31 July 2013

Tears in Rain, by Rosa Montero

I think it was the last summer when I bought Ciudad sin estrellas (Starless city or City without stars, both translations seem correct to me), which I'll review in some future post, along with the book I'm dealing here, Lágrimas en la lluvia (Tears in rain, here there's no doubt). Both are novels written by spanish female authors, both science fiction themed. Both unusual in the spanish literary market, so cramped with realistic fiction, historical fantasies and young adult novels. It seems obvious that they successfully tempted a genre reader like me. Was Tears worth of it? You're a click away from figuring that out. Beware! I'll neither spoil the ending nor the argument but, unavoidably, I'll have to mention something from the story directly. And another warning, this review is about the spanish version of the text, not the english translation.

Since several months have passed from when I read it for the first time, I decided to give this book another pass to be fair when analyzing it. Nevertheless, the final impression that has remained in my mind after ending this novel again its the same than the first occasion and I'll sum it up in one word. Spoiled. Main character spoiled, worldbuilding spoiled, spoiled circumstances. This doesn't mean that the result is awful, I wouldn't had read it a second time if it was that way, but it's surely far from what it could had been.

I bought a pocket edition of Tears, therefore you already know what does this mean. The paper and soft-cover's quality is just fair, the font sufficient. All in all, no frills and flounces although this work doesn't need them. The cover truly intrigued me, I didn't understood at first why there was a polar bear there. Needless to say that it made sense when I read the story, althought it's not something decisive for the novel's resolution. So this booket's edition can be qualified as correct, no more.

The cover for the english version is much more obvious and understandable than the one for the spanish.

"United States of Earth, Madrid, 2109. Grows the number of death replicants who go crazy suddenly. Detective Bruna Husky is hired to discover what's behind this wave of collective madness in an increasingly more unstable social environment. Meanwhile, an anonymous hand alters the Earth central documentation archives to modify humankind's history.

Aggressive, alone and misfit, detective Bruna Husky finds herself inmersed in a global scale plot while facing the constant suspicion of treason from the ones who declare themselves her allies with the sole company of a bunch of marginal beings capable of keeping their reason and kindness in the midst of the chase's vertigo."

There you go, that's my translation of the blurb for the spanish version of Tears in rain. You can compare it with the one offered in the english edition if you visit any of two particular links at the bottom of this article. One points to the Amazon's ebook and the other to the Barnes&Nobles' page for the paperback edition.

Already in the summary you can find a trace pointing to the influence that Lágrimas en la lluvia has received from Blade Runner. Nevertheless, this is not a book which deepens in that dark and rainy world shown in the movie; the author has been inspired by that work just to create her futuristic Earth with its own problems. And she has truly thought about it, maybe more than the plot itself.

Before delving into the troubles of this narration, I'll tell you first that this novel is, largely, some sort of detective thriller, far from the noir style displayed at Blade Runner. The main character, Bruna Husky, must solve a rash of assassinations in which there are replicants involved (also called reps, technohumanss or technos in the novel). Everything happens in a Madrid city full of light and modern, in sharp contrast with that decadent, nocturnal and wet Los Angeles where Deckhard was forced to do his job again. Yes, there are marginal suburbs but are located in concrete zones. Other curiosities are that to live in areas with clean air has to be paid (in gaias or ges, the global currency) and there are not spinners (the flying vehicles which appear in Blade Runner) roaming through the sky. The writer has even devised the history of Earth across the XXI century, with their wars and humanity's first contacts with aliens. She even gives the invention of the teletransport (with serious problems for living beings) to our species. Therefore, anyone could say that things don't look bleak in the year 2109. In truth, that future is full of troubles, because it couldn't be in any other way. And are the kind of problems that handicap the narration.

I'll begin with the protagonist. Bruna Husky, female android built for combat. After her two years of mandatory service as soldier, she has turned into a detective. Regretfully, she seems to be quite incompetent for the job. She doesn't know how to interrogate, she loses her weapon twice and she's saved from tricky situations about four times I think, and let's not talk about following clues. She lacks finesse, cold blood, instinct or knacks of investigator. Her worry about her age (understandable, because Rosa Montero's reps only live ten years) and doubts about her identity distracts her from the case. Instead of finding evidences, they are thrown away at her by characters with their own agenda or she just trips over them. I'm aware that it's hard to notice how a criminal plot works when it's well devised by your rival (even more if you don't know who is), but the gift of a novel detective lies in its ability to unveil the plan in time and be able to do something about it. Not with Husky, and her potential is completely watered down with alcohol and her fight with depression.

Worse, thinking over this work I have realized that the "bad guy" is really the most interesting thing of it. Barely we know anything about this character until the end but makes a real mess with a taste of espionage and cold war. In fact, that's the state of affairs in that age, a second cold war between two powerful space colonies which orbit Earth. But this is another detail that connects with what I'll comment next.

