Science fiction and fantasy
by Colin Harvey
Memory ripping is the process of extracting a person's memories, rather like you might rip or burn CDs, either to leave them intact and share them or else to remove them forcefully from someone's mind. When done the wrong way it can leave the victim a vegetable. Shah specialises in this technology.
Colin Harvey's future New York is a fascinating mix of advanced technology and civilisation on the brink of a new dark age. California has built a wall to keep everyone else out in order to create a haven for Augmented post-humans. Oil shortages, mass migrations and brownouts have taken a toll, whilst the crisis known as the Dieback has left cities far less crowded. It's as though all the scare stories predicted by the nightly news have come to pass.
Against this backdrop Shah attempts to pin a series of crimes on Kotian, a local Teflon crimelord. Bodies keep turning up along with recordings of their last moments, and the race is on for Shah to arrest the right perpetrator. But Shah is himself under suspicion, and the more he digs up the more personal the investigation becomes.
"How does it feel to be a stranger, even to yourself?
Shah asks himself this question on page 330, but the reader is already going through a similar experience because we view the memories in the same detached way. The memories are related in the second person to distinguish them from regular narrative, but of course "you" isn't really the reader. The author looks at whether we're more than the sum of our experiences by ripping them out of his characters.
As a result of this memory technology Damage Time features a lot of different viewpoints that fit together to form a satisfying puzzle. It's more than a whodunnit, however. The story itself seems to go into damage time (that's the limbo between normal time and overtime in sports) when it extends far beyond the point when we find out who is guilty. Yet there's still suspense and action: it's not merely a case of a drawn-out wrapping up.
The world of this novel features a lot of extrapolations that seem to embody the noughties: environmental concerns, an oil shock, the breakdown of conventional marriages, and antagonism between East and West. It's the kind of science fiction that might date quickly, but it also says a lot about contemporary attitudes. The calorie-restricted rations and back-to-basics transport may reflect impoverished times, but the imagination behind it is rich. Damage Time is full of surprises.
19th October 2010
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