Less Than Human
Maxine McArthur
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Buy *Less Than Human* online Less Than Human

Maxine McArthur
400 pages
October 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This is a near-future sci-fi novel about a red-haired foreigner married to a Japanese scientist getting sucked up in to her ultimate dreams and worst nightmare at the same time. Eleanor McGuire is going along normally in her robotics lab, frustrated by budget cuts, office politics, and dealing with people not used to her speaking Japanese so well when she's summoned to the factory of a client because of a fatal accident. After investigating, McGuire is convinced things aren't as they seem, mainly because the robot shouldn't be able to move in the way it had to in order to create the accident, and the safety features have been tampered with in some way. This is the first meeting between McGuire and Police Inspector Ishihara. Ishihara doesn't understand robots at all but gets the gist of things when McGuire spells out the problems to the "obvious" conclusion.

Ishihara, like cops the world over, is working more than one case at a time. He's been called out to look into the group suicide of four teenagers. Suddenly the Japanese version of the FBI is in his face, and he's having to run around without sleep in order to prevent another Japanese cult disaster from occurring.

All in all I liked Less Than Human. After so many versions of pairing up a non-police person with a cop, this was refreshing to read. McGuire is honestly sucked into the conspiracy because of her niece and her relationship with various co-workers. It's not just her nosy stubbornness or boredom with her life that causes her to risk everything and face down a large number of dangerous individuals without any real training. The book is exceedingly well written, especially for those people who, like myself, love all things Asian or Japanese.

The manga references are just right enough to help someone who is unfamiliar with Japanese culture to understand manga and its importance in Japanese life and how it crosses age gaps, while not beating them over the head with it. The world vision is well-built in that I could picture it happening; however, it's placed so close to today I got distracted thinking about how all these bettas could be done so quickly. McArthur was wise in not leaving Japan and describing what was going on elsewhere in the world, because that would have caused the reader to lose focus. The family dynamics are great; I really understood why McGuire felt so protective of her niece and would risk everything for her. I must say the ending disappointed me because I think everything else was so realistic that the happily-ever ending fell flat. The only saving grace to this ending would be if these characters were brought back in another story to be challenged again.

© 2004 by Kim Lightfoot for Curled Up With a Good Book

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