Being driven a little batty by the incessant holiday music? Need to take a little time away with a fun read? This weekend, my SF/mystery novelette Death in a Tin Can will be free for Amazon Kindle. Enjoy!
Author Archives: John P. Murphy
The New York Times Magazine has a story this weekend about the death of the private investigator at the hands of the internet and modern technology. It’s an interesting read, but on balance wrong. My comment there got a little lengthy, so I’m putting it here instead.
First, I do pretty well writing near-future PI stories. The secret is, the fictional private eye has never been all that realistic: he or she’s always been a crystallization of the times, doing things the hard and painful way when more effective ways exist. The key to the success of the PI in the public imagination is the nature of those more effective ways, and public doubt in them. They are always process-based and institution-based: “go to the cops”, usually, but “go to Google” works just as well. Nero Wolfe himself frequently told prospective clients that the police were a more viable (and less expensive) alternative — but always managed to get clients anyway.
Why do people go to the PI who does things the hard way? Because the more effective way relies on institutions that are (or are perceived to be) corrupt or incompetent or otherwise unable to help: they don’t always do what they say they’ll do, either because they can’t or they won’t. The PI represents integrity and honesty for those people who don’t trust the institutions.
Early PIs were always an alternative to the authorities of the time, generally the police (and sometimes, later, the FBI or CIA or what have you). The police are an institution, just as Google is today. That’s not a surprising thing to say anymore. But it’s worth remembering that the police are also a technology (police detectives are barely two hundred years old) and went through exactly the same “Gee whiz!” technology adoption curve as Internet search or GPS. Pick up a copy of Michael Sims’s excellent collection of Victorian-era detective fiction, The Dead Witness. Readers and authors of the time treated this new-fangled person of the police detective the same way as any new technology: first it was a novelty just to read about them, then they started to get their customary forms as people became comfortable… and then it became more interesting to wonder if they were quite as good a thing as they were cracked up to be. They became progressively less god-like: less omniscient, less omnipotent, and eventually (especially on the American side) decidedly less omni-benevolent.
And that’s where the PI came in, reacting in stages to each failing. Heck, you can even see the specific reactions, starting with the emergence of the “bumbling” police detective in comparison to the scientific private investigator, and getting into noir PIs dealing with police corruption.
We are now with respect to Google and our other tech helpers, where Victorian era readers were with respect to police detectives: these are shiny new institutions with sterling reputations for efficiency that we’re just now beginning to distrust a little. We’re kinda doing it in the reverse order: doubting intentions before we doubt efficacy. But either way, this seems to me the ideal time for a new Sam Spade to set up shop.
If you haven’t gotten around to picking up the Alembical 3 anthology with my science fiction mystery novella Claudius Rex, or have been waiting for the ebook, now’s your chance: it is available now for Amazon’s Kindle for only $3!
Claudius Rex, as you may recall, was my SF homage to the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Of my own stories it’s probably my personal favorite.
The Nook version should be available soon as well; let me know if you’d like me to email you when it is, or comment on this post and check “notify me of new comments via email” and you’ll get a notification that way.
Oh, it’s been forever since I last posted. The reason for that: I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my Crandall novel A DEATH IN DEEP SPACE — which is done! Really, seriously, ready-to-show-people done. Man, that’s weird to type. I’ve been working on that story in one form or another for five years, starting from a novelette that formed the basis of the longer novel and resurrected in a novel draft two years ago.
Anyway, I seem to have been tagged by my friend A. T. Greenblatt to actually show people some of my recent work, and to challenge a few other folks in turn. The “rules”: ‘The rules are simple: Post 7 sentences of your work, start on page 7, count 7 lines down. ‘ OK, I can probably handle that. As it happens I have the Scrivener document open for my next project already, a Claudius Rex mystery with the working title THE WRONG CLIENT, starring Claudius Rex and kind of an enormous run-on sentence.
“My apologies that I cannot join you in person. I
rarely ever leave my home in the Caribbean, least of all for
Boston where it is cold and damp.”
That was a lie, of course. He’d incorporated in St.
Martin–as a corporation, I mean, not any kind of physical
manifestation–but otherwise he existed in Boston as much as he
could be said to exist anywhere: his main routines were executed
by a small experimental device in the brownstone’s basement, a
location that a dozen spy agencies would not only kill to know,
they’d even say ‘please’.
