Several months back, a member of Amazing Stories’ growing community recommended a few Ron Goulart novels that might be of interest to Scide Spitters’ readers – thanks, John (Otto66). So this month we are going to take a look at one of the books he suggested – Brainz, Inc. And no, this book has nothing to do with zombies. This is a fast paced, humorous, science fiction/private detective story filled with colorful characters in a lightly satirical projection of the near future.
For those unfamiliar with Mr. Goulart’s oeuvre, he is the prolific author of so many books and short stories that I won’t even attempt to give you a count (a difficult task in part because he’s used many pseudonyms in addition to ghost writing novels like William Shatner’s Tek War series). His primary areas of output are in science fiction and fantasy, but he has also written many mysteries in addition to scripting comics and writing non-fiction on the history of comics.
Brainz, Inc. is one of several Goulart novels and short stories featuring Jake and Hildy Pace, proprietors of Odd Jobs, Inc. detective agency. In this case, a drunken attorney crash lands his skycar in Jake and Hildy’s yard and presents them with a coffin containing the body of recently deceased Sylvia Kirkyard, heiress to Kirktronics, a vast electronics empire. The body in the coffin is not that of the actual deceased, but an android replica with her memories that she had created in secret at one of her subsidiary companies, Brainz, Inc.
Despite the official investigation concluding that her death was an accident, Sylvia, or rather her android replica, is convinced that foul play was involved and wants to hire Odd Jobs to find out who murdered her. She thinks that she was getting close to uncovering a plot at Brainz to control the richest and most powerful people on the planet. And she suspects that several high-level employees, and perhaps even her brothers, are in on the plot. Unfortunately she doesn’t remember the most recent clues that she discovered because her last memory recording was three weeks before her death. What she does know, however, is enough to convince Jake and Hildy to take the case – that and a half million dollars.
The story takes place in the year 2004, which would have been roughly twenty years in the future when it was written. While Mr. Goulart is not going to win any awards for prognostication, what with sky cars (yes, we did think there would be flying cars), androids and such still not here a decade later, that shouldn’t spoil it for the reader. Most of Goulart’s future world was clearly a tongue-in-cheek satire on the obsessions and foibles of society. And as social satire, this story is perhaps even more apt today.
The strengths of the book are its tight plotting, fast pace, witty dialog, idiosyncratic characters, and hilariously absurd depictions of the near future. Other subtle aspects that SF fans will appreciate include small details like an old science fiction author who objects to the term ‘sci fi,’ Malzberg’s Syndrome, and other in-jokes. The weaknesses of the story are Goulart’s somewhat repetitive physical character descriptions and perhaps a bit too much backstory early on. But those concerns are quickly forgotten once the narrative has its hooks in you.
While a few dated technological aspects will stick out for the modern reader, Brainz, Inc. still works wonderfully as an engaging SF detective novel and as laughter inducing comedy. Unfortunately, all of Mr. Goulart’s Odd Jobs, Inc. novels are out of print. Fortunately, used copies are readily available and Mysterious Press has published digital versions of all the novels in the series.