Thursday, March 23, 2017

Whatdunits - Mike Resnick

Whatdunits is a series of short story mysteries where Resnick presented another writer with some sort of prompt, and let them write a story fitting said prompt (so Resnick is the editor, rather than the author). The idea came out of a desire to see some genuine mysteries in a science-fiction setting in short-story format.

As with any anthology, the selection is a mixed bag, but it's interesting to see what approach different writers take. Some take the bog-standard hard-luck private investigator, and toss in some sci-fi trappings like telepathy and robot secretaries (Michael Stackpole's "It's the Thought that Counts"). Esther Friesner and Walter J. Stutzman's "Dead Ringer" is ostensibly about telling whether it was the clone or the original version of someone that was murdered, but also examines a world where the wealthy clone themselves to have someone to attend functions they don't want to deal with, while workers or cops with valuable skills have their genetic material taken and are cloned if they die. It looks at how the clone would struggle with that, and how their friends and loved ones would adjust to the dead being back among them.

Some are written to be funny, like "Monkey See", where the story is presented as a letter from the scientists explaining how an alien scientist being killed by chimps is not murder. Others are more grim, like "The Colonel and the Alien", where a non-earthling is elected President of the interplanetary federation for the first time, but they only did so by crooked means, and we exposed thanks to a vast, always watching security network ultimately run by One Man, whose steadfast commitment and calm protects us all.

Some of the authors more rigidly follow the prompt than others. John DeChancie wrote "Murder On-Line", which was supposed to be about somehow proving someone who could teleport killed a person, but turned into a story about people getting completely absorbed in virtual worlds to the point the outside world falls into disrepair. Anthony Lewis' "Loss of Phase" seems more concerned with having a dolphin for a detective, to the point the murder is almost an afterthought. I'd say that the ones that strayed furthest from the initial prompt were the ones I enjoyed least, maybe because they seemed to forget it was supposed to be a mystery?

'It was Dr. Nestleroth who hit upon the brilliant solution of registering the Institute as a state mental hospital, and arranging for the involuntary commitment of all the chimps as patients of the hospital.'

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