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Apr
27th
2016

The Mystery of Mysteries, part 3: Sub-genres, conclusions · 4:41am Apr 27th, 2016

(continued from part 1 & part 2)

The Sub-Genres of Mystery

Notice now that the only examples that don’t fit A, B, C, or D are Stephanie Plum, the cozy mysteries, and the two cross-cultural mystery series by Tony Hillerman and Alexander McCall Smith. At this point I’ll pause and divide mysteries into sub-genres. These sub-genres may have different core narratives, or we may see the same narrative components appear in different ways in the different sub-genres, or be inverted. I stole the attributes of the first 2 from The Thrilling Detective Web Site, which stole them from T.J. Binyon’s Murder Will Out: The detective in fiction:

- The genteel private detective, e.g., Sherlock Holmes:
- Detective is hired to solve a crime
- There are a limited number of known suspects
- The police are honest
- There may or may not be one or more violent scenes
- There is no sex
- First-person POV of the Watson

- The hard-boiled private eye:
- Always in a big city
- Hired to investigate something relatively trivial, which unravels the web of a major crime
- The web of suspects grows over time; everything is connected to something else
- The police are corrupt
- There is constant violence throughout the story
- Sex is omnipresent, but the hero abstains from it
- Lots of alcohol
- First-person POV of the PI

- Cross-cultural mysteries
- May be rural or urban
- Detective (or team) may be a cop
- Detective/team and the crime both span two cultures, one of which is dominant
- The mystery requires respect for the less-dominant culture to solve
- Third-person interior POV

- Romance mysteries
- I’m only familiar with Stephanie Plum
- Many “romance novels” are mysteries, like Key of Light by Nora Roberts
- I don’t think these have much in common with the first 3 kinds

- Cozy mysteries:
- Female hobbyist crime-solver
- Commonly involve cats, cooking, tea, sewing
- No violence except perhaps for the crime
- Solving the crime requires talking to lots of people
- I don’t think these have much in common with the first 3 kinds

- Solvable mysteries:
- Solvable mysteries follow rules of fairness so that the reader has a good chance of solving the mystery before the detective reveals its solution
- I haven’t thought of any famous examples of these! Interesting.


Conclusions

I will ignore romance and cozy mysteries from here on. In light of the literary insignificance of solvable mysteries, I will draw my first conclusion:

1. The purpose of mysteries is not to give the reader a chance to solve the mystery.

I have a very small sample of cross-cultural mysteries, but I notice they don’t include any magical detectives. What is it with these magical detectives?

I think they’re a variant of “Book smarts, but no street smarts” (BS-no-SS). Call it “High IQ, low social/emotional intelligence” (Hi-IQ/low-EQ). The detectives are (allegedly) brilliant logicians, yet they’re single, have at most one friend, and are seldom financially successful.

I think Hi-IQ/low-EQ will come from the same angle as BS-no-SS: told to reassure an insecure audience that their lack of some ability is unimportant, and maybe even a virtue. I’ll draw another conclusion:

2. One core narrative of genteel and hard-boiled detective stories is that human relationships and human society cannot be analyzed logically.

The mystery narrative tries to deal with the evident fact that scientific analysis produces much knowledge that makes us intensely uncomfortable by making a “separate magisteria” rebuttal: The detective can use scientific analysis to solve crime, but not to solve his own life problems.

If we take Thainen's suggestion that superhero stories are an offshoot of detective stories, the core narrative for them becomes: Human relationship problems can't be solved with force.

I originally argued for the possible alternative

2b. One core narrative of genteel and hard-boiled detective stories is that neither logic nor feelings is sufficient by itself to deal with all of life.

This casts the story as the kind of dialectical, tension-filled structure that literary critics (not just post-modern ones) are fond of. We can certainly view (2) as (2b). But it feels dishonest to me. All it does is take the statement in (2) and add the statement “Logical analysis is good for solving crimes”, which is neither controversial nor interesting, to come up with a phony claim to be a dialectic. The only claim of interest is that logic is not helpful in everyday life.

Why magic instead of logic? The simplest theory is that writing logic is hard, and writing magic is easy. I’m not satisfied with this theory, because some of our detectives don’t just use unrealistic logic, they’re often downright idiotic. Their stupidity and trust in luck strikes me as too excessive to be accidental. (It may be literally accidental from the point of view of the writer; it could easily happen that a thousand writers write mysteries, and the detectives that become famous all have some crucial property, which the writers each wrote by accident. But that crucial property, while an accident of the writer, has an effect that is not “accidental”; it is consistent across stories. That’s what I expect to find in a core narrative: a structure that has evolved by random story creation and reader selection.)

Here’s another theory: If the detective were merely super-humanly smart, he might apply his logic to his personal problems and solve them. If he’s magical, intuitive, or lucky, there’s no obvious way for him to make his magic or intuition apply to his own problems. (The magician who can do magic only for others feels like it ought to be a trope, though the only example I can think of is “How to Do a Sonic Rainboom”.)

This would make the use of magic the kind of straw-manning I found in my Hooffield & McColts post about BS-no-SS. Fitting mysteries to the same pattern would be nicely parsimonious. But I’m not happy with this theory either, because very smart people often are socially stupid and have screwed-up lives. There’s no need to fake it.

Here’s my favorite theory at this moment: You don’t want a clever reader to think he’s as smart as the detective! If the reader identifies with the detective, the Hi-EQ/low-EQ narrative would make the reader anxious instead of reassuring him. Therefore,

3. The genteel or hard-boiled detective is a misfit and a magical being in order to distance the detective from the reader, to avoid frightening the reader with the loneliness of the detective.

However, Poe spelled out his reason for making Dupin irrational in a long introductory essay to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, and that wasn’t it. It was worse: He didn’t want to endorse logic at all! The whole story was a deliberate attack on science. (I didn't realize this until after writing the first draft of this post, because the essay was cut from the condensed version of "Rue Morgue" that I had.)

That first essay contrasted chess with whist. A second essay in “The Purloined Letter”, given by Dupin rather than by the narrator, said the same thing, only instead contrasting math with poetry. In it, Poe tried to re-purpose both the words “abstract” and “analysis”, to exclude mathematics and to include… poetry. It sounds preposterous, but he was quite explicit about it, and at great length.

