Somehow, I ended up on a mailing list for ARCs. And I’m incredibly grateful for that, but it also makes me feel incredibly guilty. I mentioned just a few days ago that I didn’t read as much as I usually do in 2012 – only 23 books when I’ve been known to do a book a week in the past – and the accumulation of more books on my nightstand doesn’t help me read faster.
A good chunk of the ARCs I receive are boilerplate paranormal romances that all want to be the new ‘Twilight meets The Dresden Files’. I haven’t finished most of them. On the other hand, two of my favorite reads from last year – The Man from Primrose Lane and Further: Beyond the Treshold – were ARCs. So it’s often a roll of the dice. I don’t – and won’t – name the bad ones unless I can find some constructive or didactic reason to do so. I struggle a lot with the impulse to just tear things down because, like the mounting, they’re there. It’s fun and easy and there’s a bit of self-satisfaction in it, but it’s toxic and even from someone with no appreciable clout or following, a lazy review full of snark is going to sting. That’s not who I want to be. So I read what I can, and I write about what I like.
I received a manila envelope in the mail with a sticker exclaiming that the book inside was “based on the film Blade Runner.” I rolled my eyes. In fact, my eyes rolled so hard that I’d swear you could accurately say that I rolled my eyes loudly. The novel was a sci-fi noir story about a replicant (oh god, they’re just calling the androids replicants, too – the sticker wasn’t kidding around) who is also a burnt-out detective. The press kit included a brief excerpt of the book in which the main character reflects on having watched Blade Runner once. The title of the book is a Blade Runner reference, for crying out loud.
I considered not even opening Rosa Montero’s Tears In Rain at that point. I did, though, and I don’t regret it.
Montero uses a dystopian future populated with android ‘replicants’ (an epithet borne directly from their similarities to the androids in Blade Runner), breathable air as a commodity, refugee aliens and fringe groups that have vacated Earth to live on segregated planetoids in high orbit to paint a sad, fragile picture of a modern day Spain wracked with pain from austerity measures, high unemployment and a dangerous undercurrent of anger. The book straddles the present and the future in a way that’s immediately reminiscent of George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen and only a few decades away from the ruined megalopolis inhabited by Jeff Somers’ Avery Cates.
Tears is also a character study of the kind of broken, grizzled badass that rarely invites closer study. Bruna Husky is the stereotypical down-on-her-luck private investigator who hates people, loves alcohol and has a Miller’s Crossing-esque penchant for taking unnecessary beatings. She’s also an android with a head full of false memories and a death sentence looming a few short years away. But Bruna the most fully drawn character in the book, an interesting contrast to the anti-replicant hate that is central to the book’s world-building and its mystery plot.
The novel gets major bonus points for crafting an evil scheme that is so closely connected to the internal narrative of the book and the questions it raises: just as Bruna copes with her childhood memories being programmed in order to give her the adult personality her designated career (military service) demands, the villain’s end goal is accomplished via social engineering. The endgame reinforces the ‘nature versus nurture’ and ‘what does it really mean to be human’ Big Questions that run through the novel’s bloodstream.
Montero’s prose, as translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites, flows well and is evocative and, though there are some few dissonant passages that can likely be chalked up to translation from Spanish (and it’s been so long since I’ve been properly fluent in Spanish that I couldn’t do a good comparison of the texts, so this is just me speculating). By turns bleak and vibrant, harsh and tender, Tears in Rain is a wholly worthwhile examination of life under austerity through a post-Cyberpunk lens.