A hardboiled detective seeks to unravel a noir mystery set against a cyberpunk, futuristic Los Angeles. The description conjures up images of Blade Runner, but it’s actually Dome City Blues by Jeff Edwards.
Taking place in 2063, David Stalin is a retired detective and war veteran from a brutal campaign in Argentina. Los Angeles is a polluted wasteland (even more than it is now) and much of the population live in domes. There is a distinct line referencing dystopian fiction like Blade Runner, saying how beyond the domes there’s not much to see, no nomadic gangs of cannibals or anything out of Mad Max.
Like all good hardboiled detective noir, Dome City Blues begins with David taking on a new case. A sultry femme fatale named Sonja Winter wants him to prove her brother’s innocence in a murder case. The problem is that her brother has already confessed to the murders on tape. What’s worse, he then killed himself, on tape, of course.
However, Miss Winter isn’t convinced everything’s on the level and insists her innocent brother was murdered. This is the future, after all, where footage can be easily edited. Hell, deep fakes are practically a regular part of Photoshop now.
Nevertheless, David takes the case and discovers another murder/confession suspiciously similar to Winter’s brother i.e. the victims all have their hearts ripped out. But as he gets closer to the truth, David is framed for the murder of his prime suspect. Having made a lot of enemies throughout his career, David now finds himself as a wanted man.
There is a general theme of humans merging with machines through cybernetic implants and how this impacts society at large. David’s best friend, a disabled war veteran, can only walk thanks to a mechanized exoskeleton. There are other tidbits of futuristic technology, such as the titular domed cities to an AI house that can make coffee for him.
If you like Blade Runner or Altered Carbon, or just noir mysteries in general, give Dome City Blues a read.
Jeff Edwards Interview
1) What inspired you to write the book?
I honestly can’t remember if my first exposure to cyberpunk was seeing Blade Runner, or reading the short story, Burning Chrome, by William Gibson. The two moments have sort of melded in my memory over the years, and I can no longer be sure of the order. Whichever of the two I encountered first, I was blown away. Here was a version of the future that I’d never imagined. Not the ultra-clean aesthetic of Star Trek, or the post-apocalyptic desolation of Mad Max. Something in the middle. A future recognizably descended from our own, where new technology gets grafted onto aging infrastructures, corporations get richer, and the environment fails – not catastrophically – but millimeter by relentless millimeter.
That kind of future to me was (and is) both terrifying and fascinating. Not a great place to live, but an amazing canvas for painting stories.
2) What are your biggest influences for Dome City Blues?
I’ve already named two of them, Blade Runner and Burning Chrome. Also, the novels of Micky Spillane mixed with some J.G. Ballard.
3) You finished the book in 1992 but it wasn’t published until much later. Could you expand on the novel’s journey after you finished it in 1992?
Dome City Blues got tied up in a joint book/movie project that never quite came to fruition. We got pretty close to making a movie a couple of times, but nothing in Hollywood is real until people start signing checks. Bottom line… I had to wait for all the options to expire so I could get the rights back.
4) Dome City Blues has a very “analog future” as opposed to the digital age which we currently live in. If you had written it today, what do you think would have been the major differences?
I’ve often wondered the same thing. When I wrote Dome City Blues, cell phones were the size of cinder blocks and nobody I knew could afford one. The first Matrix movie was still seven years away and (to me, at least) totally unimagined. I had never even heard the word “internet.” If I had known about smartphones, the web, social media, and many (many) other technologies, I probably would have written a very different novel. What it would have looked like, I can’t really say.
5) Who is your favorite character and why?
I think my favorite character is House. To me, he’s wonderfully ambiguous. Is he the loyal friend and companion that he appears to be? Or is all of that just part of his personality matrix? Just software, simulating a human connection? Is he a person? The book is an exploration of the boundaries of humanity. House is a microcosmic example of that theme. What makes you human, and House something less than human? How we answer that question could have serious implications for the future of our species.