Review: Rose/House, by Arkady Martine
eagle at eyrie.org
Fri Jun 23 20:54:42 PDT 2023
by Arkady Martine
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Arkady Martine is the author of the wonderful Teixcalaan duology, a
political space opera. Rose/House is a standalone science fiction
novella in an entirely different subgenre.
Basit Deniau was a legendary architect whose trademark was infusing his
houses with artificial intelligences. A house AI is common in this
future setting, but what Deniau did was another kind of genius. He has
been dead for a year when this story opens. The carbon of his body has
been compressed into diamond and displayed on a plinth deep inside his
final creation. Rose House.
Dr. Selene Gisil was his student. It was not a comfortable
relationship. She is now the only person permitted entry into Rose
House, allowed to examine its interior architecture and the archive of
Deniau's work that is stored there. Once per year, she may enter for
precisely one week. No one else in the world is permitted to enter,
Selene went in the first time she was allowed. She lasted three days
There is a law in the United States, the Federal Artificial
Intelligence Surveillance Act, that sets some requirements for the
behavior of artificial intelligences. One of its requirements is a
duty-of-care notification: an artificial intelligence must report the
presence of a dead body to the nearest law enforcement agency. Rose
House's call to the China Lake Police Precinct to report the presence
of a dead body in the sealed house follows the requirements of the law
to the letter.
"Cause of death," said Maritza.
I'm a piece of architecture, Detective. How should I know how humans
are like to die?
After that the line went to the dull hang-up tone, and Rose House
would not take her return calls. Not even once.
Rose/House has some of the structure of a locked-room mystery. Someone
is dead, but no one at the scene can get inside the house to see who.
Selene is the only person who can enter, but she was in Turkey at the
time of the killing and has an air-tight alibi. How could someone be in
the house at all? And how did they die?
It also has some of the structure of a police procedural. First one and
then the other detective of the tiny local precinct are pulled into the
investigation, starting, as one might expect, by calling Selene Gisil.
But I'm not sure I would describe this novella as following either of
those genres. By the end of the story, we do learn some of the things
one might expect to learn from a detective novel, but that never felt
like the true thrust of the story. If you want a detailed explanation
of what happened, or the pleasure of trying to guess the murderer
before the story tells you, this may not be the novella for you.
Instead, Martine was aiming for disturbing eeriness. This is not quite
horror — nothing explicitly horrific happens, although a couple of
scenes are disturbing — but Rose House is deeply unsettling. The best
character of the story is Maritza, the detective initially assigned to
the case, who is trying to ignore the weirdness and do her job. The way
she approaches that task leads to some fascinating interactions with
Rose House that I thought were the best parts of the story.
This story was not really my thing, even though I love stories about
sentient buildings and there are moments in this story where Rose House
is delightfully nonhuman in exactly the way that I enjoy. The story is
told in a way that requires the reader to piece together the details of
the conclusion themselves, and I prefer more explicit explanation in
stories that start with a puzzle. It's also a bit too close to horror
for me, specifically in the way that the characters (Selene most
notably) have disturbing and oddly intense emotional reactions to
environments that are only partly described. But I read this a few
weeks ago and I'm still thinking about it, so it clearly is doing
If you like horror, or at least half-explained eeriness, it's likely
you will enjoy this more than I did. This portrayal of AI is an
intriguing one, and I'd enjoy reading more about it in a story focused
on character and plot rather than atmosphere.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Russ Allbery (eagle at eyrie.org) <https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>
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