Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

Architects of Memory is a sci-fi novel by Karen Osborne and it starts the Memory War series. I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was really eager to read this book. Unfortunately it didn’t match my expectations and turned out to be an incredibly frustrating read. The plot takes forever to unfold and the reader isn’t helped along the way to figure out where it might take them. It takes them to a really unexpected place; in itself a good thing, but the lack of directions made me feel blindsided. Also the title of the book made me expect a completely different story. It took me over a half the book to realise that there will be no architects of memory and that memory manipulation doesn’t play any role in the story. Memories become erased, yes, but nothing new comes out of them. The series title, Memory War, is a more accurate guide for readers’ expectations.

The plot, once it unfolds, is fairly simple. The story is set in a future spacefaring world that is ruled by profitmaking corporations. It’s close enough to present timeline and earth that many cultural aspects from earth survive. People are either born as citizens of these corporations or they indenture themselves to them to earn a citizenship. Needless to say, this is fairly impossible and they are basically slaves. The corporations are at constant war with each other over resources, but it has come to a brief halt before the book begins because of a war with an alien race. The war is over, but when a powerful alien weapon is discovered, all the corporations want it, ostensibly to defeat the aliens. The plot is basically about the corporations fighting over the weapon.

The main point of view character is Ashlan. The book begins with an emotion dump about everything that is wrong with her life. In a couple of pages we learn that she’s dying, but she wants to make into a citizen before that, which makes her take risks. Her fiancĂ© has died of the same illness a year earlier. She’s since fallen in love again with her captain, but she’s dumped her for fairly vague reasons. Then Ash finds the weapon and it turns out she’s uniquely connected to it.

Ash is a character with practically no agency over her story. She goes where she’s told to, reacts to events around her, and whines about her fate. It isn’t until the very end that she tries to take matters to her own hand, only to be frustrated time and again. Her solution [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER] is to kill herself. I kid you not. The book ends with thisthough with a twist that she doesn’t actually die. That’s where the inner logic of the book’s science finally failed me, not that I’d been terribly convinced by it along the way.

I didn’t like Ash at all, though part of it could be that I didn’t want to become emotionally attached to someone who might not be around for long. The rest of the characters weren’t any better. Maybe the attempt was to create nuanced characters, but the execution was so clumsy that they came across as sociopaths with zero control over their emotions. At one moment they were friendly, at next they were genocidal killers because of a past trauma, and back to likeable again. It was impossible to tell how any of them might react to any given situation or why they reacted the way they did. It was easier to not become attached to any of them. That included Captain Keller, the other point of view character. Both Ash and Keller claimed to be motivated by their love to each other, but since that had happened before the book began and the only interaction between the two was a fight before they became separated for most of the book, I found it a very unbelievable motivation.

A smoother narrative and better descriptions along the way, both the world-building and the characters’ emotions, might have made this a better read. In addition to these, the language was clunky at times, which I hope is only an issue with the early copy I read. But there are numerous ways with which to describe great thirst other than saying the ‘mouth was a desert’ over and over again, or describing nausea as ‘gulping the acid’. These may seem like small things, but they repeated so often that I started to pay attention. The ending reveals that the book has aspirations. I wish it could have achieved them too.

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