The other big trouble of this novel is the background which Rosa Montero has built to set it. You realize that she has thought it and I recognize her effort. She has invented and fairly used curious terms like mema (short form for Artificial MEMory), tepear (comes from the acronym for teleportation, TP) or ges (from gaia, the world's currency by then); created alien species and imagined the next hundred years of our race quite in depth. Everything well tied together, makes sense and all but... It's a hell of a job to be used so little. With the excuse of a subplot, where a secondary character discovers that someone is tampering concrete historical registers in the world's central archives, the author gives us a real dump of information which she doesn't use in the main story. Right, she gets to use some of it, but not enought to justify the intermittent insertion of chapters with dates, names and events that readers won't keep in their minds all of sudden. And I wont't deepen either in the risks of digressing the readers too much from the core narration.

Another aspect of Tears in rain which is more interesting than the case itself, is the vision given by Rosa Montero of that futuristic world and its troubles. In other words, the big issues she covers with the excuse of making us visiting the year 2109. I can reduce them to four: racism, marginality, corruption and identity. Racism is mainly expressed with the bigotry, violence even, that some humans show against technos. That concept is directly related with marginality. The decay described about some zones of that 2109's Madrid and their inhabitants makes it obvious. Corruption is seen in the political intrigues or in the abuse of power and influences which certain governmental agent exhibits. All of them remind us our own present. Finally the most important idea, maybe, is the one about identity and it deserves a separate paragraph.

Montero's replicants, when being "born", are implanted with a memory capsule which simulates their childhood and their transition into adult life. That way they are emotionally more stable. Although, that technology has progressed so much that allows the shot of alternate memories into their brains. That is, a technohuman can inject other memory capsules (through a process that reminded to a certain scene in Total Recall) and completely change their remembrances, even their personality. That way they can live other lifes and turn crazy in the process. That brings up doubts in Bruna Husky about her identity, about what's what defines her truly since her past is just a digital creation. Even more interesting is the allusion to the possibility of the insertion of those capsules into humans, but it's a path the writer doesn't explore at all. And you'll wonder, how is it possible that humans could use those capsules designed for robots? The trick is that technohumans are, in fact, clones with genetic improvements and an expiration date (like in Blade Runner). They need to go to the doctor the same as humans, eat, sleep and else. In essence, they are the extreme result of the industrialization of the slavery business.

My conclusion for this part is a bit complex. The plot works better as science fiction narrative than as a detective story. In fact, the author could have deepened more into that futuristic society showing us the adventure lived by the criminal to carry out its plan. Husky, in comparison, is a mere wimp who barely gets to display her combat abilities and stumbling takes us to a weak ending.

Starting with the title, extracted from the dying words of Roy Batty, it's clear where the first Rosa Montero's inspirations came from. Nevertheless, they remain in the book just as inspirations. Yes, there are replicants with an expiring date, colonies in space and acute ecological problems, but this is not a sequel of Blade Runner. What's more, the film is mentioned (a couple of times and in a bit forced manner) simply as a fiction work in the world of Lágrimas en la lluvia. By the way, instead of bathing Madrid under an everlasting acid rain, the writer chooses to hit it with a polar wave that hardly lasts a few days. It's funny to give to a novel a title which mentions the rain and set the story in a city where, in reality, it seldom falls. With all that, little or nothing is left from the noir spirit that made the movie so special.

But there are other allusions worth mentioning. I've already pointed out the possible link with Total Recall, which can be widen to that memory rewriter technology, which could be even capable of easily reprogramming people. Also I read something that reminded me to Soylent Green, but I didn't wrote down what exactly. And there's a supporting character, Paul Lizard, that I felt like a mix of parody and tribute to the detectives of the most classic noir narrations (I've read little of that genre, so I'm venturing much about it). Something unavoidable when he's described as a big guy, strong and always dressed with a suit and a hat, untimely look for the period he lives in.

Lágrimas en la lluvia has good foundations but not a good development. The narration doesn't grow well and reachs it's end flabby. It's not an appalling reading, but I cannot recommend it either. If Rosa Montero explores again this vast world she has created (she should, it has potential), she'll do better in paying more attention to the main story and giving it a more decisive main character. And please, no more infodumps. They are even or more dangerous than flashbacks.

Title: Lágrimas en la lluvia
Author: Rosa Montero
Publisher: Seix-Barral (Planeta group)
First edition: Marzo de 2011
First edition in booket: Marzo de 2012
Reviewed edition: booket
Pages: 480
ISBN: 978-84-322-9698-7
ISBN (booket): 978-84-322-0169-1


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