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4.6 out of 5 stars68
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on March 15, 2008
Martinez is back in top form! I had been rather disappointed in "In the Company of Ogres" for its lack of plot although it had plenty of wisecracks, and disappointed a bit in "A Nameless Witch" for being a bit too solemn - but here in "Automatic Detective" we are back to having novel characters, a fast-moving plot, AND all the wisecracks, in a book as original as Martinez' first, "Gil's All-Fright Diner."

Saying that it's original doesn't mean there isn't any history to it. In order to get the most possible fun out of reading this book, you have to read some of the inspirations behind it. Most obviously, Isaac Asimov's "Caves of Steel" and any Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler - but also Asimov's "I, Robot" stories. For the Hammett, seeing the movie will do; for the Asimov, you definitely need to read the books; the movie called "I, Robot" will NOT cut it. One of the things to note in the robot stories is the sexism of the times back then implicit in the characterization of Susan Calvin, the robot engineer - so that you can see just how much fun Lucia Napier really is! Also, besides those, you should read Alfred Bester's story "Fondly Fahrenheit" (it's been anthologized lots, for example here: Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester). All reet!

I can detect other influences here - classic Harry Harrison and Larry Niven, including Gil the ARM, for example - but I don't want this to sound too much like an academic analysis, so I'll leave you to do those comparisons yourself.

As the editorial and other reviews mention plenty about the plot, I won't repeat it all here. Instead, I'll just give you some examples of the things I particularly liked. The sly turns of phrase:
"Moriarty Asylum for the Criminally Inventive was the cold, dark box where they locked away all the great evil geniuses."

The characters: Jung, who is a gorilla full citizen - his favorite reading is Jane Austen - is changing from his cab driver's uniform, complete with bow tie, into clothes to go out to a nightclub, and says to Mack, "Let me get out of this monkey suit."

The critters: a yellow fuzzy hybrid of a dachshund and a pillbug, which rolls into a ball and plays with kids.

There's also a little girl genius, thugs both robot and human, little green men, aliens, a shrink for robots... lots of great characters. The plot gets solved as satisfyingly as any mystery, and there's a great ending in the classic tradition (which also happened to remind me of the ending of Will Shetterly's "Chimera" Chimera - if you like this book, try that one too!)

Family reading alert: safe for teens, even young ones, if they happen to have the vocabulary to have long since made their way through all the available juvenile fiction and are starting to browse the grown-up science fiction area. There's no sex, very little that anyone could characterize as bad language, and while there is the violence one might expect in a hard-boiled detective mystery, it is mostly robot-on-robot violence and not too graphic. I mention this not because I think there's anything wrong with sex, cursing, and violence if they have a legitimate place in the plot, but I know that many parents would like their kids to have limited exposure to those, especially if they already get too much on TV.

In short: great read, fast-paced, funny, and I'd love to see a sequel.
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HALL OF FAMEon July 21, 2008
This fun and offbeat novel is not necessarily unique because of its mix of sci-fi and detective noir, which has been done before. It's unique because of Martinez's unconventional milieu and setting, as this book takes place in a world that could only be described as retro-sci-fi. The story is set in a near-future based on the 1940s or 50s and harkens back to the sci-fi pulps that were actually written in that era, when even the most adventurous authors could have never imagined our modern wired world and instead concocted clunky flying cars and huge fightin' robots. Thus Martinez has grounded the novel in the true era of detective noir and its weirdly outdated future. The story features a super-advanced robot named Mack Megaton who becomes a reluctant detective in order to find some human friends who have been kidnapped in a bizarre conspiracy, while hanging out with pulpy characters like criminal masterminds, streetwise molls, and grizzled cops.

The best parts of the story concern Mack's thoughts on moving from cold robot logic to slippery human sentimentality, and Martinez does a great job with this subtle philosophical theme. Meanwhile, the action is fun and fast-moving, and fits perfectly within the pulpy world that Martinez has created. But the novel is also a bit monochromatic as the retro-sci-fi backdrop can't quite hold together an ambitious conspiracy among aliens, mutants, norms, and robots; and there are a few plot holes here and there that do some damage to the storyline, particularly regarding Mack's run-ins with the cops. But readers who are willing to forgive a few lapses in focus will still find a fun and very unique story with cool characters and a lot of rip-roaring action. [~doomsdayer520~]
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on February 19, 2010
I mean, we all know that every science fiction writer sooner or later does a humorous novel about a wisecracking, hard-boiled robot detective in a city full of mutants whose shape changes unpredictably, but this one is better than any other humorous novel about a wisecracking, hard-boiled robot detective in a city full of mutants that you've read in the last year. Trust me on this. It has a street lights made of glowing industrial waste, AND a gorilla. Go read it.
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on December 6, 2015
Fun first person story of a nearly unstoppable robot who's nearly stopped often enough to add tension to the story. Great mix of film noir detective and over the top scifi with a satisfying set of characters. Flashes of brilliance and a great romp.
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VINE VOICEon June 13, 2011
A. Lee Martinez has got one of the most violently twisted senses of humor I've ever seen. He takes a lot of chances with his writing, and with his fans, because he never seems to write the same book twice. He builds his audience through sheer narrative drive and pacing, and he takes his readers on macabre trips and sidereal reality.

