I bought Tears in Rain mostly because it was advertised as a spiritual successor to Blade Runner, one of my favorite movies. The book is not an actual sequel, but it touches upon many of the themes and issues raised in that movie. Of course, anything that claims to follow Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is going to set expectations very high. Remarkably, Rosa Montero succeeds. This was easily one of the best books I read in 2013.
The story focuses on Bruna Husky, a replicant who works as a detective. She notices an odd and disturbing pattern of crime amongst replicants and sets out to investigate. The plot itself is fairly straightforward. What really captured me was the characters. The characters in this book feel absolutely real. They experience complex emotions. Montero does an excellent job at showing how individuals can feel so many different and sometimes contradictory emotions at the same time. We see characters who feel one thing but feel compelled to say something completely different, yet their actions are believable because their complexity resembles our own.
Montero also does an excellent job at situating Bruna and the other characters in a world that feels as alive as those street scenes in Blade Runner. The characters interact with each other and appear and reappear in different contexts. Characters who seem initially to simply provide a bit of information necessary for Husky’s investigation to proceed might later help her with an emotional problem. It’s neat to see how the pieces all fit together and really makes the characters feel more real. Human relationships are complex and multifaceted and this book portrays that better than most others I’ve seen. In short, Tears in Rain doesn’t just have an ensemble of characters, but a living community.
The book also addresses some BIG themes. This is an excellent exploration of tolerance, difference, and coexistence in society. Bruna finds herself in the middle of two supremacist groups, one which advocates replicant rights and the other that seeks to enforce human superiority. The book actually goes beyond Blade Runner by introducing aliens and as yet another source of difference. Characters change and characters’ perceptions of other characters change. I found myself shocked to find that my own perceptions of characters also changed and found myself having to overcome some of my own prejudices.
If the book has a flaw, it’s that it introduces too much too quickly. Rosa Montero’s world is huge and there are many historical development between now and 2109. Montero litters the book with in-universe archivist notes, which serve both to bring the reader up to speed on key historical developments and to further the central mystery of the book. However, it still feels like there’s so much to absorb. I wouldn’t have minded a slightly longer introduction to some of the characters, aliens, and developments before the murder mystery begins in force. However, I say this more because I enjoyed Montero’s world-building and wanted to absorb it rather than because I ever felt lost in the book.
Some reviewers have issues with the translation. Rosa Montero wrote the book in Spanish and Amazon provided a translation. To be honest, I was initially a bit worried, but overall I found the translation to be quite competent. The prose is highly readable and the dialogue actually sounds like human conversation (except when it isn’t supposed to, as in the case of aliens or replicants). The writing is probably better than much of English-language science fiction I’ve read, including more prominent authors. Granted, the writing never reaches the heights Montero probably intended. The writing is prose, not poetry. I can only imagine how beautiful this book sounds in Montero’s native Spanish. However, the most important point is that the writing never interferes with enjoyment of the novel. Kudos to the translator!
Overall, if you like science fiction that treats its characters as real individuals with a range of emotions AND explores Big Ideas™, I highly recommend this book.