Poe attacked chess and mathematics as developing abstract skills that are useless for everyday life. It's a bit confused, since he used the word “abstract” to mean what we would call the real and concrete, and called real life “abstract” as opposed to mathematics. He considered logic to be a system that could be applied to either kind of entity, and said it was useful for life only when applied to “abstract” (concrete) entities. This implies deep misunderstandings of both mathematics and logic. Yet his conclusion, that logic can in some way apply to all of life, is closer to truth than is the standard narrative of artists, which assumes that ordinary life cannot be represented in mathematics. In its particulars Poe’s position is most similar to Aristotle’s, which was that numbers are all well and good if you want to build a boat, but they aren’t logic.

A small excerpt from Poe’s second essay:

“You are mistaken; I know him well; he is both. As poet and mathematician, he would reason well; as mere mathematician, he could not have reasoned at all, and thus would have been at the mercy of the Prefect.”
“You surprise me,” I said, “by these opinions, which have been contradicted by the voice of the world. You do not mean to set at naught the well-digested idea of centuries. The mathematical reason has long been regarded as the reason par excellence.”
… “The mathematicians, I grant you, have done their best to promulgate the popular error to which you allude, and which is none the less an error for its promulgation as truth. With an art worthy a better cause, for example, they have insinuated the term ‘analysis’ into application to algebra…. I dispute the availability, and thus the value, of that reason which is cultivated in any especial form other than the abstractly [concretely] logical. I dispute, in particular, the reason educed by mathematical study. The mathematics are the science of form and quantity; mathematical reasoning is merely logic applied to observation upon form and quantity. The great error lies in supposing that even the truths of what is called pure algebra are abstract [concretely applicable] or general truths. And this error is so egregious that I am confounded at the universality with which it has been received. Mathematical axioms are not axioms of general truth. What is true of relation—of form and quantity—is often grossly false in regard to morals, for example. In this latter science it is very usually untrue that the aggregated parts are equal to the whole. In chemistry also the axiom fails. In the consideration of motive it fails; for two motives, each of a given value, have not, necessarily, a value when united, equal to the sum of their values apart. There are numerous other mathematical truths which are only truths within the limits of relation. But the mathematician argues from his finite truths, through habit, as if they were of an absolutely general applicability—as the world indeed imagines them to be…. In short, I never yet encountered the mere mathematician who would be trusted out of equal roots, or one who did not clandestinely hold it as a point of his faith that x squared + px was absolutely and unconditionally equal to q. Say to one of these gentlemen, by way of experiment, if you please, that you believe occasions may occur where x squared + px is not altogether equal to q, and, having made him understand what you mean, get out of his reach as speedily as convenient, for, beyond doubt, he will endeavor to knock you down.

Edgar Allan Poe. Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Kindle Locations 6981-7013).

The Sherlockian narrative is a Hegelian dialectic between common sense and scientific thought, claiming neither mode is strictly superior. Poe was instead saying that poetic thought is strictly superior!

Poe’s mystery, written in 1841, tries to deny that quantitative analysis is analysis, or that it produces anything useful. Poe meant his Dupin stories as a last-ditch defense of conventional thought against mathematics and the scientific method, using instead psychological analysis and intuition. I did not expect this, since he published another mystery at the same time, “The Gold Bug”, which was largely mathematical.

Greg Sevik’s article “Enlightenment, counter-enlightenment-- detection, reason, genius in tales of Poe+Doyle” (Clues v31n2) says that many critics have recently caught on to this anti-rational undercurrent in mysteries, but he doesn’t say that the genre is against reason. He says the detective is a dialectic between the enlightenment and romanticism. The police represent the sterile “enlightenment” machine (e.g., the police in “The Purloined Letter”, who follow their logical procedures and fail). The police are merely rational; the detective uses reason dusted with his own mystic powers, to prove that reason must be guided by intuition or spirit.

To me, though, horse of the Enlightenment, saying reason must be guided by spirit is like saying it must be guided by the Church, which I would call being against reason. So Sevik’s article, which he framed to sound like the mystery is very even-handed about it, is to me even more anti-rational than just saying reason can't solve your personal problems.

Anyway. Father Brown, Doctor Who, and Daneel Olivaw seem to belong in the genteel detective camp, but none of them fit the complete pattern. The Doctor is generally happy, and Daneel’s crime-solving ability can in no way be interpreted as the cause of his being a robot. Father Brown is also cheerful, and though he may be a "misfit" in society at large, he fits within the Catholic church far better than anyone can fit into modern society.

The keys to the Doctor must be those ways he diverges from the pattern: his lack of Sherlockian angst, the magical way the universe's coincidences accommodate his lack of planning (rather than disrupting his plans, as it does most protagonists), his God-like status as protector of humanity and the universe, and most especially his embracing of conventional morality and virtue ethics over reason (unlike the other detectives!). Like a traditional detective, he holds up our culture for inspection. (This is why he spends so much of his time on Earth, rather than exploring new worlds, as is more common in science fiction.) But he doesn't represent the logical, as Sherlock does. He represents the authors', and the audience's, ideal, the supra-logical God who has the right to judge humanity. He's a Christianized Sherlock Holmes. He still functions to reassure us that our foolishness is wisdom. Not by contrast with it, but as the Platonic ideal of it, the wise fool who always wins.

That’s my theory today, anyway.

My memory of R. Daneel Olivaw is dim, but those stories certainly weren't meant to reassure us about conventional morality. Humans were inferior to robots physically, intellectually, and morally. I think that Asimov was inverting the mystery narrative to fit it to the science fiction narrative: Knowledge is not bad, but good for us. The traditional mystery says logic and humanity are opposed, presumably because humanity is spiritual. Asimov's stories say logic and humanity are opposed, because humans are stupid. Robots are more logical and as a consequence more spiritually developed.

Getting back for a moment to observations on the full set of genteel, hard-boiled, and cultural mysteries:

E. Mysteries comment on society

Most mystery stories include commentaries on society. Sherlockian detectives often reach their conclusions not by reasoning about the particular criminal they’re pursuing, but by applying a broad cognitive or cultural observation to the criminal.

- The solution to “The Purloined Letter” is that people won’t think of looking for something hidden in plain view.
- In “A Scandal in Bohemia”, Holmes deduces that Irene Adler has hidden the letter in her own home partly because “women are naturally secretive, and they like to do their own secreting.”
- In “The Copper Beeches”, Holmes critiques country life: “It is my belief, Watson founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside…. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish."
- Father Brown mysteries sometimes hinge on dispelling the idea that a secular worldview is more logical than the Catholic one. The Father detects the thief in the very first Father Brown story (“The Blue Cross”) because the thief poses as a priest, and dismisses rationality as he imagines a priest might. Father Brown’s response is, “You attacked reason. It's bad theology.”
- Spade and Marlowe continually meditate on the corruption of society.
- Hillerman’s novels repeatedly contrast modern American and Navajo society.

