It is a daring writer who not only attempts to extend and re-explore a story that exists first as one of Philip K. Dick's best novels, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and second as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, Blade Runner, but who also chooses as her title a phrase that will remind many, maybe most, potential readers of one of the most powerful and poetic moments in that film, making it inevitable that many, maybe most, of those potential readers will pick up this novel with expectations, maybe with a kind of "show me" attitude. Of course, Rosa Montero is not the first to have "extended" the story of the "replicants," ("androids" in Dick's predecessor), nor are those earlier efforts necessarily significant competition for her--they are just okay. But her title and the story she has proposed to tell make very big promises as one opens the first pages, and those promises are hard to fulfill.
I should say that as a re-exploration of the psychological traumas of the replicants, Tears in Rain provides deeper and more extensive representations of what it means to be more or less indistinguishable from regular humans, but to live with the knowledge of an imposed and knowable disconnect date. Montero's characters provide a range of convincing emotions and behavior consistent with what we might expect, especially with the expectation that determination and a certain ruthlessness (in the use of violence, especially) would be part of their existence. And more--the political and social implications for a world "divided" between traditionally born human beings and their near-twins, manufactured and so, in traditional terms, not "natural," are explored in some impressive depth and detail. The us/them conflicts between the indigenous (or simply the predecessors with power) and the "other" or alien are ramped up effectively in this novel, which also explores possible resolutions.
So why only 4 stars (and my first choice was 3)? My title suggests it. The novel reads as though it were written by someone for whom English is not her first language. I resisted this feeling, set it aside repeatedly through the first 80 or 100 pages, but it nagged. It seems that whenever there is a chance for the translator to use a cliche or a conventional (and overused) phrasing, that is what we get. The prose is not just flat, it is laid on like advertising fliers. The relentless cheesiness of the language finally defeats what I suspect is a work more powerful and probably better written in its original language, and so for the English speaking reader, it is diminished. Yes, I know, the realm of science fiction writing has been heavily inhabited by poor stylists who counted on the liveliness of their plotting and the charm or menace of their characters to carry docile readers past the sadly flat prose styles--and even Philip K. Dick is sometimes subject to that complaint. But this novel clearly has higher ambitions and considerable intelligence behind it, and I suspect that the author writes far better Spanish prose than the translator does English prose. So the four stars suggest that many serious readers of science fiction, including fans of Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott's great movie, will find the book rewarding, even though they may share my reservations.