BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A U.S. Secret Service agent, recently cloned, is tasked with solving his own murder.
PROS: Healthy dose of sf-nal ideas; cool tech; world building; political commentary delivered light-handedly.
CONS: Missed opportunity for further exploration of stored memory technology implications.
BOTTOM LINE: An appealing science fiction mystery with room for further stories.
Matt Forbeck’s Amortals mixes the trope of stored memories with a murder mystery in a story about a U.S. Secret Service agent tasked with solving his own murder. Thanks to cloning technology, Ronan Dooley has survived his latest death, a grisly murder at the hands of an unknown assailant. Dooley, a member of the exclusive Amortals Project, returns as a clone that contains the last copy of his stored memories. Unfortunately, Dooley was a little lax with the backups and his memory is 4 moths out of date. Thus, he has to retrace his steps to find out what he was working on when he met his demise. Meanwhile, Dooley’s boss (Patron) saddles him with a new partner (Agent Amanda Querer) and their investigations take them to various dangers including the powerful Indian mob and an anti-Amortal group called the One Resurrectionists. This latter group is particularly not a fan of Dooley’s, who has lived for nearly 200 years old using several clones and is thus the embodiment of everything to which they are morally opposed.
The stage thus set, Amortals reads like a noir-ish mystery with a heavy science fictional vision. Forbeck uses a generous handful of sf-nal ideas to good effect. Most immediately noticeable is the utilization of cool technology like hovercars and, more prevalently, the embedded “nanoserver” computers that connect people to the net. The nanoservers allow for multiple layers of virtual reality overlays that provide different types of information (culture, shopping, trivia, colors, weather, etc.). But those readers so-inclined can dig a little deeper and see an undercurrent of political commentary throughout the book. While not my favorite feature of fiction, the commentary is thankfully quiet enough to come across as thought-provoking rather than preachy as it deals with topics of privacy, civil liberties and caring about what happens to the world around you.
The plot plays into these themes nicely as Dooley’s murder investigation begins to have far-reaching implications. The murder mystery itself is serviceable; one major plot surprise likely won’t be a surprise at all to readers who’ve already read stories about stored memories. The only thing that is surprising about it is how the characters themselves didn’t think of it sooner. But there are quite a few other twists that do surprise, particularly towards the end of the novel when the murder mystery gives way to secret cabals and nefarious goings-on.
Forbeck adds other layers of tasty goodness as well. There’s a look at Dooley’s family history and his current descendants, for example. The world building is also something to appreciate. The implications of cheating death are explored to some degree, though I would have liked to see beyond the casual (yet intriguing) mention of the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots that is the direct result of the elite turning towards the Amortals Project. The area seems like fertile ground for further explorations, something I hope to see in a sequel.