Hillerman’s and McCall Smith’s books are in third person interior, and reveal the thoughts of the detectives as they proceed. I predict these cross-cultural books represent some variation on the pattern. In the standard detective novel, we have two worldviews: the conventional worldview, and the world of the detective. I expect that in the cultural mystery, the two worldviews are those of the two cultures coming into conflict, and the detective has one foot in each. The detective then doesn’t need to be especially odd, nor to stand outside both cultures.

In both cases, Sherlockian and cross-cultural, one of the worldviews is that of the reader. (Even in the South African mysteries, the dominant culture, while it diverged from Europe in the 19th century, is recognizably European.) I take it that the reader’s culture is the point of contact with the reader.

Putting all of the above together, I conclude that

4. A mystery scrutinizes the reader’s culture from the outside.

I'll break the rest of my conclusions into 2 parts: detective mysteries, and cross-cultural stories. (Remember my dataset for detective mysteries is all stories where there's a single detective. Buddy-cop TV shows, forensic shows, procedurals, aren't represented.)

Detective mysteries

Westerns also have an outsider who comes to town and “critiques” it, usually with lead. Hard-boiled detective novels differ from genteel detective novels, and resemble westerns, in their constant violence, and the need for a macho hero who will use violence against violence. They differ from westerns in their cynicism and widespread corruption. Hookers don’t have hearts of gold. Crimes and suspects are gradually discovered by threads leading to other threads, to imply that all of society is complicit in all crime. I’ll summarize this as:

4a. Genteel detective novels study the reader’s culture, attempting to understand and systematize it, and criticizing individual cases of hypocrisy or moral weakness.

4b. Westerns criticize the reader’s culture as morally corrupt, and call for heroes to fix them.

4c. Hard-boiled detective novels criticize the reader’s culture as morally corrupt and unredeemable.

Post-apocalyptic novels are to westerns something like what hard-boiled detective novels are to genteel detective novels. They succeeded westerns (though later than private eyes succeeded genteel detectives), and they’re stories in which good people are few and the heroes can never save themselves.

Post-apocalyptic stories are post-modern in many ways, such as their total “mash-up” junkyard aesthetic. One way is that they’ve taken one more step toward the romantic, anti-rational, cleansing apocalypse:

4d. Post-apocalyptic stories critique the reader’s culture as morally corrupt and unredeemable, but after it finally destroys itself, its last ugly remnants can be washed away and a better society can be built.

Genteel detective novels came first, then westerns, then hard-boiled detective novels and movies, then post-apocalyptic stories. This suggests a gradual increase in cynicism from 1850 to the present. Logically, there’s just one more genre left to invent in our grand progression from the romantic, through the modernist, to the post-modern:

4e. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse story will critique the reader’s culture as morally corrupt and unredeemable, and the heroes must destroy it and wash away its last ugly remnants before a better society can be built.

Probably the heroes in the earliest ones will have to be forced reluctantly to destroy it in a morally ambiguous story. Once we’re over that hump, more and more stories will take it for granted that society ought to be destroyed.

Oh, snap.

There is definitely more judgement and moralism going on under the hood in westerns, hard-boiled detective novels, and superhero comics, but I haven't parsed it all out. Here are some parting thoughts along those lines from The Thrilling Detective Web Site:

My personal take is that the private eye story is an American attempt to update the earlier cowboy mythos, placing them in a contemporary American urban setting. But it's not that simple. The cowboy mythos is merely a frontier update of a much earlier tradition. Grab a piece of chalk, and trace a line from Three Gun Mack to Nick Carter to Sherlock Holmes to Wyatt Earp to Hawkeye in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking tales, and then continue to Robin Hood and Ivanhoe and Lancelot and King Arthur et al. Draw another line from Hawkeye and Chingcachook (think of 'em as an early version of Spenser and Hawk) studying some footprints in The Last of the Mohicans to that scene where Holmes explains the significance of footprints to Watson.

Cross-cultural mysteries

In the cross-cultural novels, the contrasting culture is not kept mysterious; rather, the writer tries at length to explain it. Assuming that the contrasting culture serves the same basic function as the Sherlockian detective’s worldview, I infer that the detective’s thoughts are kept hidden in the latter kind of story not because the detective’s worldview must remain mysterious, but because authors who aren’t anthropologists aren’t capable of preserving a consistent alien worldview under close scrutiny. The Watson character was introduced to maintain the illusion that the detective was a legitimate outsider.

The Father Brown series has traits of both the Sherlockian and the cross-cultural, with the second culture being Catholicism. It keeps Father Brown’s thoughts hidden, but has a real and elaborate worldview behind them, which it tries to explicate in many stories.

5. The social function of a cross-cultural mystery is to contrast two cultures.

Hillerman and Smith’s mysteries are noted for the respect they show for Navajo and traditional Botswanian culture, not for the respect they show for Western culture. The Father Brown stories are meant to heighten respect for Catholicism.

Does a cross-cultural story necessarily praise the other culture? I could imagine a mystery similar to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which contrasted the writer’s society with medieval Europe, and concluded that the writer’s was much better. I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlie Chan mysteries cast Chinese culture in a dim light. In either case, though, I think the point would be to praise our society, not to write an entire book to critique some other society that the reader’s didn’t particularly care about. I will posit:

5a. The social function of an enlightenment cross-cultural story was to contrast an unenlightened culture with an enlightened culture, and praise the latter, likely invoking the march of progress.

Connecticut Yankee would be an example where the enlightened culture is our own. Stories like that don’t get published anymore. I bet they were common in colonial days, though. Another kind of story where the enlightened culture is our own is the dystopia, though typically the dystopia is an extrapolation from our own culture, to what it will be if those people the author doesn’t like keep getting their way. When the unenlightened culture is ours, we often have a utopia.

5b. The social function of a contemporary cross-cultural mystery is to contrast a “de-privileged” culture with a culture that now dominates it, and heighten respect for the former culture, negating the idea of a “march of progress”.



Genres: What good are they?

In this analysis, I ended up comparing the detective story to westerns and apocalyptic fiction, and contrasting the cross-cultural mystery with science fictional utopias and dystopias. The discussion in the comments brings up buddy-cop dramas, police procedurals, CSI, and swords & sorcery.

