Seven Percent Prey

Seven Percent Prey!
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"It's a British computer designed to solve crimes. Of course they named it SHERLOCK"

It's the ultimate weapon in crime prevention. A supercomputer watching through every CCTV in Britain. A network that never sleeps, sifting through every file, every document, every piece of data available. An electronic mind designed to predict crime, to stop it before it started. Calculating. Deducing. Planning.
Lucas Davenport is a U.S. Marshal, but that doesn't hold any weight in the United Kingdom. He's there because years ago, in what seems like a different lifetime, he worked on computers as a hobby. Wargames, tactical simulations, predictive algorithms. And, before he sold the business for millions of dollars, crisis-response software. It's not that he doesn't approve of SHERLOCK — it's that he helped design it.
But now something's gone horribly wrong. People are dying in inexplicable ways. Some are obviously criminals, but many are not. And all the clues point back to SHERLOCK. — a supposedly perfect system that now claims that the UK would be safer if seven percent of the general population were eliminated.
But Lucas feels that everyone's being manipulated, and not by SHERLOCK. He knows how the computer works, and how it thinks, and it's not one to make judgements about what should be, and what shouldn't. Someone is gaming the system, playing to public fears, using the media and outright violence to fulfill their own agenda while blaming it all on a computer gone mad. But who? And to what end? And can Lucas figure it out before SHERLOCK does?

April 1, 2018

Explaining the Joke Ruins the Joke
by Roswell Camp

When I started this year's covers, I had a completely different idea for them. I wanted to do a bunch of cross-over covers, books ostensibly co-written with Stephen King, or C.J. Box, or Carl Hiaasen [1]. That sort of thing.
That... didn't work out so well [2]. Maybe I'll try again next year [3].
When it fell through I had about two weeks to come up with everything from scratch, which isn't too bad: the early covers were done in the space of literally a few hours. On the other hand, a lot of the early covers are crap [4], and I wanted to do something that was reasonably good [5].
So I fell back on the same thing I did a few years ago: co-authorships with long-dead authors. But instead of Classic Authors — Shakespeare, Dickens, and so on — I'd go with the horror or sci-fi authors of the time. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes. H.P Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos. Other... authors. I figured I'd get to them when I got to them. And I guess I did [6].
This one is more of a modern take on Sherlock. It's not a crossover with the classic detective, and it's not a crossover with the Benedict Cumberbach modern take on the same detective [7]. It's set in the standard Lucas-verse, with Sherlock acknowledged as a fictional character after which the British authorities name a crime-fighting computer.
I mean, seriously, if they did have a super-computer doing what the jacket text claims, they would name it Sherlock [8]. They'd pretty much have to [9]. I wouldn't be completely surprised if MI6 has a computer somewhere named after James Bond.
As for the synopsis itself... it's okay. It's not great. It's not very funny, and I want these all to have some humor in them. Instead it's the dry humor of "The concept is ridiculous" instead of the pants-on-head bonkers of "Cthulhu's been stabbed with a butter knife..." or "On a routine trip to the Sun..." or other insanity.
I also wanted the computer to (mis)quote a classic Holmes line, saying, "When you eliminate the guilty, whomever remains, however suspect, must be innocent." I just couldn't get it to fit [10]. Ah well.

Footnotes

1. The full list: Stephen King for 'Salem's Prey, Joe Hill for Locke & Prey, Carl Hiaasen for Gator's Prey, Lee Child for Make Me Prey, C.J. Box for Burning Prey, and Janet Evanovich for Plum Crazy Prey.

2. I've said on Twitter and Facebook that I didn't due it because The Powers That Be said no. That's... only sorta true. I did all of the covers, I got permission from everyone involved, but then at the last minute one of them backed out, saying, "Oh, no, no, I can't be involved with this." And that kind of poisoned the whole thing in my mind [11]. Yeah, I could have slotted in a last-minute replacement, but getting all the various authors to agree to it — contacting them at all, in fact — took months, and I just didn't have that kind of time.

3. I'd have to start over, because the cancellation dragged me down enough that I wiped all the original files. But now that I know where I was going, it'd be easy to redo. So if you see the books from Footnote 1 for April Fools' Day next year, it's because I got things together. Again.

4. Sacred Prey and Lettuce Prey are, far and away, the worst covers I've ever done, and Patriotic Prey isn't far behind [12]. I did them in a hurry, and the synopses are kinda half-assed, and it shows. I'd like to give them a redo, but that seems kinda... unethical. I screwed up, and I shouldn't try to hide it.

5. In last year's comments — particularly for Star Wars: Master and Prey — I rant about how I'm not very good at art, but that I'm getting better. That remains true. Every year I learn more about the whole process, and I learn new tricks. This year the big trick was "Hey, I can license professional art from Shutterstock and not worry about finding public domain stuff that works." It worked much better than it should have.

6. I waffled a lot about which authors to include. I couldn't think of anything good for a Conan the Barbarian tie-in, so I nearly dropped that. I sort of wanted a detective pulp noir anthology to go along with the Irresponsible Stories one, but none of that art is in the public domain and Shutterstock let me down for that [13]. So what you see is what I settled on. I think it worked out pretty well.

7. I really liked the first season of the show, and the second (mostly), and much of the third. But then I started paying attention closer, and an awful lot of stuff only works if London has a total population of about twelve people [14]. The more they amped up the "This looks great, so let's do it" over "This makes sense", the more it falls apart. By the end, I just didn't care.

8. In the synopsis, I've got it in all capitals, implying that it's an acronym for... something. Governments love clever acronyms, and I doubt this would be an exception. I'm not even going to bother trying to figure out what it could stand for.

9. Anyway, Watson is taken.

10. One of the worst parts of writing is when you come up with something that you like and which is just a perfect idea or theme or description and you've got to get rid of it because it doesn't work with the rest of what you have. Most of it ends up on the metaphoric cutting room floor, but sometimes they get repurposed for later.

11. It only takes one person with a broken sense of humor to ruin telling a joke. But then, everyone's humor is different. My mistake was assuming that everyone would be on the same page, humor-wise.

12. My biggest problem with Patriotic Prey is that the flag-themed cover is ridiculously busy. It's hard to read the text, and the spine is a nightmare. It doesn't help that the synopsis only has one joke — a joke nobody has even noticed in the past six years — but it's the flag that kills it for me.

13. Shutterstock has a huge collection of amazing photographs and art. It also has a huge collection of absolutely horrid photographs and art [15]. I was surprised, and then I felt stupid for feeling surprised.

14. That's most obvious (in my opinion) in "The Sign of Three", the wedding episode. There is no reason to assume that the stabbed guard has anything to do with the assassination attempt. It is astoundingly unlikely that a case that Sherlock happens to stumble onto is related to another case that he doesn't even know about that he's present for. It's just... no. He's not deducing, he's relying on impossible coincidences being true for no particular reason [16].

15. THe most obvious offender was Cthulhu. When I looked it up, I found some decent art, some irrelevant art... and a lot of "what the hell is this" Cthulhu heads on one of those artist-poses human model wooden bodies. Like, a lot of them. Why?

16. The funny thing is that Sherlock isn't even close to the worst offender. TV shows and movies rely on that kind of coincidence all the time and the audience just kind of accepts it. The reasoning (I think) is that "Well, the plot wouldn't work if this didn't happen." But nobody ever says "Maybe if the writers did a better job of writing they wouldn't need to rely on huge coincidences." That would be rude.