Author: Rosa Montero (translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites)
Reviewed by: Joe Mossman
Imagine that you are a lie. Your childhood, your parents, every experience good or bad, every lesson learned and every tumble taken, they’re all fiction, simulations etched into your brain to keep you from going mad. Because here’s the bad news: you are also a simulation.
Given the book’s title, even the most casual science fiction fan can probably make a few educated guesses about what Tears in Rain is about. For the one of you out there who didn’t catch the reference, the line was part of the final declaration of Rutger Hauer’s replicant character, Roy, in Blade Runner; in his last moments, the artificial human recounts some of the amazing things he’s seen in his four years of life and reflects that when he’s gone, those experiences will be “lost in time, like tears in rain.”
The influence of the film is clear, both in the material and in the narrative itself. Though the book’s artificial humans are formally called “technohumans”, they are commonly referred to as replicants or “reps” (somewhat disparagingly, it’s suggested) in a conscious reference to the movie. The reps are biological beings (they are indistinguishable from humans save their engineered strength and their eyes, which have elliptical pupils) and as you’d expect, they share an uneasy relationship with their creators. Author Rosa Montero’s vision of 2109 AD feels familiar as well: a gritty-shiny, crowded futurescape where technological wonder is so tangled up with dystopian gloom and doom you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. These now-universal SF staples frame a mystery-thriller plot, the central theme of which is memory, and how our experiences define who we are.
What’s interesting is that Montero’s protagonist is a technohuman. Bruna Husky is a female combat model who settled into life as a private detective after being released from her two years of military service. After being assaulted by her replicant neighbor, Bruna is hired by a techno advocacy group when the cause of the attack is discovered: implanted with illegal memories that act as behavior programs, reps seem to go mad and commit atrocities against anyone nearby, usually other reps. However, the job requires that Bruna interact with memorists (artists who specialize in writing artificial histories for replicants) and Bruna hates memorists. In Tears in Rain, all technos are implanted at “birth” with an artificial past, though most seem to become aware of the deception early in their lives, and so are left to reconcile their identity with a fictional upbringing. Bruna despises the memory writers partly because they deal in lies, but also because her own memorist gave her a particularly painful childhood. Her conversations with the memorist Pablo Nopal are where Montero does her best work delving into the themes of nature and nurture, and the notion that all memory is essentially subjective and therefore an illusion.
Bruna is certainly where the book’s strength lies. She initially comes across much as you’d expect: angry, unfeeling, sort of one-dimensional. It’s only as the novel progresses you begin to see glimpses of who she really is, that she’s a deeply sensitive woman who tries and ultimately fails to suppress her desire for a full life, love and happiness. Montero’s technos live for about ten years, at which time they succumb to a horrific full-body cancer called Total Techno Tumor, or TTT. Having watched her techno lover consumed by the process, Bruna is preoccupied with her own impending mortality, counting the years, months and days she has left as a matter of obsessive-compulsive habit. She is fixated on life but afraid to live it, afraid to commit to what she’s doomed to lose. Montero does a superb job of drawing Bruna out of her shell in a subtle, believable way.
The story of a sophisticated racist conspiracy against replicants is less compelling, but entertaining enough in that it keeps you guessing and delivers a small but surprising twist at the end when the ringleader is revealed. There’s a lot of future history, too; the discovery of teleportation, extraterrestrial contact, numerous wars, and two breakaway states that took up residence in massive orbital stations. Humans and replicants share space with aliens and mutants (the latter actually being people who teleported too often and now suffer displaced limbs and other oddities). Much of the novel’s backstory is told through “archival entries” which factor into the main plot, and while these sidebars never feel awkward or pull you out of the story, you can’t help but feel that there’s almost too much information, too many ideas that never get adequately explored. Montero could draw a couple of sequels or prequels out of the material very easily.
The prose itself (translated from the original Spanish by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites) is economical with occasional flashes of brilliance, but there is an annoying tendency to refer to characters, especially Bruna, in an impersonal way. Bruna, for example, is often referred to as “the rep” or, worse, “the android,” as in “the android did this” or “the rep watched that.” It’s a small detail, but annoying in that it keeps drawing distance between the reader and the character they’re supposed to be sympathizing with.
If you pick up Tears in Rain (and you should), what you have in your hands is a slightly flawed science fiction novel that pays homage to its inspiration while remaining original. A competent conspiracy thriller with a deceptively complex, non-human main character, and an even-handed take on a possible future, addressing current fears while carrying a current of optimism.