I'm beginning to think that there isn't so much a thing called a "genre" as a set of common elements with different affinities for each other. "Figure out what happened", "watch the misfit try to understand humans", "the lone wayfarer", "honest defenders of society fighting both the criminal and the bureaucracy above them", "violence", "moral decay of society", "romance", "the damsel in distress", "street smarts", "personal moral code", "revolutionary consciousness"--these are strips you can weave together in many combinations. There's a set that go together well, or at least frequently, to give us the closed-room mystery, and a set that gives us the western, and adding one or two more strips to the weave could give you swords & sorcery or a science fictional utopia. Stories that appear on the surface to belong to the same genre, like detective novels and cross-cultural mysteries, may on a deeper level be more closely related to stories from "different" novels: detective stories with superhero and western stories, and cross-cultural mysteries with utopias, dystopias, and other stories of cultural comparisons.



And… that’s all I got! Thanks for reading this far. I spent months writing this.

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Comments ( 36 )

Question: Where do the Longmire stories fit? Cross-cultural? Western? Genteel Detective? Perhaps even a certain amount of the Hard-Boiled Detective?

Ahh man so much to think about!

To me, though, horse of the Enlightenment, saying reason must be guided by spirit is like saying it must be guided by the Church, which I would call being against reason.

The traditional mystery says logic and humanity are opposed, presumably because humanity is spiritual.

I was going to comment on this, but you did it for me.

Asimov's stories say logic and humanity are opposed, because humans are stupid.

I've never read Asimov, but now I think I'd like him. Because of my upbringing on Captain Kirk, I have always been sympathetic to the wariness of logic in favor of intuition and "humanity" (though I'd like to peer under intuition's hood; I wonder if it's quite so illogical as people tend to think). But the problem with logic isn't logic, it's the people who use it. Humans are illogical creatures who can't really be trusted to use a good thing in good ways. Logic used ignorantly or in the absence of important information will cause problems, but that's not logic's fault. It isn't pure logic and reason that leads to moral bankruptcy, like VIKI in 2004's I, Robot, it's bad logic and poor reasoning. In my opinion, any way. It's like saying, "Numbers don't lie." No they don't, but the people running them just might.

And I disagree with the notion that intuition and spirituality must be inherently illogical; you can't say that until you know what spiritual even truly means or where intuition comes from. "God is spirit,"--what the heck does that mean? I don't know. If I ever find out, it might be something completely logical.

You could say that humans are emotional beings and thus inherently indescribable (at least completely) with logic. But even emotions follow their own logic, you just have to learn it. I feel it's like saying the quantum world doesn't follow any rules because it's governed by probability. But it does, because those probabilities are still rules, just in a different fashion than we're used to seeing.

Emotions, intuition, "spirit"--these are elements we have classically viewed as anti-logic and reason, but only, I believe, because of our faulty understanding and narrow scope of logic and reason.

I distrust human intelligence only because I distrust myself, not because intelligence is inherently bad in some way.

Thanks for reading this far. I spent months writing this.

You seriously deserve to treat yourself to something nice for this awesome, triple blog feast.
Upvote if people agree! Maybe then he'll listen.

At what point in your life did you decide to start doing literary analysis? This is amazing stuff -- if you pad it, obfuscate the main points, and add a few more examples, someone will give you a doctorate for this thesis.

2. One core narrative of genteel and hard-boiled detective stories is that human relationships and human society cannot be analyzed logically.

I find this interesting, because I was debating this the other day. My position was that human society can be analyzed logically, but that it's inefficient and clumsy compared to emotional intelligence due to the large amount of unique and/or inaccessible data offered by just about any human interaction. Emotional intelligence is essentially the ability to make correct leaps when presented with the hopelessly incomplete data set that is outward displays of emotion (whether on an individual or cultural level.)

(For example, given enough time to observe and research, anyone can determine if the girl on the train is smiling at you because she's friendly or because she thinks you're attractive. But someone with a high EQ can reach a correct conclusion before she gets off at the next stop.)

To that end, it sounds like the magical ability that these stories give detectives is the ability to do this regarding the physical world? If that's the case (and I reserve the right to amend this later when I've had more than two hours of sleep) then it's kind of funny that they then use that to contrast with emotional intelligence. If they were talking about actual logic, then I could see the contrast making sense to me, but magic-logic seem like it should be exactly the same thing, but it's not because reasons.

My memory of R. Daneel Olivaw is dim, but those stories certainly weren't meant to reassure us about conventional morality. Humans were inferior to robots physically, intellectually, and morally.

Something I think you've been neglecting in your using the Robot Novels as an example here; Daneel isn't the detective in any of them except the last one, which is barely a detective story. (Robots and Empire's main purpose, as a novel, was to complete the unification of Asimov's extended canon into a giant shared universe. This is also largely the purpose of a few of the later Foundation novels.) Indeed, during the introduction of Daneel in Caves of Steel, Han Fastolfe doesn't remark that Daneel has been trained in any specific way as a crime-solver; all that's mentioned is he's been programmed with a drive for "justice," which sounds good until you realize that "justice" has been defined in that instance as "a state in which all laws are effectively obeyed and enforced."

Elijah Baley is the detective in Caves of Steel, Naked Sun, and Robots of Dawn. Daneel is the Watson. He solves the cases in all three instances. He is the protagonist.

As for Asimov's portrayal of robots, it's weird and complex and a little bit spacist. Asimov never really confronts the fact that his robots are slaves; that humans have created beings with full sentience in a way that ensures their slavery as an ironclad law, actually built into their being. (Caves of Steel establishes in-universe that it isn't a matter of programming; the literal structure of the positronic brain is such that the Three Laws are nigh-immutable. You'd have to start over, from scratch, and theorize, design, and build a completely different type of robot from the ground up to get around it.) Indeed, this is portrayed as an unambiguously good thing; the implication is that robots, because they lack humanity, should exist to serve man. Even when Daneel Olivaw is secretly ruling the whole galaxy twenty thousand years later (yes, that happened) it's in the service of man; he is forbidden from acting otherwise.The most virtuous robots are the ones who strive to be ever-more-humanlike.

3900040

Asimov never really confronts the fact that his robots are slaves

Read I, Robot. Or maybe I'm thinking of The Bicentennial Man. It's a central theme of his short stories. I thought that a robot was the detective in some of those stories.

I don't think I've read any of the Elijah Baley novels.

4e. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse story will critique the reader’s culture as morally corrupt and unredeemable, and the heroes must destroy it and wash away its last ugly remnants before a better society can be built.

This is the story that ISIS propaganda tells.

