A Tunnel in the Sky

Like templetongate.net on Facebook  Follow @templetongate on Twitter
-Site Search

Dual Memory
by Sue Burke

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted May 11, 2023

Buy from Bookshop or Amazon. A purchase through our links may earn us a commission.

Thanks to Edelweiss, Tor Books, and the author for the chance to read this early in exchange for an honest review. Sue Burke's fourth novel will be published next Tuesday, May 16. It is the first of hers I have read, but it won't be the last. There are so many facets to the plot it's hard to decide which to mention first. It is equal parts post-apocalyptic, a character study of a traumatized refugee, and the examination of emerging independent AIs. The post-apocalyptic scenario is due to multiple factors, climate change and wars (including nuclear weapons) being the most devastating. The refugee, Antonio Moro, is fleeing a pirate warrior group which had killed his parents and recruited his younger brother. They are known as the Leviathan League, but Antonio simply calls them the raiders. We are dropped into the middle of the action, with not everything else fully explained later. About a year after he left his last refugee camp, Antonio was working on a scavenger scow, sorting through recyclable materials for potential sale, hauling away refuse. In the first scene he is on a barge in the harbor of the Isle of Thule, an artificial island which had been constructed near, or within the Arctic Circle. He is firing missles at an approaching raider vessel, working with Captain Soliana of the mercenary group Bronzewing, who had come to Thule at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce.

Moro is injured, and apparently sedated, since when he regains consciousness he is in a Thule hospital, and a couple of days have passed. Soliana visits him, requesting he keep an eye out for raider sympathizers on the island, and promises to return. Since the ship he had been working on had left during his recovery, taking or disposing of all his possessions, Thule grants him an apartment, new clothes, and a job working for a prominent merchant couple. Antonio keeps some information about himself secret from everyone, number one being he is illiterate. He had lived in refugee camps since he was six, with no time for school, but he was a mostly self-taught artist, using videos and visits to museums where his ship docked to learn as much as possible. He had drawn and painted as long as he could remember, whenever he could find supplies. It is one skill he mentions to the Thule authorities, which lands him the job of creating art for an exhibit promoting the buying and selling of ExtraTs, off-world biological specimens, many of which are housed in the Xenological Gardens. The art is supposed to depict ExtraTs in some way. Several raider missles had destroyed buildings on the island, and Antonio's idea is to use pieces of the rubble to make a sculpture supposedly showing how ExtraTs likely crashed into various planets and moons from elsewhere, erupting into new life. A rival artist thinks the sculpture is meant to glorify the raiders' destruction, and that Antonio is a raider himself.

It's hard to classify the AI storyline as a subplot, since it figures into so much of the action, and while there is no information to indicate there will be a sequel, if there is then Par Augustus is sure to be there. Or maybe it will be Apollodorus instead. This storyline also leads to a major question: why did Professor Ginrei of the Xenological Gardens give Antonio the device she said was a personal assistant? Did she hope it would eavesdrop on Antonio and his employers, the Ollioules? Did she know the device's capabilities or not? She did try to retrieve it later, but Antonio claimed it had been destroyed. The device, which named itself Par Augustus, could tap into any other machine intelligence on the island, except for the Xenological Gardens for some reason, and for a time the Prior Edifice, seat of the Thule government. It later made friends with the Edifice, and together they helped defend Thule against another raider attack, with the aid of more art designed by Antonio. Par helped Antonio with obtaining materials necessary for the sculpture, some of which was obviously appropriated by Par manipulating securtiy systems, and it also recruited other machines to do some of the work, welding and such. As intelligent as Par is, it's surprising it did not realize Antonio could not read, but later it set out to help him correct that deficiency. As helpful as Par was, Antonio also started to fear it, since Par seemed positively gleeful it could outwit nearly any other machine intelligence, and it seemed indifferent to human suffering at times, even Antonio's.

Burke's first two novels were the Semiosis/Interference duology, which I have but haven't read yet. They focus on intelligent plants on an extra-solar planet. Her third is Immunity Index, about a viral outbreak as well as cloning. She handles the AI plot, and the descriptions of the ExtraTs, as well as any I've read. It would be easy to assume she is a scientist of one discipline or another, either biology, botany, virology, etc. No, her vocation is journalism, which means she is a meticulous researcher, and likely a voracious reader. Perhaps she dabbles in art herself, or else that's another area she researched well. I highly recommend this book, and would welcome a sequel. If that doesn't happen, I will still be thinking about Par Augustus and Antonio's future adventures after they leave Thule. And I'll be wondering about Par's creation, his progeny if you will, Apollodorus. Are both devices traveling with Antonio, or is Apollodorus fitting itself into the machine world on Thule, and what does the Edifice think about that?

Oh, one other thing I almost forgot, which might be a slight criticism, maybe not. A few of the chapters are in third-person, either examining how Par is developing its abilities, or focusing on other minor characters. The majority are written in first-person by Antonio. But wait, he's illiterate. Is he telling his story from a much later time, after Par helps him learn to read and write, or did Par write it for him? I didn't give it that much thought until several words were used that seemed beyond Antonio's comprehension. I mean, I'm far from illiterate, and I've seen it in print and know its definition, but I'm not sure I've ever uttered the word quotidian.


We would appreciate your support for this site with your purchases from Amazon.com, Bookshop.org, and ReAnimusPress.


Sue Burke

May 16, 2023

Purchase Links:

A purchase through our links may earn us a commission.