The first book I've read of his was Gil's All Fright Diner, a novel about two aging backwoods friends who happen to be a vampire and a werewolf and who end up saving the world from a zombie apocalypse (among other things). I turned every page in disbelief, but I kept turning pages.

Now he's written The Automatic Detective, and it's a brilliant, fun mash-up of 1950s science fiction and private eye pulp. Max Megaton was originally created to destroy the world, but the mad scientist that created him didn't get to finish the job, so Max was left in limbo.

Since the job of destroying the world wasn't really allowed, Max ends up becoming a cab driver and working with a talking gorilla named Yung. Max is also in therapy sessions to become a for-real citizen of Empire City, also known as Tomorrow's Town.

Martinez's imagination runs rampant through this novel. There are flying cars, weird robots, mutants, and mayhem. In short, he's written a classic science fiction serial complete with all the science fiction tropes, and he's thrown in the private eye tropes for free.

When Max's next door neighbors go missing in an act of violence and the police don't seem overly interested in figuring out what happened to them, Max decides he's gotta be the one who does the finding.

During Max's search, he runs into plenty of bad guys, including a mutant with an uncanny ability to implant subversive subroutines in Max's computer tubes, a four-armed thug, and plenty of robots that aren't quite up to Max's caliber - and a few that could double as wrecking crews.

And then there's the femme fatale: Lucia Napier, who is just divine as a foil for Max. She's got a few new designs in mind for Max, and she's not a girl who's used to getting ignored.

I loved this book. It was fun and reminded me a lot of all the old science fiction novels and movies I grew up with as a kid. I only hope that Martinez brings out a new Max Megaton investigation.
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on January 27, 2014
I enjoy most of Martinez's work because it is different, engaging, and has some great one line commentaries about life. This book had all of that and a
lot of heart and did it all with a tip of the hat to old cheap detective novels with a hard ass detective (now a robot), a beautiful cuttingly smart lady, and a gang of criminals (now aliens) - got to love unique writing of Martinez.
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on June 14, 2013
If you are wanting a "Literature" book, pass this one up. The poobahs that decide what is considered "Literature" would scoff and discount this as being "lacking in depth". Considering at one time I was an English professor I should know what I am talking about. Counter to that, I loved it. Each and every book I have read so far by Mr. Martinez has simply amazed me in their originality and ease of reading- he doesn't get hung up by using a medieval thesaurus like most authors do to try to give their books "substance".
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on March 1, 2012
If Raymond Chandler and William Gibson had one drunken night, nine months later, this book would be born. And if you had to pick two genres to mash, Cyberpunk and Noir are very well suited to the task. Their gears mesh in darkly readable ways.
This is a coming of age story, really, about a tactical combat robot who starts as a self-focused isolated unit just getting by, and then develops a sense of concern not just for individuals as friends but for the city as a whole. The author makes an effort to play our protagonist as a robot, with believably robotic concerns and outlooks, rather than a tough guy in a metal suit, and it has to work because Mack Megaton is The Other. What he is makes the people he's supposed to be learning to care about turn away from him.
Not to say that this book is a study of alienation and the inevitable death spiral of civilization--this book is a lot of fun, and it doesn't forget that. The dialogue is snappy (as it should be), the situations are occasionally ludicrous, and from time to time the story could be defined as 'rolicking'. I laughed. Out loud.
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on September 18, 2014
This was a fun book, although the plot lagged at the end. The premise is that a robot who is becoming self aware is acting as a detective. Amusing and an interesting concept. I could see future books improving. Well worth the fast read.
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on April 26, 2016
Endearing, just really hard to keep going. I can't explain it--so,e books are just hard to return to after you have to pause your reading. But this was very good, even if it took me forever to finish
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