Drawing on literary history in ingenious and fanciful ways, the four stories in this collection pose the question of how puzzler mysteries and detective stories should be written.
The title story and its sequel Ronri jōhatsu: Nokkusu mashin 2 (Knox’s Machine 2: Logic Evaporates) form the nucleus of the collection. The Knox in each title refers to British author Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888?1957), and the stories take the rules for detective fiction he codified in 1929, commonly known as “Knox’s Ten Commandments,” as a key element in their plot development.
Knox’s Machine is set in 2058, when a parahumanities Ph.D. from Shanghai University, Yuan Chien-lung, 27, is summoned by the director of the Chinese National Science and Technology Bureau. Yuan is a specialist in the mathematical analysis of literature, and has just completed his degree with a dissertation on Knox’s Ten Commandments. In his study, he focused on the fifth of the commandments, “No Chinaman must figure in the story.” Why had Knox included such an incongruous and peculiar, not to mention patently racist, rule? Yuan’s analysis reveals that the other nine commandments cannot obtain without the fifth, and that when “No Chinaman” is plugged into a complex equation as a fictional character, countless detective novels can be produced automatically in no time. The rage for automatic creation of stories has by this time died down, so Yuan’s findings fail to receive very much attention, but they have caught the director’s eye. He asks Yuan to travel back in time as the character No Chinaman to February 28, 1929?the date on which Knox wrote out his ten commandments. Yuan does arrive safely in 1929 and meets Knox, but in that world, the author has not in fact penned the commandment in question . . .
Knox’s Machine 2 is set 15 years later, in 2073. Although Yuan succeeded in traveling through time in the previous episode, no one else has been able to do the same since, and he is expelled from China. After initially being welcomed by Russia, he moves to Australia, where he lives incognito as a monk, still much fascinated by Knox. There he receives a second request to travel through time. For the last two weeks, classical text data, including old novels, stored on the quantum network has been causing repeated crashes and freezes, leading to overheating and even fire damage. The original spark came from Ellery Queen’s The Siamese Mystery of 1933: the text has become a black hole on the net, into which Yuan once again dives as the character No Chinaman . . .
These highly unorthodox and intellectually stimulating stories might be described as a cross between Agatha Christie and Greg Egan, and are sure to delight mystery lovers with their endlessly fascinating twists.