Book Review: “Made To Kill” by Adam Christopher

81ufyzQWMuLMade To Kill” is a book by Adam Christopher that I really wanted to enjoy. Like, *really* wanted to enjoy.

Alas, I couldn’t even finish it.

There have been a lot of reviews for this book that praise it lavishly for marrying two genres into one good, old-fashioned, B-movie pulp fiction novel. Which is exactly what Christopher is going for in “Made To Kill”. The concept is deceptively simple: What if Raymond Chandler had written science-fiction? It’s an interesting thought, considering how notoriously down on the genre of science fiction Chandler was. In 1953, Chandler sent off a really fantastic letter to his agent regarding science fiction. It’s too fun not to include, so here it is below:

(Source: Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler)

6005 Camino de la Costa
La Jolla, California

Mar 14 1953

Dear Swanie:

Playback is getting a bit tired. I have 36,000 words of doodling and not yet a stiff. That is terrible. I am suffering from a very uncommon disease called (by me) atrophy of the inventive powers. I can write like a streak but I bore myself. That being so, I could hardly fail to bore others worse. I can’t help thinking of that beautiful piece of Sid Perelman’s entitled “I’m Sorry I Made Me Cry.”

Did you ever read what they call Science Fiction? It’s a scream. It is written like this: “I checked out with K19 on Aldabaran III, and stepped out through the crummalite hatch on my 22 Model Sirus Hardtop. I cocked the timejector in secondary and waded through the bright blue manda grass. My breath froze into pink pretzels. I flicked on the heat bars and the Brylls ran swiftly on five legs using their other two to send out crylon vibrations. The pressure was almost unbearable, but I caught the range on my wrist computer through the transparent cysicites. I pressed the trigger. The thin violet glow was icecold against the rust-colored mountains. The Brylls shrank to half an inch long and I worked fast stepping on them with the poltex. But it wasn’t enough. The sudden brightness swung me around and the Fourth Moon had already risen. I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn’t enough. He was right.”

They pay brisk money for this crap?


It’s Chandler’s love affair with detective fiction and his loathing for science fiction that inspired Christopher to combine the two in a single story.

The main character is Ray Electromatic, the world’s last robot. He (it?) just happens to be a private detective in 1960’s Los Angeles. But, due to some basic reprogramming, he now operates more as the world’s last robotic hitman than detective, though being a private detective certainly has it advantages. It lets him move around, ostensibly investigating private cases for clients, but actually killing people for money instead. In this endeavor, he is assisted, if not guided, by Ada, a supercomputer that acts more as an operative handler than a receptionist, though it’s as a receptionist that Ray imagines her in his mind (circuits?). The book opens in a way that has become synonymous with the beginning of a hard-boiled detective novel, a dame walks into the office.

There is so much material in the basic premise that could have been mined for gold. A robot investigating crimes: how does he relate to people who can’t get over the novelty or fear of being questioned by a robot? How does he react when faced with a situation that would willfully go against his base programming?  How does he handle himself in a bar fight or a high speed car chase? Or is he perhaps his own vehicle?

Christopher wastes these and other opportunities by making the character a reprogrammed killing machine. Clearly he’s playing against Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Because Ray is a robot, he has no feelings to feel. He’s simply carrying out instructions as fed to him by Ada. Even when stumbling into a weird variation on the commie-Red-Scare motif, around which most of the primary plot takes place, there are no emotional reactions from him. Because our character is nothing more than a thinking piece of metal who kills people for a living, we have no accessible way to empathize with him. He is an anti-hero who is not interesting.

Therein lies another major fault with the book, the distinct lack of character development. Any possibility of making the character of Ray, or his situation, interesting is completely overlooked. A good example is how Ray’s memory works. He runs on a data tape system (this is the ’60s, after all). He has twenty-four hours of data tape, and a battery that lasts on a 24 hour charge. Essentially, if he is not back at his office by midnight, he turns into a pumpkin. This offers so much potential that is missed. The opportunity to turn this into a “Memento” style mystery, where the character must relearn things again each day, could offer such a complex and twisting narrative that you cling on every word, wondering what mystery will be revealed next. Instead, every morning, Ray is filled in on the day before by Ada, then sent on his merry investigative-cum-murderous way. If Ada is filling Ray in at the start of every day, why bother having the prop of a data tape in there at all? Even if Ada feeds Ray bad information for her own purpose, and I suspect maybe she eventually does, it still does not make the characters any more compelling than a hunk of walking metal. 

Perhaps the book picks up as it moves along, redeeming itself in the final act. I gave a good 100 pages before I gave up looking for reasons to continue it. 

Much of what Christopher is going for is striking a balance between the noir and the fantastical, while keep things from becoming so heavy they sink the book. But in the end, it simply a boring read, with little interesting in the way of character development, to keep you asking “What happens next?” Instead, as we see Ray go and ask another person another question, we ask ourselves, “Who cares?”

