In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns by Elizabeth Bear

Someone has died. Turned inside out. Now police sub-inspector Ferron must try and discover who did it.

This novella is as much of a mystery/detective story as it is a character study of Ferron. Set roughly 50 years in the future in India, we follow her as she attempts to solve the crime while also dealing with her mother who just won’t come back to reality. And just to throw another wrench in the works, she has also become the new owner of a parrot-cat — the only witness of the crime. This cute creature is a bright green and yellow cat that can talk. Unfortunately, this witness wasn’t saying anything; it bonded with Ferron after she fed it. Apparently, it wasn’t bonded with Dr. Dexter Coffin, the physicist whose body was found turned inside out.

It’s a fairly straightforward plot that hits the ground running from the start. While it wasn’t bad, I found myself not too interested in the mystery aspect. To me it felt ultimately forgettable. Interview people close to the victim or who have a connection with him. Search for clues. Repeat. What makes this novella stand out is its emphasis on character and world-building. We learn about the people, not just the crime. We get to see the struggles that Ferron goes through as she attempts to solve this crime with her partner and friend, Indrapramit.

In terms of character, Ferron is very down to Earth. She lives a rather modest lifestyle with just her and her pet fox. She does attempt to date from time to time, but it doesn’t seem like a top priority. If anything, she gives off a complacent feeling about her life: It’s not the best, but it’s still good. Regardless, she is a determined woman and willing to accept change, even if it means a little complaining. (She already has a pet fox, and now she has to take in a new cat??)

Juxtaposed with this is her mother. Her mother lives in a memory feed. She basically is constantly in a virtual world that she deems better than the real one. And she is addicted. To keep her company, she has one of the newest pet fads: a furry, parasitic pet attached near her collarbone and neck. They’re not dangerous…just odd and disturbing—even for Ferron. We see her mother struggle with her addiction as she begs Ferron for just a little money to continue this “drug.” (This is the last time I ask; I swear!)

In addition to the characters, the world-building is also excellent. It’s a futuristic SF Indian city (Bangalore [Bengaluru]). Ferron practices Hinduism and does her duty (or kartavya) towards the people around her. There is a strange, possibly alien signal coming from a star or planet millions of light years away. People are living in feeds and high-speed connections. A man has died, but the world is still moving forward. Family troubles still arise, and the future won’t stop.

This is a short novella that packs a big punch. While the actual detective part didn’t interest me too much (though it did have its fair share of surprises), I was enthralled by the characters and the world. Sometimes science fiction can feel a bit daunting; this is a great read for those looking to ease into that realm.

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