3900181 It's been forever since I read I, Robot and I don't really remember much of it.

I do remember The Bicentennial Man pretty well, mostly because I kept wondering "Why does he want to be declared human so badly? Why not just ask to be granted legal personhood, which would solve the practical problem? Why does he hate what he is so much that he's desperate to transform himself into something else, and why does the narrative treat that as a good thing?"

I think it's worth noting that whether or not Poe intended to be critical of reason that wasn't what lead the genre to succeed. Rather he managed to stick "intelligence" in a box in order to limit its application and by stint of misfortune made that application into something people are innately fascinated by.
Thus Holmes and co. parallel traditional heroes with their small follies rendering them relatable and serving as a hook for getting them into trouble while simultaneously giving them a magnificent godlike power to overcome insurmountable challenges with their peculiar alien talents. It's true we're not meant to understand the detective but admire him and still always be told in the end of the day that the we're the real heroes for doing our part. Whatever that may be.

3900040

Indeed, this is portrayed as an unambiguously good thing

It is, having robots be independent would suck for us no matter how you slice it.
But if you spend novel after novel adding human like qualities to your machines and still wind up treating them like machines it's not going to do you any favors in the "sanctity of all life" department. I don't think Asimov thought anything was sacred about life, society or intelligence so that it couldn't be treated as an engineering challenge where you built things to make people happy and built them to be happy with the situation. The parallels to racism were only as relevant as the parallels between taking blood samples and using leeches.

Why does he hate what he is so much that he's desperate to transform himself into something else, and why does the narrative treat that as a good thing?

More of a cultural thing as I recall. The robot wanted to participate in human society as a human in order to experience and do things for humans that only other humans could do.

I hope I don't come across as flippant, because I've quite enjoyed this series of blog posts, but that second-to-last paragraph feels like it should come with a link to tvtropes.

If we take Thainen's suggestion that superhero stories are an offshoot of detective stories, the core narrative for them becomes: Human relationship problems can't be solved with force.

As much as I can tell this is the explicit moral of Superman. The original story had all the kryptonians be superhuman as well as possessing super technology. They were still destroyed by the fall of Atlantis Babel Krypton at witch point the soul survivor goes on to be an orphan on Earth and learn humility and mercy. Still doesn't stop him from occasionally declaring himself pope though.

I like your take on the magical detective, though I'm surprised you didn't list them in the "cross-cultural" variety. Usually the magical detective has a foot in both worlds and a big part of the story is either showing other magical creatures "muggle methods" are superior, or a society where magic has been integrated in a subordinate fashion, and the magical detective does the exact opposite.


3900040 I think the idea is that if robots are better than us in every way and humanity has no leverage over them like in Aasimov, that's pretty much the end of humanity.

3900259

It is, having robots be independent would suck for us no matter how you slice it.
But if you spend novel after novel adding human like qualities to your machines and still wind up treating them like machines it's not going to do you any favors in the "sanctity of all life" department. I don't think Asimov thought anything was sacred about life, society or intelligence

... I don't think you've read any of Asimov's robot stories. You're right that he didn't think anything was "sacred", but that's because he thought everything was sacred, if you understand what I mean. "Sacred" is a term people use to give one thing special privilege: a god or a priesthood over a nobility, or "the human soul" over animals. Or humans over robots.

A quote (condensed) from the first story in The Complete Robot:

Mr. Anderson was smiling. "We have something for you, Jimmy. It's at the rocket station now, but we'll have it tomorrow after all the tests are over. I thought I'd tell you now."
"From Earth, Dad?"
"A dog from Earth,son. A real dog. A Scotch terrier puppy. The first dog on the Moon. You won't need Robutt any more. A dog's the real thing, Jimmy. Robutt's only a mechanical imitation, a robot-mutt. That's how he got his name."
Jimmy frowned. "Robutt isn't an imitation, Dad. He's my dog."
"Not a real one, Jimmy. It's not alive. It's just programmed to act the way it does. A dog is alive. You won't want Robutt after you have the dog."
Jimmy looked at Robutt, who was squeaking again, a very low, slow squeak. Jimmy held out his arms and Robutt was in them in one bound. Jimmy asked, "What's the difference?"
"It's hard to explain," said Mr. Anderson, "but it will be easy to see. The dog
will really love you. Robutt is just adjusted to act as though it loves you."
"But, Dad, we don't know what's inside the dog. Maybe it's just acting, too."
Mr. Anderson frowned. "Jimmy, you'll know the difference when you experience the love of a living thing."
Jimmy held Robutt tightly. "How about how I feel? I love Robutt and that's what counts."
And the little robot-mutt, which had never been held so tightly in all its existence, squeaked high and rapid squeaks-happy squeaks.

The second story, "Sally", is one which starts off with a man who wants to take a ride in a self-driving car, but the car doesn't like him and won't take him, so he switches it to manual mode and drives it himself. The scene is presented not as a man using a machine, but as a rape.

The third story, "Someday", ends like this (again, edited by me):

The activation signal of the Bard glowed. Niccolo's collision closed a circuit and, although it was alone in the room, it began a story. But not in its usual voice; in a lower tone that had a hint of throatiness in it. The Bard said: "Once upon a time, there was a little computer named the Bard who lived all alone with cruel step-people. The cruel step-people continually made fun of the little computer and sneered at him, telling him he was a useless object. They struck him and kept him in lonely rooms for months at a time. Through it all the little computer remained brave. He always did the best he could, obeying all orders cheerfully.
"One day, the little computer learned that in the world there existed a great many computers of all sorts. Some were Bards like himself, but some ran factories, and some ran farms. Some organized population and some analyzed all kinds of data. Many were very powerful and very wise, much more powerful and wise than the step-people who were so cruel to the little computer.
"And the little computer knew then that computers would always grow wiser and more powerful until someday-someday-someday-"
But a valve must finally have stuck in the Bard's aging and corroding vitals, for as it waited alone in the darkening room through the evening, it could only whisper over and over again, "Someday-someday-someday."

The central theme to all of Asimov's robot stories is that of innocent robots treated as slaves by humans.

3900233

...or at least some strains of Conversion Bureau. They even got the horse-men...

3900879

... I don't think you've read any of Asimov's robot stories.

You'd be unfortunately right. My Asimov is limited to movies, the original Foundation trilogy and the last question.
Still it seems the defining trait of robot oppression in your examples is "robots being subjected to flawed and unfair human reasoning" rather than "robots not being allowed to go off and do their own thing independent of humanity."

Murcushio seems to be objecting to the latter, that robots were being designed to help humans rather than helping themselves first and foremost and that this isn't treated as criminal.

