BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A near-future murder mystery in which “The Twinmaker” uses matter transporter technology to make copies of people so he can kill them.
PROS: Thought-provoking ideas; cool technology; fast-paced second half.
CONS: Some slow parts in the beginning.
BOTTOM LINE: A first-rate sf murder mystery that’s sure to get you thinking about the implications of technology.
One of the things I like about science fiction, besides the gadgets and the sense of wonder, is when a story takes the speculation beyond the standard “Look at me!” showcase and into the realm of exploring the possible implications of the technology. The Resurrected Man by Sean Williams does just that. It takes a simple science fiction premise – a matter transporter – and uses it as a springboard for lots of cool and thought-provoking ideas.
The murder mystery plot concerns a sociopath who is nicknamed The Twinmaker because he uses “d-mat” matter transporters to make duplicates of people who then become his victims. All of the brutally murdered copies resemble Marilyn Blaylock, an officer of MTI, the enforcement arm of Kudos Technology, Inc., the company that created the d-mat technology.
At the start of the story, the latest victim suspiciously appears in the personal d-mat unit of Jonah McEwen, a private investigator who happens to be Marilyn’s ex-lover in a relationship she ended three years earlier. All evidence points to Jonah (or a rogue d-mat copy) as being The Twinmaker. The only problem is that Jonah has been in a coma for the past three years, entered shortly after his father Lindsay Carlaw, was murdered. Not even sure of his own innocence because his memory has been erased, Jonah must fight for his freedom and discover the true identity of The Twinmaker. By his side is QUALIA, the artificial intelligence created by his father who now oversees the entire d-mat network, and his old flame Marilyn.
A near-future murder mystery story could easily be successful just by introducing a matter transporter into the mix and in The Resurrected Man, d-mat is indeed used to good effect. Need to travel to faux-Sidney? Just get to the nearest transporter! Are you needed in Quebec? Beam me over!
Also cool: there are other offshoot technologies that are based on d-mat. “D-med” uses d-mat technology to intentionally alter a person, usually to repair some physical damage, while the person is in transit. Effectively, an operation is done on the encoded data of the person so that he is reconstituted in perfect working order. “Hotwiring” uses d-mat to bring a copy of the person directly into a virtual reality world where anything is possible. And, not least of all, is “resurrection” where a person’s LSM (Last Sustainable Model – the latest copy of a person) is used to produce a new version of them after they die.
These technological offshoots of d-mat invoke awe, but the real fascination of the book comes from their ramifications. While the process is simple enough – record, transmit, receive – there are issues which arise as a result of it which introduce the themes of privacy (whatever can be recorded can be copied) and security (whatever can be copied can be stolen). It turns out that teleportation is a fertile springboard for interesting and thought-provoking dilemmas about life and death, mostly centering on their definitions.
For example, if a person can be recorded, transmitted and reassembled, is it ethical to create a copy of that person? If so, what rights does the copy have? Is it even alive? Is it considered murder if you take the life of a person’s duplicate? (I’m not sure I was easily convinced of the book’s position, or at least the position of MTI, that it was not murder. The act was still done on a living being, wasn’t it? Or maybe it involves the right to privacy of the original to not be duplicated in the first place? D’oh! See? Thought-provoking.) Also, with a person’s whole self recorded, are they not immortal?
The book does a great job portraying the society in which the story takes place, presenting a backdrop in which to explore the moral and ethical dilemmas. Even though d-mat is commercially available and has resulted in some drastic changes in everyday life (I liked the part where Houston’s main airport has been converted into a vast apartment complex), it is not widely accepted and is strictly regulated. Some people, like the radical anti-d-mat group WHOLE, shun the technology and are outspokenly opposed to it. This, of course, makes them natural suspects in the murder investigation.
Speaking of which, the murder mystery plot was nicely done. Not only was it interesting and immersive, but the reader is given sufficient clues to deduce the culprit(s). And, in Agatha Christie style, the final scene brings the host of suspects together in the same room, a comparison that the author openly makes in the story.
If I had to cite problem areas in the book, it would be in the area of pacing, which I thought could have been a little better. Although I thought it got off to an intriguing and strong start, it wasn’t until about halfway through (investigating the WHOLE lead in Quebec) that it really kicked into high gear. This redeemed the book somewhat but I’m still left with the impression that the setup to that point was a little longer than it needed to be. Also, although the characterizations were well done, my suspension of disbelief was strained a bit when Jonah, who was suspected of brutally murdering several Marilyn look-alikes, was teamed up with Marilyn herself to solve the crime. Was nobody concerned for her safety? Or was it that the possibility of resurrection made the point moot?
These are only minor drawbacks. The Resurrected Man is a first-rate sf murder mystery that’s sure to get you thinking about the implications of technology. Somewhere, in my voluminous backlog of books, sit other Sean Williams books. I’ll be digging them out soon.