Architects of Memory
by Karen Osborne
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted July 28, 2020
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Karen Osborne's debut novel, Architects of Memory, will be published in four weeks, August 25. I received an advance e-book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. It's the beginning of another series under the collective title of The Memory War, with the second book already announced for next February. I used the collective title for the URL even though I may not follow up with the rest of the series. Before my rating the consensus score on Goodreads was 4.46 out of 5 stars. I gave it only 3.
It's "hard" science fiction, set in a future controlled by rival corporations rather than political states. Each corporate entity has its own military and scientific divisions, and among most of them there is a heavily striated population; citizens on top, indentured workers in the middle, un-citizens on the bottom. Un-citizens are essentially slaves, with indentures close to that, but at least having the semblance of a chance to become citizens. It's a bit like the old company towns on Earth, where you got paid but you were obligated to buy everything from the company store. The chances of breaking even is very slim, let alone getting ahead and being able to pay off all your debts and become a citizen. There was a war with the first encountered aliens, the Vai, although there is a lull in the action since the aliens retreated behind the White Line. Rival corporations are in pursuit of alien tech and weapons that had been left behind or captured.
It's written in third person, but the central character is Ashlan Jackson, who had been rescued off a mining colony world after a Vai attack, her fiancÚ having been killed in a mine cave-in. Now she works on Twenty-Five, an Auroran transport ship scavenging off other destroyed ships. On one of them, the London, Ash finds a Vai weapon which causes a disturbing reaction. She may have lost consciousness for as much as twenty-five minutes, although to her it seemed just a few seconds, or a minute at most. Everyone else is surprised she is still alive. It is slowly revealed that Auroran scientists, as well as those from other corporations, had been experimenting with the alien tech for quite some time, even using humans as guinea pigs without their knowledge or consent. Christopher, Ash's dead fiancÚ, may have been one of them. I won't go into much detail, but it seems alien blood is the key to controlling the tech, Christopher had been injected with the blood, and inadvertantly had infected Ash. She later infected at least one other person.
The reason I put quotation marks around the word hard in the second paragraph is that it has the semblance of Hard SF, but without the details necessary to achieve that goal. Orbital and propulsion mechanics are described in ways that are almost laughable, like Ash and others are flying planes in atmosphere, or driving automobiles. You cannot change a space ship's course and speed as easily as described, unless you're George Lucas I guess. Other scientific details don't mesh, with the previously described effects of the alien tech ignored in some scenes. I took a chance on this because I have been very impressed with other debut novels the past few years, and the synopsis was intriguing. Looking at the review blurbs on Amazon, it's as if they are describing a completely different book than what I just read. I'm not saying I won't read the second book, but it won't be on my mind, and I won't request an ARC. I'll wait to see how it is received by others, perhaps if it gets any award consideration I might reconsider.
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