cover image Brain Thief

Brain Thief

Alexander Jablokov. Tor Books, $24.99 (383pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-2200-5

Serial-killer murder mystery, artificial intelligence bildungsroman, a celebration of Americana diner schtick-Jablokov's return to science fiction after a decade-long absence is all of these and more. Wealthy eccentric Muriel Inglis, who finances unusual research projects, disappears while checking on a project to build an AI-driven space probe that's apparently impatient to start its journey. Her assistant Bernal tries to track her down, fearing that she may have fallen victim to a killer known as The Bowler (so named because one victim's severed head turned up in a bowling bag). Starting with a cryptic message in a cowboy boot, Bernal's attempts to find his boss include encounters with a cyberpunk wise-guy waiter who has a conspiracy theory for every occasion, a mad scientist recently dismissed from a cryobank, and an anti-AI protester who sums up the wonders of the information age thusly: ""The ability to learn the uninformed opinions of everyone in the world through round-cornered communications devices my fat fingers are too big to use."" Though the plot is a bit too complex and the text over-obsessed with technical details, Jablokov's latest is a fun read with plenty of unexpected turns and a genuinely surprising ending.