Review by C.J. Bunce
In Architects of Memory, first-time sci-fi writer Karen Osborne creates an Alien-esque, Weyland-Yutani-inspired construct in outer space in Earth’s future, where corporations are competing for market share as salvagers acquire a laundry list of weapons of terrorism to pursue a pathway toward citizenship. A race of unknown and unseen aliens (like those seen in Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers) are the threat, yet it may very well be the corporations themselves are humanity’s worst enemy. Mad science has concocted the ultimate weapon. Gruesome and invasive, humans become the experiment and the conduit to deliver destruction to the alien race, as a group of strong women struggle to understand their role in the corporations’ schemes.
The selection of ideas stitched together is the best part of Architects of Memory. The author uses bits and pieces of sci-fi tropes from military sci-fi, the Alien franchise, political sci-fi, and TV and film. The novel does not have much by way of humor, but the setting–various ships including the vessel called Twenty-Five–will be familiar to viewers of Killjoys and Vagrant Queen. These are spacers out to make a quick buck and survive, without the distraction of loyalty, yet something drives them forward. The bulk of the novel has much in common with the Natalie Portman movie Annihilation–in addition to the predominantly all woman cast of characters, this is a search for an insidious villainy in a bleak world and dystopian future devoid of all hope. The moral questions arrive as displayed in the aforementioned Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers. Life is brutal, unforgiving, and dangerous in this future among the stars.
The lead character is the salvager Ash, whose entire journey occurs while experiencing the symptoms of a terminal illness. Her ex-lover was recently killed as part of his duties, but she has since formed a secret affair with her captain. Along with another crewmember and a ship doctor, the four main characters all hold their own pieces of the puzzle. The story begins when Ash uncovers strange cargo that happens to be on the list of sought-after artifacts by the Company. After bringing it aboard, the object triggers something in her and others that could spell doom for the alien race Ash believes was responsible for the death of her former lover.
Segments of the novel could use some shoring up. Since this subject has been handled in sci-fi before, more individual, unique characterization could have netted the next Ellen Ripley, River Tam, or Kathryn Janeway. Single episodes of Star Trek, as an example, have handled the main theme. With few subplots the story could use an edit (the advance copy came in at more than 450 pages). The author uses some phrases over and over, including characters who seem to always have dry throats, hold back vomit in their throats or are actually vomiting–a distracting quirk I’ve never before seen used so much in sci-fi or any other book (this gets old a third of the way through the novel, but by the end it seemed to occur more frequently–drinking game, anyone?). Other dialogue is repetitious with far more explaining than showing, especially of the more complex backstory and revelatory elements. Another more minor quirk: the title Architects of Memory, “A Memory War Novel,” and the tagline “They didn’t know we could die,” really don’t fit this story, and I’m not sure the scene depicted on the cover fits the novel either (despite an attractive design). There is a pervasive thread of telepathy or clairvoyance shared among characters, but I didn’t catch much of the emphasis on “memory” so much. Maybe in the next book?
Fans of the genre might check out Michael Mammay’s Planetside series, which reels the reader deeper into the gritty futurism of interplanetary politics and ship life better. Architects of Memory may also appeal to Mammay’s readers. This is a good first effort.
The debut sci-fi effort by Karen Osborne shows promise, and a second book in this universe is planned for those drawn to this material. A summer science fiction novel for fans of the themes of Ender’s Game and Aliens with the execution and characterization that feels like the film Annihilation, check out Architects of Memory, available for pre-order now here at Amazon.