Carl Dremmler is one of the few human police detectives left working in a world where robots have taken the place of most human workers, making jobs obsolete. In addition to robotic workers, a powerful AI network known as The Imagination Machine, or TIM, controls almost every aspect of humanity from driving cars, to printing anything a person could think of on their 3D printer. Dremmler finds his monotonous life turned tumultuous when gets orders to investigate the murder of a man’s girlfriend… which the man claims was done by his augmented mechanical arm. If the man is telling the truth, and his arm committed the crime independently and against the man’s will, then everyone using TIM could be in danger. Dremmler must keep his wits about him if he hopes to outsmart an AI and get to the bottom of the mystery.

Review By Milliebot Reads
ARC PAPERBACK, 212 pages
ISBN: 9781631610752

Thank you to TCK Publishing for sending me this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Auxiliary London 2039 from Jon Richter has me torn. On one hand, I found the plot fairly compelling and the future semi-dystopia setting worked for me. However, the main character was utterly unlikeable, and almost every female character seemed hyper-sexualized for no reason (other than to maybe add to the unlikeability of the main character).

So let’s start with the good. The book is set in a future where robots perform most job functions. The AI program helps meet many basic needs, an immersive alternate reality game exists for people who want to escape, augmented body parts (like mechanical limbs or enhanced eyes) are available and everyone gets a Universal Basic Income to help them live while not working. While this setup is far from perfect, and a class system with many struggles still exists, the book gives us a look at a future where powerful technology is commonly available and humans have more free time than ever.

The book poses a series of “what if” questions. What if jobs were replaced by robots, leaving humans with more free time? What if everyone was equipped with a pair of glasses, giving an AI full-time access to everything you see? What if you could print anything you wanted at home, even food items? What if you could upgrade your body with technology? What if you could immerse yourself in a virtual world, with access to anything you could dream of?

The scenarios that the book plays out tend to lean towards the bleaker answers to these questions, painting a grim and dirty future where the life of the average person is meaningless and full of monotony. This isn’t an idealist future, but I enjoy imagining what life might actually be like with some of these technological advances. For example, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to all self-driving cars, since I’m not a big fan of driving! It also got me thinking about big companies like Google, Apple and Amazon and how they have more access to our daily lives than we realize or think about. I like when sci-fi gets me thinking.

I don’t want to give away any of the plot, but I will say this mystery went in a direction that I wouldn’t have guessed. The ending, specifically, was a big surprise for me– and a welcome one at that.

Now, for the less enjoyable parts: all the characters, most especially Detective Dremmler. Any time a new female character appeared, it felt like Dremmler needed to give her a once-over and rate her attractiveness. For example, three sentences into his description of the first woman he sees, he notes her “ample breasts.” There’s a phrase that if I never hear it again, it’ll be too soon. Every encounter Dremmler has with a woman after that is in the same vein. The murdered woman, sexy; woman at the bar, hot; the chief operations officer of a tech company, powerful (which seems to automatically make her evil, yet boner-inducing) and hot; a friend of the dead girl, hot; even a hologram of a woman is judged by Dremmler, and don’t worry, she’s good looking too.

Surprisingly, there are two female characters Dremmler doesn’t find attractive. One is his boss, Maggie. Dremmler is quick to let readers know about her harsh, smoker’s voice, and that she’s a grizzled old cop, basically. Another is an overweight woman, who Dremmler is disgusted by, because fat removal surgery is cheap, and apparently this woman shouldn’t have chosen to accept her natural body. To add insult to injury, she’s also incredibly flirty with him, because of course she would find him attractive, while he can’t stand the side of her chubby arms. Oh, and lest we forget, Dremmler can be inclusive in his judgment of everyone’s physical appearance. There are nonbinary characters, referred to as neuts (short for neutral, I presume) and Dremmler finds them relatively attractive too. So, it’s good to know he’s not just sizing up the women around him.

The only reason I was rooting for Dremmler was because I wanted him to uncover the mystery so I would then know what happened. I didn’t feel he had any redeeming qualities, and because the story almost exclusively follows his perspective, none of the other characters felt well developed. Even the AI, TIM, was lacking in character for me, despite its many faces and facets we see Dremmler interact with throughout the story.

This might be a story that would fare better as a movie adaptation, though with less judgment on the physical aspects of all the female characters. I think being able to see the action and the tech, and perhaps adding a shred of likability to Dremmler, would make decent cinema.

I would have preferred stronger characters, but for the length, the plot kept me engaged and I wasn’t tempted to abandon ship. So if somewhat gritty, futuristic crime dramas are your thing, this book may be one you’d like to check out.

FYI: the publisher’s site has Auxiliary London 2039 under their Young Adult and Middle-Grade section, but personally, I wouldn’t class this as YA. Dremmler is likely in his early-to-mid-40s and, as I mentioned above, sexualizes every female he comes across. Not that YA books can’t have an adult protagonist, but that doesn’t really seem to be in line with the genre. There’s also a scene near the end where there’s an animal robot hybrid who’s naked and very apparently outfitted with male anatomy. Again, not that YA can’t have sexual content either, but really, no one needed that visual or the implied threat in that scene.

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This review was originally published 9/18/20