“Ah, hello,” said a squirming Polder. “It’s, um, a pleasure
to meet you, Mr. Rex.” Again with the hand, but at least he
seemed to catch himself before offering it to an empty desk.
My short story “No Body” was published today in Penumbra e-zine’s October issue, “Paranormal Adventures”, alongside several other excellent stories by talented authors (several of whom are friends of mine, which is always nice). At $4 for 7 stories, I’d say it’s well worth the price.
As for my story, this one’s a bit of a departure for me. It straddles the line between dark fantasy and horror, two genres in which I very seldom write. Needless to say, it’s quite a bit darker than my usual stuff, but I’m happy with the effect.
My science fiction/mystery novelette Death in a Tin Can went live on Amazon this morning — only 99 cents, or free for Kindle Unlimited readers! This story is a special one for me: it was my Viable Paradise audition piece, and benefitted from advice from our talented teachers and my talented classmates. It’s been sitting in a drawer for a long time because I wanted to do something special with it. I think this counts: it’s my first foray into self-publishing, and I’m about ready to start shopping around my novel with the same detective. If the short does well, that will be useful information.
As always, I’m grateful to anyone who passes the link around, tells their friends, or leaves a review.
Sounds like a nice 1950’s B-movie title, doesn’t it? Needs an exclamation point or five and a font dripping blood. Maybe starring Lon Cheney and the child star edition of someone you’d never associate with that sort of thing, like Andy Griffith or Jim Carrey.
Anyway! It wasn’t a horror movie; in fact I had a long and lovely chat with the fine folks of Sci Fi Saturday Night about my new novella Claudius Rex, and that chat is now online for you to listen to!
If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a combination “what’s new in the world of SFF and fandom” chat and interview with a weekly guest. This week had some info about the next season of Sherlock, and about a Sesame Street skit referencing ComicCon, for example. I had a lot of fun (and would gladly do it again, Dome!).
A few notes of things I didn’t get to talk about but wanted to:
I was talking about my own novella, Claudius Rex, in Paper Golem Press’s ALEMBICAL 3 anthology. There are two other fine novellas in that anthology that I didn’t get a chance to put in a good word for, and would like to:
From Earth I Have Arisen, by Matt Rotundo, about an old man playing hero in a hot air balloon in the post-apocalyptic mid-west.
Star-Reacher, by Kam Oi Lee, about an artist and mechanic in a back-woods mining colony dealing with his desire to leave home and go make something of himself. (I’m from West Virginia — a theme like that strikes home with me.)
So, even if you don’t like mine, there are two other excellent stories to read!
I hadn’t intended to talk about the sequel to CLAUDIUS REX, since I’m still not 100% sure it’ll ever see the light of day. Writing a novel-length sequel to a novella can be a tricky proposition, after all, and I’m mostly writing it for my own enjoyment and the practice of finishing another novel draft (as I’ve said elsewhere, I consider myself mostly a short fiction writer, and expect to write two or three novels before I ever sell one). But since I brought it up, here are the details, such as they are: the working title is THE WRONG CLIENT, and it’s about Rex being hired to investigate the disappearance of an anti-AI activist. I’ve had to spend a lot more time thinking through some character and world designs (and deeply regretting a few off-the-cuff remarks in CLAUDIUS REX). When I said that Rex is blind, that’s true (despite Google Glass and its ilk): robot vision is a very different thing than biological vision, and that conversation has really gotten me thinking about how to present the way Rex “sees”.
The novel draft about half-way done (as drafts go, which is some unknown percent done as books go) and at this pace it’ll probably be done next summer or so. To be honest, writing a novel is difficult work with few rewards along the way, and it’s tough to justify it to myself as something other than a sideline hobby if CR doesn’t do well. So, if you liked CR and want to see a sequel, review it and tell your friends.
Finally, in my story about my inability to order soda in Japan, I was nervous enough about being on the show that I left off the ‘punchline': Immediately after correcting me about how to order the size soda I wanted, the cashier helpfully pointed me to the sign, which read very clearly for even me to see, “S” “M” and “L”. So, if you’re scratching your head and wondering what the point of that story was… you’re not the only one. But I’m impressed by how polite the hosts were in simply letting that go and moving on!