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Chimera Hardcover – July 7, 2000
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Private investigator Chase Maxwell is about to lose the rent in a poker game when a beautiful, mysterious woman walks into his life. He learns too late that his new employer, Zoe Domingo, is a chimera, a "critter," a genetic-engineered mix of human and animal genes. Chimeras have no rights--they are animals, property--and Zoe has no protection now that her human mentor has been murdered. Maxwell must help Zoe find the murderer, a relentless and powerful enemy, before they, too, are killed.
The mean streets of Raymond Chandler's L.A. stretch into a dark and dangerous future in Will Shetterly's transgenre novel, the SF mystery Chimera. The concept of intelligent animal-human hybrids is as old as H.G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau, but Shetterly bravely makes explicit the parallels between his chimeras and the pre-Civil War status of African-Americans, and he is rarely heavy-handed. A thought-provoking, hard-boiled page-turner, Chimera should please both science fiction and detective fiction fans. --Cynthia Ward
From Publishers Weekly
The protagonist of Shetterly's competent and fast-paced new SF thriller (after Dogland)DL.A.-based private detective Chase "Max" MaxwellDhas the usual helpings of streetwise attitude and noir sensitivity; he's a classic down-and-out, low-on-cash, cranky PI who's a sucker for a sexy client. But as a citizen of Shetterly's hazily imagined future, he's also got a pocket inside his wrist where he keeps his gun. Desperate for money, Maxwell has accepted a case from an exotic, genetically engineered chimera named Zoe DomingoDwho's half jaguar and half human. In Maxwell's world, chimeras are regarded as slaves and animals, and Zoe's in a heap of trouble. She's wanted by the police for the murder of her adoptive mother, artificial intelligence expert Dr. Janna Gold. Things turn from the standard bad to the standard worse: Maxwell's erstwhile love interest, a cop assigned to the murder investigation, turns out to be a robot assassin who proceeds to kill Max's first lead in the caseDa non-human-rights lawyer named Amos Tauber. Meanwhile, the cops (and plenty of other bad guys) are looking for a powerful, earring-shaped device that Gold gave Zoe before she died. After a few shootouts, a car chase or two and a change in Maxwell's outlook, the PI finds himself following clues back to Oberon Chain, head of the pro-chimera-rights Chain FoundationDwhose charitable activities mask his true intentionsDand to Zoe, with whom he's fallen in love. Plenty of action, engaging characters and multilayered intrigue keep this story humming, but Shetterly's engrossing imaginary world never quite comes to life in the manner of, say, Jonathan Lethem's similar SF-noir classic, Gun, with Occasional Music. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
"Chimera" is a lively, fun, fast-paced story with ethical resonance. Some reviewers objected to the lack of depth in discussing the moral problems; I disagree. The author allows us to make our own decisions regarding what "rights" non-human entities should have. To make it more interesting, critters and A1s can reproduce among themselves and with humans.
The story takes place in LA, a ferment of sharply divided neighborhoods well described and plausible. Radical critters who hate all humans call them "skins." A human who consorts with a critter is a "furry." Critters that go inexplicably crazy are "wilding." The characters are sharply etched and most are likeable, some with remarkable (to us) attributes. Max has an Infinite Pocket attached to his wrist. You can't see it; it is about the size of a small backpack and holds his 9mm SIG Recoilless that has an infinite clip (he never needs to reload.) Zoe is amazingly fast, balanced and has a purring sort of voice. (She also has a furry ears that the author finds endearing.)
"Chimera" is good-natured, and I rooted for Max and Zoe shamelessly. The book is clever and highly readable. Treat yourself to something a little different and read "Chimera."
The narrator is Chase Maxwell, a former UN security man, who left that job after an assignment went bad. He retains one useful (and really neat!) piece of tech: an Infinite Pocket, an area of warped space attached to his arm, in which he can apparently store things of nearly arbitrary size. Including his gun, which has a similar bit of tech: a sort of "Infinite Magazine". He's down on his luck (naturally!) when a jaguar-human hybrid named Zoe Domingo asks him to track down her "mother"'s murderer. Janna Gold, the human Zoe calls her mother (she bought her out of slavery), has just been killed, apparently by berserk "copbots". But the police department is much more likely to finger Zoe for the murder, given the prejudice against "critters". Moreover, Zoe has a mysterious earring Janna gave her, which seems to be a piece of special tech that lots of highly placed people really want.
Max is reluctant to take the case: he doesn't work for critters. But he's in a bit of a bind, so he agrees to help. What follows is a nearly nonstop chase, as Max and Zoe encounter first the police, then a series of people who seem to be peripherally involved: Krista Blake, a police expert who takes a sudden shine to Max; Amos Tauber, an advocate for full rights for both "critters" and Artificial Intelligences; and Oberon Chain, the head of a high-tech company who is also an AI rights crusader. When some of these people begin to get murdered as well, the frame is in, and Max and Zoe are the designated suspects. At the same time, Max is realizing that his feelings for Zoe may be a lot deeper than it is prudent for a human to have with respect to a critter.
From there we encounter a number of different aspects of this future, such as the indentured service camps that have replaced jails; and the "critter" side of town, complete with riots and reverse prejudice against "skins" (ordinary humans); plus scenes of critters "werewolfing": suddenly going berserk and killing everybody in sight; as well as a very well put argument about the ethics of downloading human brains into computers, and vice versa, and plenty more. As I said, the plot is fast moving, and I was always interested, but at times things happen a bit conveniently for the heroes.
Chimera raises some questions that I didn't feel were fully answered. Chief among these is "Why were the "critters" created?" I honestly don't believe that, starting from the present day, the essentially purposeful creation of a new underclass, of that particular nature, is very likely. I also thought his future US a bit unlikely, politically. But both of these reservations are really quibbles, and he does portray his future society quite interestingly. But always at the back of our mind is a desire to more fully engage the submerged issues: equal rights for "critters", and equal rights for AIs. Those questions are raised, but mostly brushed aside, in the interests of maintaining narrative pace. Certainly a longtime SF reader cannot help thinking of Cordwainer Smith's classic "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell", about a "catwoman" who gives all in the pursuit of rights for the "underpeople". But though such issues are present here, they simply don't resonate the way they did in Smith's great story. Nonetheless, though I may (perhaps unfairly) regard Chimera as a missed opportunity to be something really special, it's still a fun read, with its heart in the right place.
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