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Murder in the Generative Kitchen by Meg Pontecorvo

Book cover

Murder in the Generative Kitchen

Murder in the Generative Kitchen is a short science fiction novella by Meg Pontecorvo. The premise is that citizens still have to serve jury duty but, along with all other courtroom actors except the defendant, do so by telepresence. Someone had the bright idea that jurors could be persuaded to take part by sending them to holiday destinations with the requirement that they follow the proceedings on VR headsets and that they avoid communication with other jurors on pain of punitive fines. Our protagonist, Julio, is lounging around in a hotel in Acapulco trying to simultaneously decide if the defendant poisoned her husband and make surreptitious contact with another juror he has taken a fancy to.

Partial as I am to both science fiction and court room dramas, I am inclined to judge this book quite harshly on these counts and more. Even when the jurors travel home to make their deliberations they do so via telepresence. Everything is faceless and, to my mind, remains unresolved. The sci-fi aspects are also unsatisfactory – not just the details of how the killing came to be committed and how the ‘generative kitchen’ (a combination of AI chef and food fabricator) might have been involved but also the deeper question of plausibility. If it was possible to run a telepresence courtroom, which is not inconceivable even with current technology, why would you send the jurors on holidays to exotic destinations and then put them in the same hotel (particularly given the hints that the economic situation of this future America is probably even worse than the present reality)?

The thought strikes me that perhaps the author isn’t really interested in the case or the characters but is exploring broader themes of what will happen to our society as robots increase in influence. However, I don’t think that is explored in any depth so my conclusion remains that the book is too short and too implausible to stand as a memorable contribution to either of its genres.

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