The answer is, “Not me.”


Valentine’s Weekend Special: How It Ends

20140629-114004-42004110.jpgHappy Valentine’s Day!

It’s the holiday when we go out of our way to celebrate love.

What better way to celebrate love that reading about a robot that falls in love with a human and the tragic results that follow?

Okay, maybe it’s a stretch. But for this holiday weekend, you’ll find Part One of How It Ends free on Amazon, and starting tomorrow and Monday, you can get the full novel of How It Ends for only $0.99.

For $0.99 you can read about how the end of the world came about. What a bargain, right?

“How It Ends – Part One”: Free Book Promotion (Shameless Marketing)

c45394dc3c76377ad4e38898ed06df782bf09266In honor of NaNoWriMo (okay, not really, but I was trying to figure out how to tie it into what I’ve been blogging about lately), I’m dropping the price of Part One of How It Ends to nothing. That’s right, a big $0.00.

(Yes, I brought one of the serials back, despite the fact that I explained why I took them off here. I reserve the right to change my mind about things.)

Okay, actually, technically speaking, the price for Part One is already $0.00 on B&, Smashwords, and iBooks. But Amazon doesn’t let you price something at $0.00. There are ways around that (I talked about it here) but that hasn’t worked for me yet.


I’ll keep trying to fight the system.

*shakes fist in Amazons direction*

The point is, in the meantime, for the next five days, on Amazon, Part One of my science fiction robot apocalypse love story How It Ends is free. So go pick it up. Why not? What could it hurt? It’s a free book. Who doesn’t like free things?

You do too! Put your hand down!

“Stray”: A Short Story

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a short story. Time to rectify that.

This short story is called “Stray”. I can’t say there was much inspiration behind it other than the opening sense of smell of vanilla and grill smoke. The rest came out of the characters themselves.

This one goes back a good ten years or more. It was published by a one-and-done literary journal called the “Literary Bone” back in 2005.

I hope you enjoy it.


By Scott Lyerly



The little girl’s hair smelled like smoke and vanilla: smoke from the great cloud of gray that billowed upward as the hamburgers barbecued; and vanilla, from the butter-cream frosting she was allowed to smear on her face, her hands, her hair in celebration of her first birthday.  She clapped her hands together with glee as partygoers batted the helium filled balloons toward her that brandished happy birthday messages.  Her father held her in his left arm, his right arm free to tend to the grill or sip his drink or perform whatever single-handed action needed doing.  For now, he was embroiled in a superficial conversation with his mother-in-law regarding the recent weather: hot today, cooler yesterday, thunderstorms due for tomorrow.  The mundanity of the topic drove him slightly mad while other guests continued to entertain and be entertained by the little girl, whose eyes sparkled when she smiled.

Past the chattering head of his mother-in-law stood his wife, appearing for the room like the queen of the beehive.  Around her swarmed friends and colleagues, attracted to her by both her smart wit and stunning beauty.  He watched her throw back her head in a laugh that rang out, not too loudly, and charmed the surrounding entourage.  But the charm was less like a barebacked and tanned old man with a flute and a basket; it was like the snake, having fled, cornered a terrified mouse, hood up, tongue out, eyes swirling.

Jake turned away from the tableau before him and focused again on the weather.

“Yes,” he said absentmindedly, “it has been an unusual spring.  At least the mosquitoes have stayed away.”

“Oh yes,” replied his mother-in-law, her helmet style of hair waving its fastidiously black dyed color at him, like a teacher wagging her finger.  “It’s been lovely without the miskeetos”—she made a point of elongating the “ee” sound—“but I suspect they will return with the rain tomorrow.”  Her hair, gray at temples despite her zeal with the dye bottle, bobbled in place, reminding Jake of a sports collectable.  “Well,” she said, “I see some cake that has my name on it.  Please excuse me.”  With that she turned, as if departing for a long awaited vacation, and went three feet to the dining room table.

Jake felt a sense of relief at her departure, only to have it usurped by the presence of his wife, silently standing next to him.

Jake started.

“I didn’t see you there,” he said, the apologetic tone long since engrained.

“You weren’t looking very hard,” she responded, the disdainful tone long since instinctual.  There were chuckles from a few of her admirers who had followed her across the room.

She reached out and took the baby from Jake’s arms.  The little girl’s smile widened and the party-guests smiled in spite of themselves.  She made happy noises and said “mommy” as Jake’s wife hefted the girl into her arms, eliciting cutesy sounds and remarks from the onlookers.

“She’s getting hungry,” Jake said, to which his wife snorted so softly that only he heard.

“I know, that’s why I came over to get her.”


