Tears in Rain by Rosa Montero

Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

-Roy, Blade Runner 

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Fan fiction is a dirty word, isn’t it? It carries with it a connotation of corrupting someone else’s intellectual property. Unfortunately, that connotation tends to ignore homage, an allusion to previous work on which a current project is based. To call Rosa Montero’s Tears in Rain fan fiction is a bit of a stretch. There’s no inclusion of characters from another’s work or a continuation of any particular plot point, but it is, as the quote above indicates, fundamentally based on Blade Runner, the Ridley Scott film sourced from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Montero posits a world in which Blade Runner the film existed and also came true. It’s an homage, but in a far more overt manner than is typical.

When Bruna Husky is attacked by a fellow replicant (or rep), who ultimately dies from self inflicted wounds, she begins to ask questions, catching the eye of the Radical Replicant Movement (RRM). Husky, a former combat rep now working as a private detective, is quickly hired to discover why reps are dying all over Madrid. As the plot unravels, Tears in Rain becomes a classic whodunit with far reaching implications that go far beyond the simple crime of murder.

Bruna Husky is the typical hard boiled detective. She drinks to excess, regrets her past mistakes, and seems continually down on her luck. As a replicant, Husky feels isolated, and rejected. Created for a purpose, her term of service is at an end, now among humans who almost universally deny her right to live. Throughout, she repeats a mantra,

Four years, three months, and twenty-seven days.

It’s the ticking bomb inside every replicant — ten years of life, no more. Husky also carries with her a tattoo that runs, uninterrupted,  down her face to her toes and around. It bisects her, symbolizing not only her separation from humans, but the divide within herself, the rejection of the identity forced on her by her makers. These themes make up the bulk of Montero’s subtext, building off the ideas only tangentially addressed in Scott’s classic film, largely a result of Scott’s ambiguity toward Deckard’s ‘human status’.

Although Husky is the novel’s primary focus, Montero scatters other points of view throughout, a memory writer obsessed with finding the rep he implanted with his own memories, a human cop trying to make sense of things, and an old man searching for purpose. Each has a role to play in Tears in Rain, but the intent behind each of them trends more toward the didactic, to explain and understand the impacts of artificially created life, and, more relevant to now, defining societies by us and them.

‘. . .because deep down, all you humans are afraid of us. . . You despise us and, at the same time, you fear us. You too, Inspector? Do I scare you? Do I disgust you?’

Montero’s characters are woven into her setting, conjuring notions of identity and equality in a science fictional milieu that forces the reader to confront not just the replicants’ plight, but that of the real world’s disenfranchised.

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Structurally, the novel is a straight forward third person limited narrative, interspersed with Wikipedia like entries that provide an exceptional amount of historical information in an attempt to add context. They are nearly useless, serving only to bog down an otherwise briskly paced book. There are also times Montero falls into an over reliance on procedural writing that shows where it should tell. I admit the translation from Spanish to English likely did no favors in that regard.

Sadly, I wouldn’t consider Tears in Rain particularly Spanish. It is very much in the tradition of American science fiction, inspired by and written like the same. I would be lying if that didn’t disappoint me to some degree. I picked the novel up because I wanted to read outside the English point of view. Nevertheless, Rosa Montero has written a strong response to Blade Runner, building on many of the places Ridley Scott was unwilling to tread. Even with some hiccups as it relates to pace and structure, Tears in Rain is an easy novel to recommend, and an exceptional companion to the film.

Justin Landon

Justin Landon is the Overlord of Staffer's Book Review. When he's not writing things of dubious value to the world, he's at the gym or being a dad. You can follow him on a multitude of social media, which is strongly suggested lest you miss out on vital information that could someday save your life.

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Comments
  • Rob B November 21, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    The ever addictive TV Tropes has a much kinder suggestion for what to call this book: Spiritual Successor. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpiritualSuccessor I’ve got a copy too and it looks interesting enough, I may get to it early 2013

  • Odo November 21, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I must confess that, though I’m Spanish, I haven’t read this novel. I’ve always been very intrigued by it, but some friends of mine that did read it talked me out of it. However, your review has piqued my interest once again and I think I’ll give it a try.

    I want to mention, though, something about your comment about this novel not being “particularly Spanish”. Montero is a very well-known writer in Spain, but she is not a genre writer. In fact, as far as I know, this is her first and only science fiction novel. That might explain it a bit.

    Anyway, I’m not even sure there is something like “particularly Spanish” science fiction. Sadly, not that much science fiction is being written in Spain nowadays (epic fantasy is much more popular, as in the rest of the world) and even those authors that used to write SF in the ’90s have moved into historical fiction and YA. And most of them were always very influenced by SF coming from English speaking countries, in my opinion.

    However, there may be some SF authors that are “particularly Spanish”. I’d say Torres Quesada, Gabriel Bermúdez Castillo, Domingo Santos… Of them, I think that only Santos has been translated into English (he has some short stories published in Asimov’s, I think).

    At least, you can try some of other Spanish authors that have been translated into English. Felix J. Palma’s novels are some favourites of mine, especially The Map of Time (though I’ve seen that it has received some mixed reviews in the USA). And there are two very good stories by Spanish authors in the SFAW European Hall of Fame edited by James and Kathryn Morrow. Of them, I particularly recommend “Between the Lines” by José Antonio Cotrina, one my favorite short stories ever (though it is more fantasy than SF, in fact, and has a very strong Borgian tone).

    And hopefully next year, when Terra Nova is translated into English (http://sentidodelamaravilla.blogspot.com.es/2012/10/terra-nova-anthology-cover-art-and.html), you’ll get to experience some SF with a more definite Spanish (and Cuban and Argentinian) flavour to it :)

    Anyway, I think that the translation of this novel is very good news. I hope that it is just the first of many more translations and that, soon, you can enjoy masterpieces such as Mundos en el Abismo by Javier Redal and Juan Miguel Aguilera (one of the best Space Operas I’ve ever read).

  • Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) November 21, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Is Peter Watts story The Things also “fan fiction” since it assumes the universe of the movie of The Thing exists?

  • Fernando Hugo November 21, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    As Odo said, in his comment, it would be quite complicated a definition of what you may find as “Spanish” in the science fiction written nowadays in our country. Odo surely have read more of it, but it seems my impressions on that topic (from the short-stories and novellas I have read myself, from Spanish authors) were right: the influence of anglosaxon tradition is overwhelming. Félix J. Palma shows a wider range of authors/traditions on his writing, though I am only familiar with his short-stories, not with his novels. In those, he is closer to Cortazar. And, maybe, and just maybe, he would interest those who enjoy the New Weird.

    But again, I find that topic interesting: how would a Spanish novel or short-story be more Spanish? Maybe the background… maybe using Spanish literature tradition… Or Spanish speaking literatura tradition… But I am not sure Borges, Cortazar, Quiroga, Merino, in the “fantastic branch” of it, are authors considered that much by science fiction or fantasy Spanish authors.

  • Jeff December 10, 2012 at 4:33 am

    You mentioned the main character was attacked by a replicant, but can you tell me how the action is in this book. Is there much action in this book?

    • Justin Landon December 10, 2012 at 8:02 am

      There’s some, but it’s much more a mystery than an action thriller.

    • Bryan January 5, 2013 at 12:01 am

      What the book lacks in pure violence, it makes up for in suspense. There is not much fighting, however, each individual fight seems to be one of the larger pieces of the puzzle in this mystery.

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