What if?

Murder Born
by Robert Reed

This intriguing novella explores ideas around murder, revenge and capital punishment. It’s not the lightest read, but definitely one to make you think.

In his introduction, Reed says “[State] executions carry huge consequences…in the end not even the most Old Testament of these souls [families of the victim] are left happy, or even at peace…I asked myself what would make state-sponsored murder into the only moral response…I guess this is my bid for transparent justice.” Still intrigued?

Shawn is a photojournalist who is travelling home from an assignment in Asia when he gets a call from his ex-wife to say that their teenage daughter is missing, last seen with her boyfriend. So begins Shawn’s descent into the world of crime and punishment, with a science-fiction twist that makes it all even more complex and difficult.

And that’s as much as I can say about the plot without giving too much away, because the idea is revealed slowly, step by step. It has been carefully thought through and every “what if” I thought of came up and was dealt with. It is a very clever, hugely thought-provoking idea that I imagine will stay with me for a long long time.

That said, this novella won’t be for everyone. The story is all about the idea and, while characters weren’t wooden, they weren’t completely rounded either. It also owes a certain something to the murder mystery template, with the plot suddenly wrapping up very quickly after the “big reveal”. But it is well written, with a middle America setting that is both anywhereville and completely real. And while the topic could be considered political, the story doesn’t actually take sides or offer a clear solution, though you can take a guess at Reed’s position from the idea that he has come up with.

I really recommend not just that you read this, but also that you get someone else to read it so that you can talk it over afterward. Many thanks to Tim for doing just that to me!

First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction February 2012 issue