This story is a mind-bend where you trapped between a dream and reality.
The story begins in a dream within a dream. The place is Egypt in 1933. An archeological dig is led by Parker at the Valley of the Kings, south of Cairo. A sealed tomb is found in the depths of the earth. Ambushed by rebels, the team members are forced to take shelter inside the tomb only to find out it is a portal into the future. The new world is a future Manhattan and yet not a single soul around. A clue from the entrance of the tomb’s door leads them to the statue of Columbus which reveals their destiny-panopticon. Throughout his journey, clues revealed to Parker hint at a distant memory of his life; memories that he is finding harder to grasp.
A virtual prison system created out of economic need where convicts are hooked up to machines in a deep artificial sleep is the setting and premise of this spell-binding novel. With the prisoner’s mind erased, new memories are inserted to create a new virtual reality. The prisoners are unaware of their circumstances, but with shared consciousness, the convicts can interact with each other in the hopes of rehabilitation. But there is one way out of the darkness.
Parker, the main protagonist, is a prison breaker for hire, hacking into the virtual realities where convicts serve their time, while asleep. To help other prisoners break out of their virtual reality, he kills them with silver bullets and instantly the prisoner awakens in the real world. Parker has been experiencing these other realities for ten years while his real memories are fading. He is fearful of losing his mind, especially of the memories with his wife. It becomes a race against the machine as he performs one last important job with an offer he can’t refuse; the chance to be with his wife again.
The compelling story line is an original concept that dares to blend many genres together. And it’s done with high precision. The structure of the narrative contains multiple realities and timelines and requires you to pay attention to subtle hints and details to fully enjoy its complexity. As a reader, I alway loved to be challenged, and I started to take notes about some of the references in the hopes of it being relevant later in the novel. A Japanese fable, a children’s book, a red easter egg, dates (the 1880s, 1953, 1972, 1986), and a time not randomly chosen and placed.
The Memory Agent is a beautifully written book. Delany builds several virtual worlds each different without the overuse of words. In modern Manhattan, you feel the breeze in Central Park surrounded by the tall skyscrapers and apartments old and futuristic. In the 1880’s the dark slums of New York emerge with the rickety buildings basking in sickness, poverty, and rot. Horse-drawn carts, the smell of bread, buildings of brick and wood. You feel the division of the rich from the poor, “The Gilded Age” is afoot in these slums.
His character sketches are so vivid you could see the person as if given their photograph. They are three-dimensional and with enough detail that you anticipate their reactions to various situations. Each of the characters had a backstory, habits, and quirks which made the story of virtuality a reality. Parker’s longing for his wife, from 16 months ago is omnipotent in all his choices. When Parker gains access to Charlotte’s mind and memories, you feel a depression so palpable. Even the non-human elements, such as the different mythological creatures are so realistic as to send a shiver down the spine.
The book often reads like a video game with clues that lead to a key to a door which leads to another reality. The only pitfall of the narrative was the feeling of the relentlessness of Parker’s journey in all of the mazes. Perhaps this was on purpose to have your emotions align with the protagonist.
I loved every moment of this fun and suspenseful novel. It appealed to all my senses and compelled me to read until the end. I have never had an interest in historical fiction until I read The Memory Agent. Learning about fables, different eras in New York and international history has cultivated a curiosity that will I continue to feed. This book was entirely unexpected and astonishing.
Thank you, NetGalley and 47North for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.