Monday, October 17, 2016

Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon, 2016

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A riotous concoction: fine dining, virtual reality, and murder.
Molly Marbles runs a successful bistro on terraformed Mars. But a virtual restaurant opens near her place, offering the experience of delicacies from across the Solar System with none of the calories. What will this do to her business?
Then its owner is murdered in her kitchen. Molly, an amateur detective, springs into action to help the police solve the mystery, while also planning her pop-star daughter's wedding, keeping her kitchen staff from feuding, and protecting her cyborg friend from the humans-only mob. Meanwhile, the infamous Cereal Serial Killer has escaped prison on Pluto and has everyone worried. Things are getting hectic, but Molly is a resilient and resourceful woman. And her knack for mysteries sees her nick-named 'Sherlock Mars'.
A rollicking science fiction, mystery, comedy.

(266 pages)

Sherlock Mars is a really hard book to describe because it's so many things at once. Sure, it's a "science fiction, mystery, comedy" as the synopsis describes it. But there's much more to it than that. It's a futuristic envisionment of what will happen to the universe when human technology catches up with our addiction to colonization; it's also a philosophical take on the extent to which technology will replace lost body parts, and about the hateful prejudice/political turmoil that always springs up when the majority party feels threatened by the growth of a powerful minority–in this case, the development of androids who not only have electronic bodies but have also been given some huge functionality enhancements from their "natural" states. It's a really interesting scenario, watching the horrible hate that springs up between androids and the anti-enhancements groups. I can see both sides of the debate: androids are still human beings, and they shouldn't be discriminated against, but all the upgrades they get aren't exactly fair. It's one thing to save someone's life by giving them a new body, but it's another to give them software that provides them with unfair physical and mental advantages over non-enhanced humans, you know? That's just my take on things, though–and, taking a step back from things, I do feel slightly ridiculous getting into a political argument about androids of all things. It's a fascinating topic, though, and I honestly would have loved if the whole book had revolved around it.

Actually, the biggest trouble I had with Sherlock Mars was that there were just too many interesting storylines floating around. There are way too many characters, most of whom walk onto the page just a handful of times but who the reader is expected to recognize after the first time they show up. There were several times throughout the book when Molly would start talking to someone, and I would have to sit back and wrack my brains for a minute to figure out who they were. This also made it harder for me to recognize the important people (like suspects for the murder), because I'm too busy trying to keep straight all the myriad of people who work at Molly's bistro. Honestly, I suspect that Kingon was more fascinated by the futuristic world and culture that she had created than with the storyline herself; a few times, it definitely felt like she was just using the plot as an excuse for having Molly explore different parts of this world. Not that I'm complaining, though, because it was really fascinating to read about it (and Nirgal Palace, the resort where Molly's daughter is getting married, is absolutely amazing!).

Before I end, I should probably throw in a few negatives. First, I didn't like Molly's family–like, at all. Her daughters were prejudiced prima donas who only showed up to demand help for Becky's wedding or to groan and make rude faces whenever Molly mentioned her friend Trenton–just, as far as I can tell, because they didn't like associating with androids. Plus, Becky's future in-laws run with an extremely anti-android crowd (we're talking anti-android-rights protests). The other main negative is more of a content warning than anything: this is an adult book, not MG or YA, and it shows. Most of the content is fine, but once in a while the characters (who are all married) bring up questions/comments (never detailed) about having sex. Also, though it's never addressed in too much detail, one character is trans. These things barely hurt my enjoyment of the book, but I wanted to bring them up in case they'd affect your decision to read it.

This is getting incredibly long, so I'm going to stop. If you're interested in Sherlock Mars, then give it a try. I'm not going to scream "read it!" from the rooftops–I liked it, but the characters/pacing were a little strange, and as a rule of thumb I don't recommend adult books with racy comments/content–but I did enjoy Sherlock Mars. It made for a nice, silly (but still thought-provoking) break from my normal MG historical fiction and fantasy fare.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My mom's also old school friends with the company's founder (which is how he knew me to send it in the first place), but I tried not to let that influence my review too much.

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