SF Cops

Here’s a sample of the books I’m taking a look at so that I’ll hopefully be able to contribute to the Archon panel on space cops.

Arora Rising by Alistair Reynolds

Thalia Ng felt her weight increasing as the elevator sped down the spoke from the habitat’s docking hub. She allowed herself to drift to the floor, trying to judge the point at which the apparent force reached one standard gee. Thalia hoped this was not one of those habitats that insisted on puritanically high gravity, as if it was somehow morally improving to stagger around under two gees. Her belt, with her whiphound and polling-core-analysis tools, already weighed heavily on her hips.

I gather from chapter one of this book that a whiphound is a terrifying weapon prefects use when imposing draconian sentences on habitats without any warning.

The prefects are presented as the good guys. This is not, as far as I can tell, being presented as a dystopia. After reading the first couple of chapters, my reaction is: Sorry, but saying, “We’re totally defending democracy via draconian penalties inflicted on large numbers of innocent people without any warning” does not make your actions seem right to me.

The whiphounds do, however, fall into the category of “cool equipment.” They seem to be weapons with enough of an AI component to act more or less independently. If someone attacks a prefect, they cut pieces off that person to neutralize the threat.

Personally, I don’t find this at all realistic. It seems to me that someone could grab a relatively low-tech gun and shoot a prefect before a whiphound could be deployed. The weapon apparently has to be told what to do before becoming active, and while it may be able to strike across twelve feet or so, you know what can strike across a much greater distance than that? A gun.

Phobos by Ty Drago

There’s a long prologue, which I’m skipping for now. Just looking at the level of tech, I’m seeing containment suits and pulse rifles — very ordinary sorts of things. Then the first chapter opens this way:

“That’s an officer’s tail, ain’t it?”

Lieutenant Michael Brogue, dressed in camouflage fatigues the color of a Terran desert, stood in the center of a wide cavern, surrounded by old-style arc lamps, fifty or more unmarked crates, a dozen terrified hostages, six desperate Freedomists, and an antique holdheld chemically propelled projectile weapon pointed directly at the bridge of his nose.

The man addressing him appeared to be about twenty-five years old, a native Martian. He was dressed in a sleeveless blue tunic and loose-fitting bright red trousers, the cuffs of which had been sloppily shoved into a pair of heavy workman’s boots — probably in an attempt to appear “military.” He was currently being called a “terrorist” by the Martian media and a “freedom fighter” by his small circle of compatriots.

An officer’s tail?

Do you generally think about the guy’s outfit in detail when he’s pointing a gun at your face? Well, fine, moving on.

Great North Road by Peter Hamilton

Oh, this one opens with a different kind of prologue — a timeline from 2003 to 2121. I actually like that a lot better than most ordinary prologues. The story itself opens in 2143.

As midnight approached, the wild neon colors of the borealis storm came shimmering through the soft snow falling gently across Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. It was as if nature were partying along with the rest of the city, providing a jade-and-carmine light show far more elegant than any of the fireworks that had been bursting sporadically above the rooftops since Friday.

Detective Third Grade Sidney Hurst watched batches of light-night revelers staggering along the frozen pavement, calling out greetings or challenges depending on how toxed up they were. Ice, snow, and slush played havoc with the smartdust embedded in the tarmac, blacking out whole sections of the metamesh that governed the city’s roads and therefore making driving with the vehicles smartauto a dangerous gamble.

A far more appealing opening than the one above, and not only that, but tons of equipment. Not cop-specific equipment, but a lot more interesting than pulse rifles. Let me see. Looks like the there’s “bodymesh” with “smartcells” that appear to be like a cooler, more advanced version of a smartphone. Connection and identification and who knows what else. I’m moving this up the list to actually read it before Archon.

Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge

On the day of the big rescue, Wil Brierson took a walk on the beach. Surely this was one afternoon when it would be totally empty. The sky was clear, but the usual sea mist kept visibility to a few kilometers. The beach, the low dunes, the sea — all were closed in by faint haze that seemed centered on his viewpoint. Wil moped along just beyond the waves, where the water soaked the sand flat and cool. His ninety-kilo tread left perfect barefoot images trailing behind. Wil ignored the sea birds that skirled about. …

It goes on like that. I’m not too interested. “Moped” is not a word that draws me toward this protagonist. I don’t mind establishing the setting, but the first glimpses of this guy’s attitude turn me off. I’m bored by him and his mopey attitude and the way he ignores the birds. Having said that, I respect Vernor Vinge a lot as a writer and would go on with this purely on that basis.

Skimming ahead, I see that a remote-controlled flier turns up a few pages on. That’s the first sign of SF-esque technology. Oh, and here’s an alien. Vinge’s Tines were one of my favorite-ever alien species.