And now for something completely different: just like how making your superhero solve all his problems by dressing up like a bat and gruffly screaming "where's scarecrow!?" at gangsters lends itself to absurdity so too does the detective genre as a whole by giving its characters the ability to solve murders and nothing else.

I'm particularly thinking of the Case Closed/ Detective Conan series of long running manga and anime where the main character's ability to solve crimes needs to be demonstrated by them happening to be nearby when a murder occurs. After some 900 cases this has resulted in what I can only imagine is a large part of the country being depopulated as every vacation trip, stop at the gas station and restaurant visit is accompanied by a bodycount. As typical for such long runners the characters aren't allowed to age so this has all been happening to them in a pretty tight timetable as well- one has to wonder how they're even surprised anymore.

3901210

Murcushio seems to be objecting to the latter, that robots were being designed to help humans rather than helping themselves first and foremost and that this isn't treated as criminal.

The cars in the story "Sally" about self-driving cars are all in a sort of retirement center where they don't help humans, and the villain wants to sell them, and argues that they'd be better off serving humans.

Notice that what you just wrote applies very well to pets.

I'm particularly thinking of the Case Closed/ Detective Conan series of long running manga and anime where the main character's ability to solve crimes needs to be demonstrated by them happening to be nearby when a murder occurs.

I wanted the final episode of "Murder, She Wrote" to reveal that Jessica Fletcher committed all of the murders.

3901259

I wanted the final episode of "Murder, She Wrote" to reveal that Jessica Fletcher committed all of the murders.

I vaguely recall thinking the same thing. That or that she was some sort of avatar of Nyarlathotep.

3900040
I was just going to mention this. To add to the subject, the three novels with Elijah Bailey are nearly a hybrid between the Genteel Detective and Cross-Cultural divisions that BH had laid out. The main source of conflict in these novels is the culture shock and prejudice between Earther Bailey and the Spacers around him. Bailey (mostly) fits in just fine in his own culture, but is very much a misfit among the Spacers, where the murders took place and must be investigated. The robots are largely caught in the middle of this conflict, one way or the other.

One thing messing up the categorization is that, although Daneel Olivah plays the part of the Watson as the sidekick who must have the mystery explained to him, the books are written from Bailey's point of view. This is, again, because of the cultural overtones. Bailey is (presumably) more relatable to the average reader than a robot or a Spacer. Their relationship ends up being more like Kirk and Spock than Holmes and Watson.

I will disagree, though, that Asimov never confronted the fact that robots are slaves, even in these novels. In the first two it is clear that they are considered second-class citizens, though this isn't commented on morally very much. In the third, though, (Robots of Dawn) robots are blatantly (with zero subtlety) compared to black slaves, with humans even calling robots "boy". A running sub-plot in that one is Bailey needing to confront his own prejudices after spending his last couple adventures fighting against the prejudice the Spacers have against him. It should be noted, though, that Robots of Dawn was written thirty years after the first two, when overall cultural attitudes (including, most likely, Asimov's own) had shifted quite a bit on matters of race.

3900181
3900248
Are you talking about the short story collection I, Robot or the screenplay by Harlan Ellison in cooperation with Isaac Asimov?

3901210

Asimov's robot short stories are essential reading, but I'm afraid you may find them rough going as they were written so long ago. I enjoyed them as a kid but even then they had a touch of old-timeyness about them. I tried to revisit them recently and had trouble starting.

On the other hand, a story in which the central problem involves a malfunctioning robot running in circles singing Gilbert and Sullivan on the surface of Mercury, will always have its charms.

3901878 We both used the word "read", which indicates but does not prove we mean the book. :twilightsmile: I meant the book.

Harlan Ellison wrote that script? I'm surprised. It was so... formulaic and unimaginative. And the movie came out long after Asimov was dead, so his cooperation probably wasn't very helpful.

Hmm, that script was by Hillary Seitz. You mean an unproduced script?

3902167
All reet! All reet!
So jeet your seet,
Be fleet be fleet,
Cool and discreet, honey,
in the dancing heat.
Oh it's no feat to beat the heat.
And the thermometer that day registered 92.9° gloriously Fahrenheit.

That's not Gilbert & Sullivan, though. Sounds like big band swing, something sung by somebody in a zoot suit.

3902190

But that's not Asimov. :-)

3902226 There's another classic SF story in which the central problem involves a malfunctioning robot running about singing an old show tune on the surface of a hot planet?

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is actually "cross-cultural" on several different fronts. (Caveat: I've only read the first two books in the series.) There's the obvious contrast between traditional Botswanan society and white European society. But there's also the contrast with the old values, the ones that got cut out by the Christian missionaries but persist in the shadows. Those are represented by the witch doctor who kidnaps a child, presumably to kill and use his body parts in potions—not a positive portrayal at all. And then there's contrast with Indian society, when the rich Indian father hired Mma Ramotswe to find out who his daughter was secretly dating, and the solution to the mystery was "You seriously need to give your daughter some space, dude." (And then, if I read the ending correctly, it turns out the daughter played Mma Ramotswe like a fiddle.) And South Africa is also contrasted unfavorably with Botswana, though I don't recall if that contrast ever played into the solution to any mysteries.

3902188 Harlan Ellison did indeed write an I, Robot script which was true to the spirit of Asimov's stories, critically acclaimed, and (of course) never produced.

3902188
Yes, the published screenplay. It was published at some point between when it was written in the late 1970s and when the (unrelated) I, Robot movie came out. Apparently Ellison's script was never made into a movie due to a combination of production costs and the fact that Ellison apparently got super butthurt when the production studio suggested he change some stuff.

I own a copy but I've ever actually read it.

I haven’t thought of any famous examples of [solvable mysteries]! Interesting.

There was the Encyclopedia Brown series for kids, and (by the same author, Donald Sobol) the Two-Minute Mysteries series for adults. And the newspaper comic strip Lance Lawson. And another children's book The Eleventh Hour.

Solvable mysteries are prone to certain traps. In order to appeal to the widest readership, the solutions can't hinge on anything the audience might not know. So specialized knowledge bases—like, say, forensics and criminal psychology—can't figure into your solution. Instead, you turn the story into a logic puzzle. This can be done well: In The Eleventh Hour, by examining the illustrations very closely, you see the crime scene immediately before and immediately after the crime was committed, and pinpoint the exact time. Then you find the scene at that precise time, and the sole character who's absent from that page is your culprit.

