Review: Auxiliary: London 2039 by Jon Richter

Rating: 9.0/10

Synopsis

The silicon revolution left Dremmler behind, but a good detective is never obsolete.

London is quiet in 2039—thanks to the machines. People stay indoors, communicating through high-tech glasses and gorging on simulated reality while 3D printers and scuttling robots cater to their every whim. Mammoth corporations wage war for dominance in a world where human augmentation blurs the line between flesh and steel.

And at the center of it all lurks The Imagination Machine: the hyper-advanced, omnipresent AI that drives our cars, flies our planes, cooks our food, and plans our lives. Servile, patient, tireless … TIM has everything humanity requires. Everything except a soul.

Through this silicon jungle prowls Carl Dremmler, police detective—one of the few professions better suited to meat than machine. His latest case: a grisly murder seemingly perpetrated by the victim’s boyfriend. Dremmler’s boss wants a quick end to the case, but the tech-wary detective can’t help but believe the accused’s bizarre story: that his robotic arm committed the heinous crime, not him. An advanced prosthetic, controlled by a chip in his skull.

A chip controlled by TIM.

Dremmler smells blood: the seeds of a conspiracy that could burn London to ash unless he exposes the truth. His investigation pits him against desperate criminals, scheming businesswomen, deadly automatons—and the nightmares of his own past. And when Dremmler finds himself questioning even TIM’s inscrutable motives, he’s forced to stare into the blank soul of the machine.

Auxiliary is gripping, unpredictable, and bleakly atmospheric—ideal for fans of cyberpunk classics like the Blade Runner movies, Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and the Netflix original series Black Mirror.

Review

Auxiliary: London 2039 is a compelling story that uses a murder mystery plot to express the best and worst of the human race as it relates to the development of AI. Author Jon Lichter has written a book that, while short in page count, certainly packs a punch. This book pulls no punches in its examination of humans’ relationship with robots, and I enjoyed reading about it.

I have always thought that writing near-future science fiction is one of the hardest genres to write. Far-future fiction can look 1,000, or 2,000, or 5,000 years in the future and that date can be somewhat ambiguous as the author completely changes the world we know; oftentimes, we have colonized other planets and created new societies from scratch. But, if you are writing a book that is 50 years or less in the future you have a little more of a responsibility to shoot for accuracy. 50 years from now we are (probably) not living on the moon and growing space gardens and worrying about the difference in gravitation pull on our life systems. Some of our current ways are still going to be in place, putting the author in a tough position: show progress that is realistic for the timeframe while at the same time making sure the readers knows there are still some aspects of society where current systems are in place. That is a hard job.

Richter does a decent job of this, for the most part. In this future the author has imagined, AI plays a much bigger role in our lives. There are 3D printers that humans can use to make anything they want (watch out for hackers, though). One big AI system (“The Imagination Machine”, AKA – “TIM”) controls all of our processes, from cooking to driving to watching videos – all accomplished with a chip implanted in our skulls. The feeling of losing control and the big-brother nature of the whole thing creates an almost-scary future where it almost feels like freedom of choice is gone. And it takes an even deeper dive when it appears as though this “unhackable” AI is malfunctioning and committing crimes, printing things we did not request, and making decisions it should not be able to make.

Is something wrong with the software or has it been hacked? This question dominates the narrative from beginning to end. The fact that the author used a murder mystery as the backdrop was, in my opinion, a really good choice. A homicide investigation allows the characters to explore every aspect of society, the ins and outs of government, and take a close look at big business. Auxiliary: London 2039 accomplishes all of that, and more, with the AI issue permeating the story every step of the way. There are so many tension-creating aspects here that by the end I was just dying for relief. And, while the end was surprising, it was satisfying in a very unexpected way.

I am not really going to get into the cast of characters, because while I do think they were well-written, they are not the focal point of the story, at all. The people are utilitarian, their purpose really just pawns to the overshadowing story arc of the progress of artificial intelligence and its overall effect on society. Now that I think about it, that is quite fitting since that is the point of the story. Kudos to the author on that.

The only drawback for me was that I kept thinking 2039 is only 19 years away. How probably is it that this is our world in 2039? My conclusion is every time is probably not. While no one knows what the future looks like, I cannot imagine AI penetrating our lives to this level so soon. That goes back to my initial thought about the difficulty of writing near-future science fiction. I think Richter does a great job of showing what the future can look like, while mixing in current aspects of society. One small example of this is that while most doors can sense you coming and open automatically by reading the chip in your head if you are allowed access, the detective does visit a building that still uses a key system – noting that there are pockets of society that hang on to old processes. There are many small examples like this in the book, and I think those little examples keep a story like this honest. But, honestly? I would have set this story 100 years in the future. That would have been a more realistic timeframe, in my opinion.

Overall, I really like this book. With Auxiliary: London 2039, author Jon Richter leads readers on a somewhat frightening journey into what our future could look like and really takes an introspective look at how our decisions effect society as a whole. All told over the backdrop of a murder mystery. I highly recommend this book for fans of science fiction, and for those who like stories that involve artificial intelligence.

16 thoughts on “Review: Auxiliary: London 2039 by Jon Richter

  1. The problem I have with narratives that have the population all chipped is, it ain’t going to happen without (a) a war (b) a devious world-controlling government or similar, because, in the here and now, we can’t get people to take life-saving drugs, let alone give it to their kids, and wear a mask for safety? So chips? Never. Going. To. Happen! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You make a good point about masks. I don’t know if I would say “never” on chips, but I agree it is definitely going to take some kind of large-scale catalyst. I know I won’t be chipped! Fight ‘till the end! 😤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Somewhere in the far flung future, I can see it might be a thing, rice grain implants for ID where a thing for a nanosecond. But never took off. So I see this as SF for a long time to come. We’re more likely to have criminal barcodes on th eback of our necks first! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review mate.Yeah I agree the only major thing wrong with this story is the nearness in time to us that it takes place in,I enjoyed it as much as you.The book has some good points to make about people’s desire to escape reality

    Liked by 1 person

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