The Caves of Steel by Asimov

Lije Baley had just reached his desk when he became aware of R Sammy watching him expectantly.

The dour lines of his long face hardened. “What do you want?”

“The boss wants you, Lije. Right away. Soon as you come in.”

“All right.”

R Sammy stood there blankly.

Baley said, “I said, all right. Go away!”

R Sammy turned on his heel and left to go about his duties. Baley wondered irritably why those same duties couldn’t be done by a man.

R Sammy is a robot, of course. I have never much liked Asimov’s books. I’ll take a look at this, but I don’t offhand expect to really like this one either. That may not be fair. Apparently the protagonist gets to know the robot and his opinion changes and so this is really sociological SF, which often appeals to me.

Majestrum by Matthew Hughes

“I have decided to consider it all just a terrible mistake,” I told my integrator. “and the best thing to do is to simply ignore it and get on with my life.”

The integrator looked at me with large and lambent eyes. It had been eating its way through yet another bowl of expensive fruit and did not pause in its chewing as it said, “That may be difficult to do.”

Its voice came, as always, from some indefinite point in the air. It occurred to me, and not for the first time, to wonder how it contrived to still speak in that manner. A few days before I could have drawn a schematic to show exactly how its collection of interconnected components worked. I had, after all, assembled and disposed them in various locations about my workroom, so that I would have a research and communications assistant equipped with all the appropriate skills and systems that a freelance discriminator required….

I like this a lot better than the previous one. They both open with dialogue, but this one is a lot more lively and interesting and fun. A LOT more.

I’m moving this one and Great North Road to the top of the pile for actually reading the sample. Then Vinge. Then we’ll see. But Phobos is at the bottom of the pile at the moment.

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6 thoughts on “SF Cops”

  1. Maria Snyder has a 2 book series that involves a big Security team, if not officially cops.
    Navigating the Stars is the first book. It involves space archaeology and space time and hacking and trying to figure out who the bad guys are. Maybe the security team feels more military than police? YA and action focused, with young love and “my parents don’t understand.” Trying to think of what equipment security had — some sort of gun, lots of cameras and monitoring equipment, exercise/training equipment that seemed kind of cool, computers that didn’t seem that different than now, and special navigation stuff for dealing with long distance space travel.

    And Gail Carriger has a book called The Fifth Gender, which involves a murder investigation (and a romance and an exploration of alien concepts of gender). It’s a much lighter, fluffier feel, even though parts of it are sad. I don’t remember anything used in the investigation.

  2. Regarding the Lije Bailey series by Asimov, Bailey indeed starts off biased but comes to like and depend on his partner R Daneel Olivaw througout the series. I enjoyed it when I read it many years ago although I suspect I might look at it with a jaded eye now, for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure if I would really describe it as a space cops series though, since Bailey was mostly based on Earth. However, Diane Duane and Peter Morwood had a series about, yep, Space Cops which I feel might fit the bill more. I enjoyed the series when I read it many years ago. Will have to do a re-read to see how it’s held up.

  3. Thank you all for your comments regarding SF cops — Allan, those are great observations about the difference between SFF police procedurals and historical or contemporary police procedurals.

  4. Sharon Shinn’s Wrapt in Crystal comes to mind (because I’ve been meaning to reread it since the recent reissue), also Joan D. Vinge’s Snow Queen Cycle where police procedural is mixed in as part of responses to Star Wars and Dune and Foundation _and_ a retelling of the Snow Queen fairy tale and allusions to Greek mythology (that is a series that’s doing a lot!)–particularly the prequel Tangled Up in Blue written some years after the other is a fairly straightforward police procedural in the setting. Oh, looking through my TBR, Katharine Kerr has a couple of space detective books, Polar City Blues (and Polar City Nightmare, which was never published in the US). I’m noticing that the titles listed so far are (as far as I can tell) by white authors, which is probably not unexpected.

    I think that detective fiction and noir had a big influence on space opera, a lot of early influential pulp space opera authors like C.L. Moore and Leigh Brackett also wrote pulp detective fiction (and also Westerns)–you can follow a certain thread of the hero with a checkered past but a personal moral code pitted against powerful people in a corrupt or decadent society that overlaps with the other two genres, sometimes very explictly in SF detective stories (or space westerns!)

  5. Crawlspace, by Eric Flint and David Freer. One of the main characters is a Captain in the Space Marines, breveted to Chief of Police of an asteroid under military law. Given the authors, it is inevitably a comedy.

    Other characters include cybernetic rats, given a vocabulary of the Shakespeare comedies and minor villains; and bats, with Irish revolutionary spirit and a penchant for high explosives.

  6. are there cops in Stars my Destination? I think I remember it being the sort of book they ought to have been in, but it’s been far too long since I read it and all I remember is wierdness.

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