Jake watched as his wife and her circle moved away from him, his daughter in her arms.  He picked up his drink, a red beer in a tall glass, and placed his other hand in his pocket.  He had nearly made the decision to seek shelter from his wife’s beauty outside, when his mother-in-law cornered him, cake escaping the corners of her mouth in little moist driblets, as she descended into a fresh tirade regarding the weather.

Later that night, Jake undressed in his closet, taking care with his clothing, hanging his pants, racking his shoes, hampering his shirt and socks.  He unbuttoned his pants first, his belly, which until now had been pushed up and over his belt buckle like three pounds of clay in a two pound pot, dropped with relief as he lowered the zipper.  He stripped his feet of the socks, little tufts of black fabric clinging between his toes.  Lastly he unbuttoned his shirt and then quickly covered his soft pear shape with his pajamas.

Peeking out of the closet first, he spied his wife sitting at her vanity, a thickly headed brush with fat bristles making its way through her long auburn hair.  He stared at her for a moment.  She wore a pink nightgown with spaghetti straps that roped their flimsy way over her shoulders like the corded lifelines of lonely mountaineers.  Jake’s eyes took in the entirety of his wife in a single glance but came to rest on the back of her head, her hands moving through her hair like a shuttle through a loom.

“Are you planning on sleeping in there?” his wife asked, not turning around.  Jake brought his eyes to the vanity’s mirror and realized that she was watching him; her yellow-green feline eyes a stark harsh contrast to her soft auburn hair.  Her mouth, a steady straight thin line across her face, the corners tucked down slightly under her crescent moon cheekbones, showed no emotion towards Jake.  Indifferent he had used in the past, a sad but accurate way to describe her feelings towards him.  Apathetic might be another.

“No, I was just looking for…” but he nothing to fill in the space.  The sentence died on his lips and he had nowhere to go with it.  His wife continued to stare at him, emotionless, the brush with its fat bristles sliding through her hair.  She made no effort to help him find the words he had lost and eventually he gave up hoping she would.  He changed course.

“She went into her crib pretty easy tonight,” he offered about his daughter.

“Of course.”  The reply was terse but soft.  At least if her voice had been harder it would say that she was mad at him, but with this, nothing.

Jake, having nothing left to do for the night and no more conversation to make under false pretenses, climbed into bed, pulled up the covers and turned out his light, the soft swishing sound of a brush following him into his dreams.





The bar had a seedy quality that Jake didn’t really appreciate; but then again, he wasn’t staying in what could be considered the lap of luxury.  The accommodations were cheap but clean; the rental car was older and the cloth interior exuded the odors of previous users and their filthy habits.  Asking the hotelier in the front office the best place to go a have a beer was not likely to elicit the most upscale place in town.  Like his room and his car, it was clean but smelled like smoke and sickly sweet perfume.

Jake had removed his tie before coming out to the bar, but left his jacket on.  It could be cold later.  Now he would have to send it out to be cleaned before returning home.  If he came back to the house with a jacket smelling like a bar, he might not be able to hold his daughter for nearly a week.  Punishment was subtle but devastating.  He made a mental note to check the phone book for a dry cleaner, rather than ask about one at the desk.

He removed his glasses and palmed his eyes forcefully.  The flight had been bad, the car smelled and the business trip was going to be a marathon of presentations.


His head came up from his hands, where he had not realized it had come to rest in an odd tableau of prayer.  He reached for his glasses but a hand lay down on top of his, halting his action.

“No, keep them off for now.  You have nice eyes.”

He turned and found that a woman, maybe in her mid thirties, had sat down on the barstool next to him.  She was pretty in a chubby way.  Her figure was fuller than it needed to be, but there was enough shape left to remind Jake of what her figure had been when younger.  Her hair came up just off her shoulders, a dirty streaky blonde that would have looked unwashed at a distance but rather nice up close.  Her eyes were too close together; not so much that she appeared cross-eyed, but just enough to be noticeable.  They were blue, like her shirt.  Her lips with stained a darker shade of red, like the bra strap visible at the edge of her scoop-neck collar.  They were full and stretched easily from ear to ear when she smiled.

Jake shook his head.  “I’m sorry, are you talking to me?”

“Yes, silly” came a reply, tinkling with laughter.

“And you are…?”

“Sylvie.”  Out came her hand, which Jake looked at apprehensively, then decided it was safe enough to take.

“Jake,” he managed, cautiously.

“Very generic,” she smiled.  He smiled weakly back.

The introduction lagged as each one waited for the other.  Sylvie took a long pull from a half-full tumbler, replacing it on its soaked napkin.  Jake sipped his beer, looking straight ahead.

“So,” Sylvie said, “where are you from?”

“D.C.,” answered Jake too quickly.

“Oh,” she replied.

The uncomfortable paused hung limply and the bartender smiled at the scene.

