fiction. I was also surprised to see Richard Morgan’s The Cold Commands listed as Science Fiction. Now, I haven’t read The Cold Commands, but I read its prequel The Steel Remains and found it to be pretty solid in the Fantasy camp, yet some research shows me that there are some scifi elements to the follow-up. The one that confused me most was The Automatic Detective by A Lee Martinez. Upon finishing this listen recently, I continue to be confused. For me, this was pretty clearly Science fiction with Paranormal elements yet it was nominated in the Fantasy Category. Now, I am not all up and arms about this. There is a natural blending of Speculative Fiction subgenres and so this sort of mishmash is natural, but I wonder, who decided on the Category a nominee is placed in. Is the title being evaluated entered into a specific category by the producer, or does the final decision lie with the Audio Publisher’s Association?  Yet, in the end, this topic is unimportant, what truly matters is that The Automatic Detective is quite an entertaining listen.

Mack Megaton is just a regular Joe, working a nine to five as a cab driver, trying to make his way through his probational status to become a citizen of Empire City. Like most people, Mack is trying to find his humanity among the hustle and bustle of the big city. What makes this harder is that Mack is a hulking robot original designed for destruction, who through a programming fluke developed free will and defied his creator. So when the family next door is kidnapped and the little girl left a note behind pleading for Mack to find them, Mack is on the case, because that’s what good citizens do. I really believe that A. Lee Martinez is one of the most underappreciated original voices working in speculative fiction today. The Automatic Detective is a prime example of this. Martinez creates a truly original character voice in the robotic noir delivery of Mack Megaton, and keeps it consistent throughout the novel. He never breaks character, keeping Mack’s narrative, clipped and robotic, full of clever puns and brilliant dialogue that plays off his nature as a machine. The Automatic Detective is a cybernetic Chinatown, with strange dangerous hoods, a brilliant and beautiful dame and a city setting that becomes a character in itself. The plot was delightfully over the top, full of colorful characters, crazy conspiracies and a whole lot of destructive action. Mack Megaton may be one of my favorite characters in a long time. Despite his robotic ways he has a lovable naiveté that is only augmented by his unflappable loyalty and actual progression as a character. The Automatic Detective combines the best aspects of crime fiction and science fiction to make a truly unique comic romp full of unexpected heart and a ton of fun action. If there was a Mack Megaton T-Shirt, I’d totally buy it.

I have always liked Mark Vietor as a narrator, but if I had one complaint, it’s that sometimes he comes off a bit robotic. Well, hello there. The casting of Vietor as narrator for The Automatic Detective was simply inspired. Vietor understood exactly what Martinez was trying to do, and pulled it off flawlessly. I could easily picture Mack as a huge lumbering Robot, wearing a Fedora and Trench coat, traveling the streets of Empire City trying to find the score. Vietor captured the pace of the novel perfectly, staying in character, delivering the action scenes in a crisp, straightforward manner. Even his dialogue had an organic feel to it, allowing his interactions with his beautiful damsel, or his best friend who just happened to be a sentient ape, to not feel forced. The Automatic Detective is one of those moments of synergy when the perfect narrator is given the opportunity to perform a novel seemingly tailored to his talents.



3 responses

8 04 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

I *think* it is the publishers nominating their titles for various categories, but I’m not totally sure.

12 04 2012

The APA/Audie committees actually don’t define the categories very stringently at all, leaving the producers to submit titles in a category as they think appropriate. Each submission is accompanied by an entry fee for each category; so if producer thinks a title might stand a better chance in the fantasy category than in science-fiction (which is one of the more crowded fields), the producer might submit a title in the fantasy category instead.

As for the audio book, it sounds like fun! It kinda reminds me of Bladerunner and that ‘s a very good thing in my book 🙂

28 05 2012

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