Ruth Law

Created by Ken Liu

“He misses her, like missing a mirror you’ve broken.”

In “The Regular,” a short story by acclaimed sci-fi writer Ken Liu, we’re introduced to RUTH LAW, a coldly efficient half-Chinese, half-American private eye who works out of a tiny office above a butcher shop in Boston’s Chinatown. She specializes mostly in “hidden assets, cheating spouses, insurance fraud, background checks–that sort of thing.”

Which would be interesting enough, but there’s more–oh, so much more–going on.

Ruth is wracked with guilt, still haunted by the death of her young daughter, and she easily confesses she’s “made enemies” in her life, so her apparent paranoia–metal detectors and security cams in the stairway to her office scans potential visitors for weapons, and she always keeps her Glock 19 handy–seems justified. But as the tale unfolds, you realize there’s a lot more going on than just a private investigator being overly cautious.

The story, you see, is set somewhere in the future (but not too far in the future), and as a former Homicide detective, Ruth relies on (or is supposed to rely on) her Regulator, an investigative aid that ” tamps down extreme emotions, be it fear or pity, or whatever…to make police work under pressure more regular, less dependent on hunches, emotional impulses (and) appeals to hidden prejudice.”

But it’s not just Ruth’s emotions that have been tampered with–she’s been upgraded physically, as well. She’s still mostly human, but she’s been augmented with pneumatic pistons in her legs, and boasts composite tendons and artificial muscles in her arms and shoulders. And naturally, when she’s flush, and about to work a big case, she’ll go in for a tune-up.

Which might come in handy in “Regular,” which has Sarah Ding, approaching Ruth and waving a lot of dough in her face, to look into the murder of her daughter, Mona, who turns out to have been the victim of a serial killer preying on Chinatown prostitutes.

It’s a great little story, and Liu switches point-of-view back and forth between Ruth and the killer like he’s been writing crime fiction all his life, prompting one gushing reader to suggest that the story “is just as good as the best of the police and crime genre of fiction written today. This author could easily transition from sci-fi and fantasy to police procedurals and murder mysteries if he wished. ”

Meanwhile, another suggested the story could serve as a “pilot for a television show about a future P.I.”

Hell, I’d watch that.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

American author of sci-fi and speculative fiction Ken Liu was born in 1976 in Lanzhou, China, but emigrated with his family to California when he was eleven. He worked as a software engineer, corporate lawyer, and litigation consultant, before turning to fiction.  He has won the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, as well as top genre honors in Japan, Spain, and France, among other places. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

UNDER OATH

  • “I made the mistake of starting ‘The Regular’ by Ken Liu late at night, a shame because this was a story I simply could not put down. It was a police procedural set in a near future Boston about a cybernetically-enhanced investigator looking for a serial killer. The alternating viewpoints, the fast-moving narrative and brief-but-weighty character backgrounds worked in concert to deliver tightly plotted and truly gripping story. Nicely done!”
    – John DeNardo (April 2016, SF Signal)
  • “The other stories are a mix of science, magic, history and religion. I finished one and said “Wow” before I put the book down. After another I couldn’t say anything, so I won’t.”
    — Paul Neilan on The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (June 2021, CrimeReads)

SHORT STORIES

  • “The Regular” (September 2014, Upgraded)

COLLECTIONS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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