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Less Than Human    by Maxine McArthur order for
Less Than Human
by Maxine McArthur
Order:  USA  Can
Aspect, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Maxine McArthur wrote Time Past and Time Future. Her latest, Less Than Human, is an SF mystery set in relatively near future Japan. There, cybernetic engineer Eleanor McGuire is married to university professor Masao, and works for the Tomita corporation in Osaka, researching a robot intended to mimic humanity.

In the absence (due to the Bon holiday) of others in the organization, Eleanor is called to the scene of an accident - a factory worker has been killed by a welding robot. When her analysis shows tampering, Eleanor is pulled into Inspector Ishihara's investigation, one that quickly changes from perfunctory to serious. Another of Ishihara's cases involves four teenagers found dead in a 'Betta' ('multistoried residential complexes that were transforming the cityscapes of Japan') apartment. Their bodies are covered in silver paint, and there are augmented phone implants in their heads. There appears to be no connection between the two crimes ...

A brilliant old colleague, Akita, has been calling Eleanor and his research directions intrigue her. Then another researcher (also once a co-worker) dies, and her rebellious niece Mari disappears. Trying to find Mari, Eleanor is embroiled with a radical 'New Millennium Religion' group led by a mysterious man named Adam. Japan's security forces, on the track of the 'Silver Angels', suspect Eleanor of being a 'criminal mastermind', but Ishihara finds the idea preposterous. With her niece's life at stake, Eleanor is forced into the 'Macrocosm', to help Adam achieve a goal that would devastate the society they live in. Of course, it's her robotics expertise that saves her.

Maxine McArthur lived in Japan for many years and has written that experience - from daily life and meals to manga comics - into her novel. Though its pace is slow at times, Less Than Human is an intriguing speculative mystery set in an exotic location, in a future at times too close for comfort.

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