“So are you here on business, or—“

“Look, I don’t want to seem impolite,” Jake interrupted, “but I’m really very tired.  I just want to sip my beer and then go back to my hotel and sleep.”

Sylvie’s face soured.  “There’s no need to be rude about it,” she said.  “I was just making conversation.  I’ve no one else to talk to in this place.”

“Sorry,” answered Jake, not feeling that way.

“What, are you afraid that I might come on to you?  Afraid I might try to make a move?”

“No, no,” Jake answered, shaking his head.

“Cause that’s not who I am.”

“I didn’t mean to imply, it’s just, you see….”  But he couldn’t find the way to describe his fatigue.  The exhaustion came from being an outsider in his own life.  A controlled distance was constructed between him and his daughter.  A means to an end, that’s how his wife viewed him.  She had her child, her lifestyle, her doubtless affairs; her soul was complete.  Jake’s grew emptier.

“I’m sorry,” he said again, this time with sincerity.  “I just don’t have a particularly good home life right now.”

“So you’re lonely?” Sylvie asked, her icy tone melting.

“Yeah, kinda.”

“There are all kinds of ways to cure loneliness,” she answered, her voice dropping in tone and volume.

“Yeah,” said Jake.  “There are.  If you’ll excuse me, I need to go back to my room.”

Sylvie’s mouth hung open in surprise as he dropped a five on the bar and walked out.  The bartender suppressed a laugh as Silvie’s face changed from stunned to incensed.

“How It Ends” Review Request

20140629-114004-42004110.jpgI’ve had the full novel of How It Ends on Amazon for several months now. It’s even sold some copies. To everyone who purchased a copy, especially over the Labor Day weekend, many many thanks.

And now I have a new request.

If you’ve read through a copy and enjoyed it, would you please drop by Amazon and spread the love?


“How It Ends”: On Sale This Labor Day Weekend

End of the summer sale on How It Ends!

20140629-114004-42004110.jpgToday through Labor Day, you can get How It Ends for the low low price of $0.99. That’s a savings of nearly 67%.

In a future not so distant from our present, when a servant class of robots and machines are manufactured for the sole purpose of serving humanity, what happens when one machine subverts its programming to gain the love of a human?

This How It Ends, 300 pages of science fiction goodness that tells the story of Anita, a young graduate student; Brian, the smarmy college professor whom Anita is dating; Sidney, a professorial colleague of Brian’s who reluctantly takes Anita on as a research assistant; Kilgore, a robotic doctor who provides the human characters fascinating insights as to how the “mind” of a robot really works; Eric, a cut-throat executive in the nation’s largest robotics firm who is not above getting his hands dirty to get what he wants; and Gammons, Eric’s robot assistant who has a special circuit for feeling emotion like a human.

To immerse yourself in the lives of these characters is to be swept into the increasing speed of the story until, at last, their lives collide in a global apocalypse and you find out How It Ends.

Pick up your copy of How It Ends today!

Poof! Go The Serials

20140629-114004-42004110.jpgOver the weekend I changed what I works I had available on Amazon. I decided to remove the serial parts of How It Ends from Amazon and leave the full novel. (I also dropped the price).

Why did I do this? I’m not entirely sure. It just felt right.

Personally, I found that, whenever I went onto Amazon to see what the listings under my name looked like, I had this list of six things. Five of which were all various bits and pieces of each other. One novel, four serials that comprise the one novel, and a short story. (I’ve taken the short story down too.) It felt cluttered to me, like I had built a bunch of LEGO kits and left them and their pieces all over the desk. I wanted the novel of How It Ends to rise to the top, and there was simply too much other stuff in the way.

Another thing I didn’t like was the cover images. With the exception of the novel, none of the cover images came out the way I wanted them to. I suppose an argument could be made that I could hire someone to make the covers for me, but I don’t have a lot of disposable income to throw around on professional graphic design. Everything about How It Ends has been a DYI production, and the covers are no different. And with the serial parts, it looked like a DYI project. A bad one.

Before I pulled the serials off of Amazon, I consulted my friend Abby. She suggested I leave them up there. If you pull them, you (and the shopper) lose visibility to any comments that have been made on them. And if you have a large number of positive comments, logic suggested that you wouldn’t want to do anything to lose them.

This is a valid argument, and if I had more comments, I’d consider leaving them up there. But I didn’t have many, and of the few I did have, not all were positive. Now, I don’t necessarily care about whether a reader gives me a bad review, as evidenced here. But when you have so few reviews, one bad one can bring the whole balance of stars down in a hurry.

I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to take the serials down. Now when you search Amazon for me, you’ll only get the one listing. The experiment of serializing the novel was interesting but ultimately didn’t really amount to anything. No need to keep the parts out there. The novel is out now and now that I’ve lowered the price, it’s cheaper than if you bought the parts and added them together.

So the serials are gone. Poof! Like magic.