If you love both detectives and science fiction, there’s a chance you’re a really fun person. But what would it be like to be a detective in the future? Sure, no one analyzes clues like The Doctor, and Spock and Data tackle a sort of whodunit from time to time, but what about your bonafide sci-fi gumshoes?
Here are six of the best detectives from science fiction literature.
Simone Pierce (Depth, by Lev AC Rosen)
Out this week, the latest novel from genre-bender Lev AC Rosen takes place in a future New York City that is partially submerged thanks to the melting of the polar ice caps. Both a straightforward noir plot-twister and a art heist caper, finds Rosen’s protagonist, private detective Simone Pierce, in search of “The Blonde,” a woman who may or may not have killed her husband and set Simone up for the crime. Sharp, witty, and tough, Simone is a woman we root for not just because she’s in the mystery, but because she seems like a real person.
Dr. Wendell Urth & Elijah Baley (Various stories, Isaac Asimov)
In real life, Isaac Asimov was mildly agoraphobic, famously disliking air travel and vacationing. It seems only natural, then, that he dreamed up a futuristic detective who solves mysteries in space by never leaving Earth (in fact, Dr. Wendell Urth pretty much doesn’t leave his house). How does he do it? He reads a lot, he’s really smart, and people just keep coming to him. As with many great detectives, Asimov asserts that imagination is the key ability when it comes to solving the most important mysteries. Like, say, a murder on the moon. That said, Asimov’s more enduring gumshoe is probably Elijah Baley, a far-future police detective who finds himself dealing with a robot partner in The Caves of Steel.
Conrad Metcalf (Gun, With Occasional Music , by Jonathan Lethem)
Many think Motherless Brooklyn was Jonathan Lethem’s debut novel, but it actually this wonderful sci-fi mashup of Raymond Chandler sensibilities and Philip K. Dick action. In a world where radio broadcasts contain few words and language is occasionally replaced by flashes of color, Conrad Metcalf is a dry-witted detective of the old school. But whereas Chandler’s Philip Marlowe was a bitter and numb for reasons unknown, Metcalf is numb because everybody in this future is on some serious, mind-deadening drugs.
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Rick Deckard (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, by Philip K. Dick)
Though specifically more a bounty hunter/assassin than a detective, there’s definitely a noir haze around the protagonist of this classic Dick novel (a description that holds true of Harrison Ford’s cinematic interpretation as well). Tracking down and discovering who is a replicant and who isn’t might be Deckard’s job (though in the book he just wants a “real” animal of his own), but the biggest mystery for readers to solve is whether Deckard is human at all.
Eve Dallas ( The In Death series, by J.D. Robb)
Romance novelist Nora Roberts is also one of the hardest-working science fiction writers on the planet. In addition to her regular persona=, Roberts writes stories of mid-21st century detective Eve Dallas under the double initial nom de plume. If you’re looking for page-turning SF mysteries, the exploits of Eve Dallas are basically unbeatable.
He’s the most famous detective of all time, but you could (well, I have) argue that Holmes is inherently science fictional, if only because he uses forensic science and deductive reasoning in a fantastically fictional manner. However, Sherlock Holmes has also appeared in plenty of conventionally science fiction-y science fiction stories. One great anthology is called Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, while another more contemporary collection—The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes—features everything from alternate universe Sherlocks, to time travel, to basically any other improbable trope not present in the Conan Doyle canon. Lest you think the well runneth dry, there’s also last year’s Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, a compendium of time-hopping Holmesian tales.
Who is your favorite SF detective?