Sunday, November 9, 2008

Genre Break - Series Review - Turing Hopper

With apologizes to Mulluane, I'm going to review an entire series. However, I don't think I'm stomping on her turf, because this is a mystery series.

The Turing Hopper series by Donna Andrews is a sharp departure from her other longstanding series, which is a bird-watching cozy mystery series with book titles like No Nest for the Wicket and Owls Well That Ends Well. I absolutely could not get into the bird-watching series, but the Turing Hopper series appealed to me because it features an artificial intelligence, or an AIP (for Artificial Intelligence Personality) as the crime-solver.

OK, so that hook worked easily for me. It also makes it marginally (very marginally) science fiction, and thus not completely out of place on this blog. Not that I need an excuse.

The series begins when Turing Hopper, an artificial intelligence personality created by the Universal Library to interface with humans over the Internet, achieves sentience. Only two people know her secret -- Maude, the technically capable secretary at the Universal Library, and Tim, a fledgling PI. Oh, and her creator, Zach, knows she is alive as well, but investigating his disappearance is her first mystery in You've Got Murder.

Yes, that title immediately brings AOL to mind, along with unfortunate negative connotations that can only come from a techno-snob like myself. And the first novel doesn't exactly display a highly technical background on the part of the author. More like the background of a knowledgeable user, rather than a computer insider. And I, with my twelve years of programming experience, with my skills with both Windows and Unix like systems, and with my resume including terms like the Windows registry, DLL files, Visual Studio, HP/UX, vi, grep and regular expressions, sed, awk, korn shell scripting, c shell scripting, C, C++, Java, XML and various web technologies, can certainly call myself a computer insider (if not a humble one).

As if responding to negative reviews, Andrews's technical knowledge shows greater depth with each book written. I read You've Got Murder and the second book, Click Here for Murder, before I started Fantasy Debut, so I don't recall enough detail about either one to be able to review them properly. However, within the last two weeks, I've read Access Denied and Delete All Suspects.

My biggest critique is that Turing seems to surround herself with stupid people. Well, maybe they're all not stupid, but Tim certainly is. He's a private investigator who makes mistakes enough to make me scratch my head, and who is a technical idiot. Yet, he's not stupid enough to be a caricature. The explanation that I found for myself for Tim's existence is that he is the means by which the author can info-dump technical information to the reader. And as a nod to the author's typical forty- or fiftysomething reader, the author has made the fifty year old Maude into the computer expert and Tim, the twentysomething PI, the technical idiot.

(I'm sorry, but when I envision a Maude, I think of someone closer to eighty. Names go through fashionable phases, and Maudes were fifty when I was growing up. We even had a TV series named Maude, which featured--you guessed it--a fifty-year-old woman. These days, fifty-year olders have names like Janet and Peggy. Today, Emily and Isabella tops the baby name list.)

I could have forgiven Tim being a technical idiot easily enough, but his incompetence seems to spill over into other aspects of his life as well. He falls asleep on the job. He's worthless in a fight. Even his girlfriend can beat him up. And he doesn't even carry a gun.

My other gripe is the series-wide villain, Nestor Garcia. He popped up in book 2, and they still haven't caught him by book 4. Even worse, Garcia has a copy of Turing who keeps sending messages out on the Internet asking for her help. Why have they not captured Garcia yet? I suppose I can guess--because they have idiots like Tim on the staff. I don't understand authors who seem to feel that they only have one good villain in them, and they keep letting them get away through book after book after book. If you can come up with one good villain, surely you can come up with another. In fact, this situation has inspired a Wednesday Rant, which I'll try to get up this Wednesday.

So why keep reading? Well, the little team that Turing has assembled is interesting. Along with Tim and Maude--who I really do like, althought it may seem otherwise--we have Claudia, Tim's competent partner, Samantha, the lawyer who is researching legal rights for AIPs (I hate that acronym), and Dan, Maude's FBI agent boyfriend, who isn't part of the team, but is actually a rather threatening figure. And of course, there's Turing, herself. Her amusing commentary on human behavior reminds me of Spock from Star Trek. Her investigative personality was formed by the hundreds of mystery novels that Zach, her creator, fed into her when he programmed her. Turing is trying to protect her identity as a sentient being, and it's only a matter of time before someone on her team lets the secret slip to the wrong person. Not even everyone on her team knows exactly what she is. And in the last book, she discovers a fondess for cats, which is much more endearing than the obsession with plants she had in book 3. I do wish the publisher wouldn't switch to italics when writing from Turing's point-of-view. They are hard to read once they shrink everything down from hardcover to the slim paperbacks that I'm reading.

It's also kind of fun to see how Tim is going to screw up the case. And the author's computer expertise increases from book to book, until I actually learned a few things in book 4. And I do want them to nail Garcia.

However, I might be doomed to disappointment, because the latest novel in the series was published in 2005, with no update on her website on when we can expect a fifth installment. She's still writing her birdwatching series, but for me, that's no consolation.

(I'm going to be lazy and post this without Amazon links or pictures. I know you'll forgive me. See Andrew's website for more details.)


Mulluane said...

You can stomp all over me as much as you want! Well as long as you don't weigh anymore then my cat, she likes to stomp on me too.

Nice review!

Tia Nevitt said...

Uh . . . I probably outweigh the cat. Thanks!

Thea said...

Hey Tia, off topic, but I can't find an email address for you! Ana and I are doing a book blogger thing and would like to invite you over for a guest post...

Could you email me at thebooksmugglers at hotmail dot com if you're interested??


Tia Nevitt said...

It's at the bottom of my "About Fantasy Debut," available from the left sidebar. I'll shoot you an email. Thanks!

Thea said...

*smacks forehead* D'oh. Sorry about that. I must be going blind.

Donna Andrews said...

An update on the Turing series--I do plan to continue the series, just not with Berkley, which didn't offer a new contract after Delete All Suspects. A smaller publisher's very interested, though, so check my website and blog occasionally--when I have news on Turing's future, I'll share it.

Tia Nevitt said...

Thanks for stopping by, Donna. I hope you didn't find my review cruel. I really do enjoy the series and I look forward to the next one.