Martinez on The Automatic Detective

Hey there, Action Force. Let’s talk about The Automatic Detective today.

My fourth novel, Detective is the story of indestructible robot Mack Megaton and his exploration into the dark underbelly of Empire City. I label it retro-sci fi crime noir, and while I’m certainly not the first to set a story in a retro futuristic city or combine robots and crime fiction, I’d like to think I did something unique in Detective.

The thing that always bugs me about robot stories is that robots tend to either want to destroy all humanity or want to be human. It’s an egocentric way at looking at the universe, but since most stories are written by humans, I’ll overlook it. Mack, however, doesn’t want either. He just wants to function from day to day. He has nothing against people, but he’s a seven foot tall, superstrong robot, and he’s pretty happy with that.

Some people think the theme of Detective is a standard Robot Learns to be More Human trope, but Mack’s story is less about becoming human and more about finding your place in the world. Metaphorically, he’s a warbot made to lead a robot army, but before the story begins, he’s already rejected that objective. The question then becomes what is he supposed to do with his existence?

That sort of existential dread is tricky enough for you and me, but when you’ve been designed for a specific purpose and you no longer wish to fulfill that purpose, what’s next? Mack has it even trickier than most of us since as a robot he doesn’t need to eat or drink or bath. He has to pay for his electricity use, and he has an apartment (though he really doesn’t even need that). He doesn’t need to socialize. Aside from some basic maintenance, what does he have to motivate him? That question is at the heart of Detective‘s story.

I love Mack. Straight up, I love the guy. He’s among the favorite characters I’ve ever created, and his noir-ish robotic outlook was a great deal of fun to write. A big reason I wanted to write Detective beyond wanting to write a robot story was the chance to have fun with a weird sci fi setting that really doesn’t make sense (but does by its own rules) and to write cool tough guy dialogue from the mouths of robots and mutants. Empire City is honestly probably my favorite setting of all my stories.

This is a place full of ray guns, mutants, and brainy dames. Whether it’s Sanchez, the mutant cop of the High Science Crimes Division, or Joseph Jung, evolved gorilla, or Abner Greenman, alien mob boss, or Lucia Napier, super inventor and debutante, the book brims with great characters and cool action pieces. There’s fights and adventure and intrigue and through it all, Mack strides like a hard-boiled smashing machine, which is exactly what he is.

One of the weirder things about Detective is that it technically takes place not in the future but in an alternate past. Not many people figure that out, which is fine. It’s not important, but it is a fun fact.

I also wrote Detective because I wanted to write a story where a super robot gets in a lot of fights. So Mack does. He punches his way into and out of trouble, all the while wondering why he’s bothering? Until the end, when he puts it all together. It doesn’t matter if you’re a robot or a human. It doesn’t matter what you were made to do. His value is found in helping others, in accepting their help, and in building a family of sorts around himself. In that way, he’s not much different than any A. Lee Martinez protagonist.

Mack does have a secret origin. I’ve just never shared it. I probably never will. It’s not important. Like most of my characters, Mack isn’t defined by his past but by his present and his possible future. He’s human in all the ways that matter without having to envy us. And he’s also the guy you can call on to punch a giant slime monster in the face. And that’s pretty awesome.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. KEITH
    Posted June 17, 2016 at 10:03 pm | Permalink


  2. Cathy/greytfriend
    Posted June 18, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I lied. This is my favorite. It was just too much fun in every way.

  3. Shreela Sen
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I love Mack. & do not need to know his past. But please tell us Lucia Napier’s story?

  4. Posted November 3, 2016 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    I’ve only read the novel once, but the “DOES NOT COMPUTE” line cracks me up every time I think about it. Which is surprisingly often!

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