I’m always game to try an indie sci-fi book. Independently published books are always a bit of a gamble; sometimes they’re great; other times they’re not so great. But often you can find a great diamond in the rough by reading an independently published sci-fi novel. So, when the publishers of Auxiliary: London 2039 reached out to me and asked if I would like to review the book, I thought it was worth a read. It sounded reminiscent of Blade Runner and Altered Carbon, two stories I’ve enjoyed to a reasonable extent, so I thought it was worth a shot. And, having read the book, it’s not a bad read but it’s not a great read either. It’s perfectly fine, with a suitable mystery, well-written prose, and solid pacing, but it’s also not particularly original, and it feels like something you’ve read before. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: A copy of the novel was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair review. All thoughts are my own. Additionally, there may be spoilers ahead.)
Auxiliary: London 2039 by Jon Richter
In a time where AI drives every car, cooks every meal, and plans every second of human life in London, a police detective named Carl Dremmler catches a murder suspect red-handed. The investigation seems open and shut, but the tech-wary detective can’t help but believe the accused’s bizarre story: that his robotic arm committed the grisly crime, not him. As Dremmler pursues the truth, he must question everyone he thinks he knows and face down every terror 2039 has to offer.
It’s not that Auxiliary is bad, far from it. It’s an intriguing mystery that is well-executed and frequently enjoyable. It’s filled with multi-dimensional characters, fascinating ideas, and great action scenes. So, what’s the problem, then? The problem is that much of the novel feels very familiar – so familiar that is often distracting. Now, to be fair, a story being familiar isn’t inherently a bad thing. Lots of sci-fi builds off of the ideas of other stories. The problem for me was that there just weren’t enough new elements in the story. Instead, it just felt like a remix of old ideas and new technology.
For starters, Dremmler, our protagonist, is every detective from any pulp novel you’ve ever read. He’s troubled, he’s an alcoholic, he often plays by his own rules, he’s frequently misogynistic, and he even has a tragic backstory. He’s Blade Runner‘s Deckard meets any film noir detective. In fairness, this all seems intentional – the whole novel is a riff on film noir detective stories and even briefly starkly comments on Dremmler’s flaws. The problem is that that’s all it does with the trope. One throwaway gag doesn’t get you off the hook for using such a trope. It felt like there was plenty of room for the novel to try to subvert Dremmler’s characterization, but every time it comes close to doing so, it fails to commit. Now, again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a character like Dremmler. I just have no interest in journeying with such a character in a story that doesn’t seriously examine their flaws in any meaningful way.
The same problems plagued many of the novel’s other elements. They’re all familiar ideas presented in a new context but without any further changes. The newest element of the story is probably the specific technology used – an Alexa-esque AI called TIM, who has access to, and control of, almost every facet of society – but even that just feels like a slight update of the way Androids have been used in earlier cyberpunk stories. The novel tries to put some twists on its ideas through its central mystery – who is behind this seeming malfunction of a TIM-controlled limb, and why – but it never manages to be particularly surprising. There are satisfying twists and turns, but almost all of them are predictable before they happen – even the book’s climax, which tries to shock you at times but merely ends up confirming suspicions you’ve had the whole time. Now, I wouldn’t mind this much on its own, but couple it with the other examples of the novel feeling like an old room with a new coat of paint, and it starts to feel like a pattern.
However, despite all this, Auxiliary still manages to be a lot of fun. Some of that is down to the fact that even a predictable mystery can still be a fun one but much of it is due to how good Richter’s prose is. It’s a fast-paced novel, and Richter never spends more than more time than he needs to on a scene. He litters the novel with action scenes, constantly propelling the narrative forward. He expertly builds tension in a way that makes you worry for the characters even though you have a good idea of how things will turn out. The book moves so fast there’s never a chance for you to get bored. And even if many of the elements feel very familiar, they’re still competently repackaged in a manner that’s fun to read and enjoyable to experience.
So, at the end of the day, Auxiliary: London 2039 is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s a familiar take on familiar ideas but doesn’t bring much new to the table. However, it’s still presented in an easy-to-read, fast-paced, and enjoyable manner. The characters feel developed, if archetypal, and the mystery is well-executed. It makes for a fun read if you’re looking for this kind of thing. It’s enjoyable enough, and if you want something in the same vein as Blade Runner, it’s well worth checking out.
3.5 out of 5 wands.