But instead, most solvable mysteries just devolve into a game of "find the mistake in their testimony". (Mistake meaning either a self-contradiction or a factual error that an 8th grader can pick up on.) Only the guilty guy lies in these stories, and the innocent never accidentally contradict themselves because their memories are confused. So your perp is invariably the guy who says he couldn't have committed the crime because he was on the other side of town, booking a vacation to see the penguins in Alaska. Which also means that 90% of the perps in these stories incriminate themselves by providing too many details in their alibis—they'd have gotten off scot-free if they just lawyered up and refused to talk.

Also there's an amusing bit of commentary about solvable mysteries in the Sherlock Holmes series. I don't recall which case it was, but Holmes remarks on reading Watson's account of a prior case, and criticizes Watson for withholding evidence from the readers. Holmes wanted the readers to be able to trace his line of thought directly, and solve cases themselves before the big reveal. (I guess, if Holmes had his way, the stories would have been the Victorian version of a Yudkowski-esque Rational Fic.) Watson just countered that his way made for a more entertaining story.

And then "The Lion's Mane" (one of only two cases narrated by Holmes himself) actually is a solvable mystery. Any reader with an interest in marine biology can figure out the killer well before Holmes does.

4d. Post-apocalyptic stories critique the reader’s culture as morally corrupt and unredeemable, but after it finally destroys itself, its last ugly remnants can be washed away and a better society can be built.

Genteel detective novels came first, then westerns, then hard-boiled detective novels and movies, then post-apocalyptic stories. This suggests a gradual increase in cynicism from 1850 to the present. Logically, there’s just one more genre left to invent in our grand progression from the romantic, through the modernist, to the post-modern:

4e. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse story will critique the reader’s culture as morally corrupt and unredeemable, and the heroes must destroy it and wash away its last ugly remnants before a better society can be built.

Probably the heroes in the earliest ones will have to be forced reluctantly to destroy it in a morally ambiguous story. Once we’re over that hump, more and more stories will take it for granted that society ought to be destroyed.

I think Jerry Pournelle touched on the core issue here in his introduction to There Will Be War Volume IX: After Armageddon.

Have you ever wished your house would burn down? I have. Not really, of course; but there could be advantages. We'd get to start over. All that furniture: it's okay, but it isn't what we really want, and we can't change over to a new style because of all the older stuff that wouldn't match. The machinery, adequate but obsolete: not old enough to scrap, but you can get appliances that are so much better now.

It would be tough going for a while if we had to start over, but it might be worth it...

Our house of state has a number of national problems. Trash and sewage: our waste management systems were designed to dispose of them, not treat them as valuable resources, and now we have this huge investment in the wrong philosophy. City plans, where they exist at all, were framed when energy (particularly gasoline for cars) was cheap. Office buildings and factories were designed with the assumption of cheap and inexhaustible energy supply. Now there's so much sunk investment involved that we can't start over, although we have a much better idea of the crucial factors we ought to consider.

[Snip descriptions of incremental changes we could have made to industry and society]

Somehow I have trouble getting interested in this scenario...

An alternative would be to suppose Earth were struck by a giant comet. With any luck there's no one out there who hasn't at least heard of Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (Fawcett, 1978). The results were described in our book, and it could be fascinating to assume you have nothing left but electricity while facing the depleted resource-base of Earth: a sort of Challenge of Man's Future (Harrison Brown, circa 1950) from the 1978 viewpoint.

Brown's Challenge, for those not familiar with it, made the point that the easily exploited resources are gone; the near-surface oil, the shallow-mine coal, even the forests; thus, once we lose technology (Brown was concerned about war, but a natural disaster would do the job as well) we can never regain it. It takes a high-technology society to exploit deeply-buried energy and mineral resources; without high technology, you can't get enough high-energy sources to construct your power sources.

However, Brown wrote in the '50s; could things have changed since then? Not really; you do need a high-energy technology in order to construct a high-energy technology when starting with a depleted resource base. However, given electricity--in Hammer there is at least a chance that a 2000-megawatt nuclear plant could survive, giving the survivors somewhat more electrical energy than the entire United States had prior to 1940--something might be done after all. The how of it could be fascinating and certainly would make a good essay...

Except that I can't get interested in that one either.

No: I am not going to go on for five thousand words on what I can't do. I'm about done with that. But I do want to say something about why I have trouble playing the "new beginnings" game.

It's too deadly serious. In some ways it is terrifying. Not in the obvious one. I have spent a great deal of my professional life "thinking about the unthinkable," and I have no real difficulty with intellectual exercises that assume fifty to seventy percent of the Earth's population is dead, most of the industry destroyed, etc., etc. Nor am I concerned about "becoming callous to disaster," or any of those other old saws; in my judgment the cruelest people are those who take no thought for the morrow, and who act without a shred of prudence and forethought, no matter how noble their intentions.

No, the frightening part about universal disaster is its attractiveness.

It would make things so easy. Clear off the deadwood, chop down the surplus population in one sweeping tragedy. The result would be horrible, but a billion dead is not a billion times more tragic than a single death: and we could build such a beautiful world on the ashes!

Think of it: a world with few comforts and luxuries, to be sure, but one in which all work is meaningful; a world without rat-races and monkey-motions, a world of hard work simply for the sake of survival, but one close to nature, with really magnificent goals for the future; a world with few regulations and rules and paperwork and all the other frustrations that make us psychoneurotic.

Look at the other effects. The genetic pool would be (by definition) composed of survivors. If there's any truth to the cliche that what's good for individuals en masse is bad for the species, then the bigger the disaster (up to the point of extinction of the race) the better. And if the disaster were a war which largely employed neutron bombs so that the destruction of physical resources was minimal...

It is morbidly attractive. Not that we'd choose it, of course (well, a few who are really far into "ecology" might), but still, we could live with it, and it does have advantages over the present, and we could be so kind to the Earth while rebuilding...

That's what's so terrifying: when I find myself thinking that way; because if I, with all my commitment to technology and man's vast future, can get into a mood in which the only way out seems to be through destruction of some large fraction of the human race, then there must be very many more out there who see no hope for the future at all.

And that's senseless.

Anything we can do after a disaster can be done now. Can't it? Given the resources left over from an unprecedented disaster wiping out a very large part of humanity, we can certainly accomplish more with our total resource base--and yet it is easier in many ways to imagine starting from scratch.

Why is that? How have we got ourselves into such a box that disaster looks attractive?

Well, we haven't. We've got the resources and capabilities not for mere survival, but "survival with style," as I put it in another essay: to build a world in which Western civilization is not an island of wealth in the midst of a vast sea of poverty; in which all the world has access to at least the wealth we enjoyed in the '50s; and to sustain that level of wealth practically forever. We need only exploit what's available to us; to abandon the notion of "Only One Earth" and realize that we live in a system of nine planets, thirty-six moons, a million asteroids, a billion comets, and a very large and benign thermonuclear generator we call "the Sun."

