Hard boiled detectives aren’t only found in the pulps and, by necessity or chance, can be found on many a planet in the science fiction galaxy or fantasy universe. The uniform changes slightly from gumshoe to gumshoe, but the quick patter, ability to take a punch, and cynical streak of unbendable morality is consistent, even if it is hundreds of years in the future or hundreds of light-years into the beyond.
The first detective I met in the pages of a science fiction book was probably R. Daneel Olivaw in The Caves of Steel. He isn’t quite cut from the shamus twill of the paperbacks – he’s just a self-aware robot trying to help solve a crime amidst and despite anti-robot sentiments – but he introduced me to the idea that a SF detective novel could be written.
It’s been said that mystery and science fiction genres couldn’t be blended because you would naturally have situations or weapons that the reader had no reference to. The locked room mystery would be solved in 2 pages by the introduction of the Variable-Depth Instant-On Micro-Singularity Generator, for example. Pretty much the same for fantasy, though that would probably entail the old Triggered Heart Crush Spell of the Ancient Djooneormihntz. Anyways, they can be melded, and well. I’ve met many private eyes in my sci-fi reading career and here are a few of my favorites.
John Justin Mallory
Saddled with Felicia, a ninety-three pound cat variant that only loves him when he’s feeding her, a magic mirror that plays dirty movies, and a partner that’s a former big game hunter with gryphon and unicorn heads mounted on her walls, John Justin Mallory is not in Manhattan any more. At least, not in his Manhattan. This one is full of vampires, wizards, goblins, and an Evil Incarnate with a moral streak. And perhaps it’s just those similarities that’s making his adjustment so easy. From tracking down a prize-winning show Chimera-napper (Fluffy, by the way) before the Eastminster pet show, or locating a murderous vampire just over from the old country, Mallory does it all with wit and an amazing patience given his circumstance.
When your roommate has been dead for 400 years, your best friend is a vegetarian half-dark-elf killer, your elderly houseman is trying to hook you up with one of his spinster nieces (who may have ogre somewhere in their family tree), and the local Kingpin knows your name and isn’t sure if he likes you, then things like centaurs, elves, trolls, gods, or magic don’t much bother you. They certainly don’t bother Garrett, P.I., an ex-Marine and current hard boiled detective of the old style who wisecracks his way through saving stray damsels in distress to ridding the local theater of bugs. Garrett’s home town of Tunfaire is an eye-opener, flinging back the curtain on the seamy side of creatures we thought we knew; Unicorns gone bad (really, really bad), the bitchy side of Elven women, giant/troll offspring (grolls), professional thugs that scrupulously keep their word, and other rather unbelievable twists of character.
Mack Megaton is an unlikely and somewhat reluctant hard-boiled investigator. He is a near-indestructible battle robot, the first and only one built by an evil genius bent on world domination. That gig fell through when the mastermind landed in the slammer, so Mack became a cab driver to pay for his electricity. Because he has “The Glitch” of self-awareness he’s on probation to becoming a full citizen and in therapy. When the family next door disappears, Mack knows something is wrong and decides to save them if he can. Using basic detective techniques he follows a bare (metal) -knuckled trail through (alien) crime syndicates, is dogged by a (3-foot tall and furry) police detective, is vamped by a (child prodigy genius) bombshell with great gams, and picks up a (mutant ape) sidekick.
These are only a few of the many sci-fi sherlocks out there, but I’ll leave it to you to sleuth the rest of ’em out.