Where are the detective stories in science fiction and fantasy ?

I’ve only found a few detective stories in science fiction and none in fantasy – why?

Having just read, and much enjoyed, Ken Macleods  ‘The Night Sessions’ it set me wondering.

Why don’t you see many detective stories in science fiction?  Or is that just a misconception on my part?  In my extensive sci-fi reading I’ve come across a few.  I guess ‘The Prefect’ by Alistair Reynolds  is one.  Then there’s Douglas Adams with Dirk Gently.  I have read two stories by Asimov featuring the New York space city detective Elijah Baley (‘Caves of Steel’ and ‘The Naked Sun’), although these are part of his Robot series.  But that’s about it.  In the introduction to ‘Caves of Steel’ Asimov quotes an editor, when he put forward the idea of a science fiction mystery,  as saying something like:  ‘a science-fiction mystery would be a contradiction’.  That potentially technology could be used to solve everything, which was sort of cheating .  The Ken Macleod novel takes place after the ‘Faith Wars’ and the main detective has the aid of his own fully intelligent robot partner.  But other than that I think the detective does the job in much the same way as a present day detective and I think it works – at least it did for me.

So are the technology issues why more haven’t been written?  Is it that it’s more difficult to set a detective story in a future where perhaps all the complex rules of a society are not fully worked out?  Or is it that as science fiction writers we just don’t think down those lines?

And then there’s Fantasy detective stories?  I can’t particularly think of any I’ve read.  There are medieval / historical detective stories:  The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco); The Cadfael stories (Ellis Peters ) and I’ve read the Roman ‘who dunnits’ of Steven Saylor with his detective Gordianus.  So I can’t see why there aren’t mysteries set in the often quasi medieval landscape of fantasy.  Again, have I just missed them?

I have played with a couple of detective based short stories in the fantasy line.  But these are set in present day London (at least to start with).  I have some thoughts about combining them into a novel at some point – we’ll see.  Or I may publish them here as shorts.

Perhaps, overall the added complexity of technology in science fiction does make it more difficult to put together a credible detective story.  Where the detective rather than the use of some fancy bit of kit solves the crime.  Perhaps for fantasy it’s because you don’t have the same built in restrictions as for conventional or historical mysteries.  Or maybe where there’s magic, that would be too easy.   Comments?

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

If you have a view on this, let me know: