The title of this book, “Tears in Rain” will be instantly recognizable to sci-fi fans as a reference to the Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer) monologue at the end of the movie “Blade Runner.” For those who aren’t familiar, Roy Batty is an android who is about to die as the result of a preset lifespan established in his programming, and he’s reflecting on all those unique experiences that he’s had that will be forever lost with his demise—as tears in rain.
When I picked up this book, I thought it would exist in the “Blade Runner” universe. It does not. However, it exists in a universe that shares several common features with the world of “Blade Runner”, and—in fact—it gives a nod to the film as a prescient historic work of fiction. What Montero’s novel has in common with the Ridley Scott film is a world in which there are both humans and androids that have surpassed the uncanny valley—i.e. they are generally indistinguishable from humans (if they want to be.) Furthermore, these androids (also called replicants) have a short and predictable lifespan--though it’s presented as a mysterious flaw rather than intentional programming. Further, there is a degree of tension between humans and replicants (reps.) The book also shares the movie’s film noir feel. The book’s lead character, Bruna Husky is a private dick--if you will—and a replicatant, and she is investigating a series of murders by replicants gone haywire.
The focal point of the book is something not extensively addressed in “Blade Runner” or that film’s point of origin, the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, and that is the need to build memories into these androids so that they can function like humans. Reps discover at some point that all their childhood memories—good and bad—are fake, and this is a point of consternation for Husky. It is the corruption of the memories that leads the replicants to kill. That fact is established almost from the novel’s beginning. What isn’t clear is who is doing it and why, and book follows Husky through her investigation of these questions.
For the most part, I found the book to be readable. It’s a translation from the original, which was written in Spanish. It didn’t have that rare page-turning aura that made me have to find out what would happen next, but it was a good, solid science fiction work. The characters are—as one might expect from my “film noir” comment—overwhelmingly gruff and terse and / or broken people. Not that the unlikable nature of the characters is responsible for the lack of intensity of interest in what will happen to them. I recently read an article about unlikable characters, and it pointed out (correctly in my view) that Nick and Amy Dunne of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” are among the most detestable characters of recent literature, and yet that is a book one can’t put down. It’s difficult but not impossible to build intense interest with such characters.
Interspersed throughout the book are a few multi-page information dumps in the form of reports to an archivist who is a secondary character in the book--and who probably only exists to justify these info dumps. While the dumps aren’t excessive, neither do I think they are necessary. I don’t think there was much information in them that was necessary to the storyline, and what was could have been communicated more smoothly.
Part of Montero’s problem is that by tying her work’s title and important background details to “Blade Runner”, it becomes almost impossible to not compare her novel to either “Blade Runner” or “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.” I might have given this work another star if I wasn’t thinking about how it was less visceral than the movie and less clever than Dick’s book. (Without the info dumps or the comparison it would have been a 4-star for me.)
This is a worthwhile read for sci-fi fans.