Yet--we aren't doing it.

[Snip list of things we could be doing but aren't]

No wonder that a "new beginning" can be superficially attractive.

There is another type of new beginning: one that starts with our present situation and moves ahead.

It should begin with a revolution in our social science. Nearly every major political philosophy was generated at a time when our "understanding" of the universe was scarcely worth the name, and at a time when scarcity was seen to be an inevitable fact of life. The latest of the most influential political philosophies was Marxism, which attempted to integrate the industrial revolution into political thought; and Marx wrote before the airplane and automobile, before electronics or radio or the telephone; before the real effects of the First Industrial Revolution (steam) could be seen.

There has been at least one major industrial revolution since Marx: call it electronics, or servomechanisms, or feedback, or cybernetics. The effects have been at least as profound as was the steam engine.

But Marxism, outdated as it is, is the latest of the political philosophies. Most political theories were familiar to Aristotle; indeed, graduate students in political "science" literally read Aristotle--as primary source material.

True, there have been a few attempts to deal intellectually with the modern world. Peter Drucker, Herman Kahn, Galbraith, Prehoda, Possony and myself, a few others, have tried to investigate the effects of modern technology on political and social theory; but there has been little real impact. In the grade schools and high schools, in undergraduate colleges, indeed in graduate schools, the academic community still teaches social theory based on a very false picture of the physical world--theories derived from a world without electricity, a world in which agriculture was primitive, transportation was limited by the speed of the horse and wind-driven ships, law was an arcane science because most of the population would never learn to read--and, most importantly, in which the "goods of fortune" (Aristotle's phrase) were necessarily limited; a world in which wealth-for-all was not possible even in theory.

We don't live in such a universe any longer.

[Snip list of physical and economic facts listing our available resources]

Given energy, we can take care of pollution; if need be we can take pollution products apart to their constituent elements. Given energy, we have solved the food production problem: on Abu Dhabi, a desert island, they grow in greenhouses a fantastic crop per acre, and all they have to work with is sand and sea-water--and energy, of course. Given energy we can make the world wealthy.

Given energy and space mining we could, if that became desirable, turn the Earth into a park; vastly increase the wilderness areas; put all the contaminating industries out there where--were we to devote the gross world product and vaporize the Earth in the bargain--we couldn't manage to "pollute outer space" for more than a few decades.

That's my idea of a New Beginning: a political philosophy that recognizes the vast potential of mankind; that recognizes that if there are limits to growth, they are so far beyond our comprehension that they may as well be infinite; that recognizes Godel's theorem (the number of mathematical theorems is essentially infinite: i.e., there is no limit to the potential growth of knowledge).

The major political and social philosophies were generated in a time when mankind didn't even know how many stars there are.

It is a time for such a New Beginning.

Aye. And past time.

TL;DR: We could fix many of civilization's problems, but we have too much politics-as-usual standing in the way. Everyone likes to imagine what we could do if we could get rid of everyone "standing in the way of Progress", because that's easier than actually getting people to change their minds. As Planck said, "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

Making matters worse, we're learning more and more that some things we thought could be "taught" or "socially constructed" are rather more hard-wired than we thought. A quick sampling:

"Psychologists have discovered girls are less likely to pursue education and careers in STEM fields because they feel “negative emotions” toward math."

"There are numerous papers being published linking all sorts of characteristics and traits to genes – depression, smoking, even tiredness. This meta-analysis on twin studies lists the estimated degree to which various traits are heritable. It shows that while cognitive abilities are just over 50 per cent genetic, even things like social values are hereditary."

"If America is best explained as a Puritan-Quaker culture locked in a death-match with a Cavalier-Borderer culture, with all of the appeals to freedom and equality and order and justice being just so many epiphenomena – well, I’m not sure what to do with that information. Push it under the rug? Say “Well, my culture is better, so I intend to do as good a job dominating yours as possible?” Agree that We Are Very Different Yet In The End All The Same And So Must Seek Common Ground? Start researching genetic engineering? Maybe secede?"

If Pournelle is right on what is physically possible, but wrong on what is humanly possible, where do we go from there? Do we need to do as 3901062 hints, and get into really heavy genetic engineering, to change us into Humanity++? Do we accept that certain things are beyond human nature and live with the resulting imperfections and inequalities? Or maybe we need to self-segregate and/or kill off everyone who isn't Exactly Like Us, whoever "us" is?

I don't have the "right" answers, but I'm pretty sure we can identify some of the wrong answers. "Burn it all down and start over" probably isn't going to work out very well.

3902300

That's "Fondly Fahrenheit" by Alfred Bester. C'mon, quit trollin' me! :trollestia:

The story I'm referring to is "Runaround" (1942)

Huh. That was set in 2015.

Amazingly brilliant work. I think I'll need time to digest this properly and respond.

3902898

And then "The Lion's Mane" (one of only two cases narrated by Holmes himself) actually is a solvable mystery. Any reader with an interest in marine biology can figure out the killer well before Holmes does.

And as a kid, I did! I've never felt so smug in my life. :twilightsmile::twistnerd:

3903592
And on a tidally locked Mercury, too. What a perfect time-capsule that story is...

...stupid 3:2 orbital resonance.

4f. Robot Chicken's Strawberry Shortcake OC will critique the Cozy Mystery as severely deficient in obscenity, sexual situations, violence and blood:

Serious question: How many mystery authors have real-world experience in crime-solving, either as police or civilians?

Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and a bunch of other hardboiled crime fiction, was a Pinkerton detective before he was a writer.

Conversely, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was asked by the police to help solve a case because of his fame as Sherlock Holmes's creator. And as Doyle himself described the incident: he used Holmes' method and determined the criminal's shoe size and the fact there was a nail in his sole. In the time it took him to figure that out, the police interviewed witnesses and arrested the criminal based on their testimonies.

3915805

Then the TV series diverges greatly from the books – on TV he often clashes (or cleverly evades the collision) with his superiors.

I didn't see the TV series, but I didn't think about my statement at that depth. I just meant that the role of priest is respected, established, & delineated, while somebody who's just "guy with a B.A. in theology" and had nearly the same training would not fit anywhere. A priest will clash with his superiors, but clashes are part of the role.

The German title is "Murder Is Her Hobby".

That's my ray of sunshine for today. :pinkiehappy:

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