Book Review | The Last Resort: by Michael Kaufman

I have just put down The Last Resort, and it has been a great start to my 2023 reading list. This latest novel from author Michael Kaufman taps into some highly compelling, near-future, speculative fiction concepts, and I’m a fan.

A Near-Future Detective and Climate Crisis Collide

This is a detective story set about 10-12 years in the future, so it has that almost science-fiction, but mostly modern-day feel that many of my favorite works in the genre from recent years contain. Indeed, speculative fiction tends to work best when the writer isn’t reaching so far ahead that the predictions fall flat. In Kaufman’s book, I was immediately drawn in by his use of a non-human narrator to tell this very believable tale of a society in climate crisis.

2023’s AI-Narrator and Cop Sidekick

The main character in this story is a somewhat typical, strong-willed, female police detective Jen Lu. However, the big difference is that our narrator is this protagonist’s implanted neuro chip with artificial intelligence that works as a medical device to enhance the hosts cognitive capabilities. The instances in which it boosts her adrenaline to help her through tough situations, and other concepts are very cool. There’s certainly a long-standing use of such a plot and story device in our SF space, dating as far back as William Gibson’s Neuromancer. This was my first read of a story that has used the more recent idea’s tied to AI, and I found it was really well done with the narrator named Chandler.

Speculative Fiction Meets Big Oil Cover-up

Kauffman’s knowledge of the geo-political space shines through in this story. The general arc of the story fits into a police procedural, which helps keep a reader engaged in the action. We are immediately thrust into detective Lu’s dogged investigation of a potential cover-up hit-job on an environmental rights activist. This delves nicely into a fictional, but believable, decades-long cover up of big-oil’s knowledge of their impact on global warming. While our heroine isn’t specifically assigned to this homicide, she works the case with intense commitment – a la Harry Bosch. Lu’s hard-scrabble cop persona sits equally well positioned in the near-future Washington D.C. setting of the book. She has that edge to her personality that some of the best cops of the past 20 years of pop fiction possess, helping set her off in an feisty way against antagonists she meets along the way. I found the speculative concept of a new class of uber-wealthy one-percenters that have attained life-extending status through an operation that puts them past 130 years old, and deemed “timeless”, to be another believable and creative example, projecting today’s trend in billionaire eccentricity to the next decade and on.

Kaufman does what seasoned crime novelists excel at , he uses details from the American zeitgeist to weave an intriguing tale all his own.

One of my favorite characters of the book is Lu’s ex-boyfriend, and “Timeless” plutocrat – Richard. We learn of his less admirable exploits as an ultra-wealthy capitalist in the past, and how he bought the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water property when the Pennsylvania trust that held it in preserve for so long goes bankrupt amidst the climate crisis. Richard’s is a well-crafted character who may be an anomaly amidst the ruling class, as his conscience remains partly in-tact. In a plot-weaving sequence later in the book, Kaufman does what seasoned crime novelists excel at , he uses details from the American zeitgeist to weave an intriguing tale all his own.

I’m now a big fan of this sub-genre of the speculative fiction realm. I’d been aware of some very creative uses of modern AI as story-telling tools – yet to read something that uses it this well. If you have an interest in climate change’s potential to alter our near-future, AI brain implants, or simply a well-crafted detective mystery, I recommend The Last Resort.

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