Reviewed by: Pete Barber
Approximate word count: 70,000-75,000 words
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Alex (Aleksei) Bobl is the author of eleven books. He’s based in Moscow, Russia.
In a dystopian world, a major corporation—Memoria—develops technology that enables memories to be selectively erased. Memoria’s control of the city-based population has been solidified by the authorities such that each citizen is obliged by law to undergo memory modification each year. Most of the city dwellers seem to enjoy this process and return even more frequently to have unpleasant memories removed.
Only the Militants, located behind barbed wire fencing on the outskirts of the cities, live free. Memoria develops a new technology that will give them even more active control over the population and they devise a subterfuge by which all citizens, Militant and otherwise, will be “vaccinated.” The populace enthusiastically volunteers because they believe they are having a new and desirable skill imprinted on their minds, but instead, this is a dastardly plot to turn them into mind-slaves.
This was a tough slog for me. The premise seemed weak. If Memoria’s objective was control and power, why would they allow the Militants to live free on their borders. Not only did they live free, but the Militants provided all the basic services for the cities—they grew the food, provided the water, handled the garbage and sewage. I was unclear exactly what the city folk did.
The story opens with the protagonist, Frank, an ex-boxer, being framed for the murder of his girlfriend. Before her death, the girlfriend (Frank is dumbfounded to discover she is a significant player in Memoria, even though he’s considering inviting her to move in with him!) mailed a package that would expose Memoria’s plan to control everyone in the world. The rest of the book is a chase where the corporation and some bent-politicians try to reclaim the package from Frank and frame him for any bad stuff that happens, and Frank tries to release the information in the package to the general public.
Frank falls in with some old colleagues who just happen to have all the skills and the connections inside Memoria needed to thwart the evil corporation. Our ex-boxer miraculously turns into someone with Mission Impossible skills: shimmying down elevator shafts and knocking out anyone he punches like Popeye jacked-up on spinach. And should his fortunate choice in friends or innate fighting prowess fail, have no fear, fate will intervene to rescue him from the seemingly impossible situation he’s trapped in.
The plot isn’t experienced through scenes in the book, instead, I was told who was doing what to whom (and why) through dialog between the characters and through Frank’s internal narrative. I couldn’t understand how Frank et-al drew their conclusions based on the information I was given, and because I didn’t experience the events they talked about, I couldn’t get engaged with the plot.
The dialog felt flat and long (because they were explaining the story) with ‘action beats’ that often seemed formulaic and disconnected from the topic of conversation so they ended up being distracting rather than giving life to the characters and their situations.
I didn’t connect with any of the characters. I didn’t understand what Memoria really wanted (they seemed to have it all anyway). I was often confused by the action sequences, which seemed frenetic and often jumped around without setting the scene clearly—or maybe I was just glazing over.
I can’t tell if my confusion derives from this being a translated story (I think it was originally written in Russian), but an English-speaking editor could surely figure that out.
Comma usage was non-standard. A comma was often used where a period belonged at the end of dialog. It jarred my eye. At one point someone called “Orphan” turned into someone called “Oprah”. Many sentences didn’t make sense e.g. “Frank pulled his leg out, turned around and kicked the stranger’s face red with excitement.” Or “Frank shut the door close and turned back.
Rating: ** Two stars