Review: Memory, Linda Nagata, 2003. 

Cover by Emily Irwin

There is the feel of a fantasy quest and a western in this novel, Nagata’s introduction to the world at the center of Silver.

There are gods, reincarnation of a sort, and destined lovers. It is a world of vast spaces with humans living only around temples. Most of it seems to be desert-like. There is no aviation. Electronic communication is spotty. Rather than horses, the characters travel by motorcycles and trucks, always careful to arrive at a temple by nightfall. Night is when the silver comes up, a nanotechnology that sometimes consumes or transforms what it touches. Only the “kobolds” in the temples keep it at bay – sometimes.

Frankly, I’ve known about this novel for years, but a young protagonist and a synopsis with words I normally associate with fantasy novels didn’t make me want to read it.

However, our narrator Jubilee, a teenager, has a compelling voice and doesn’t have the sort of “pluck” that grates on me.

The story weaves three plots: Jubilee’s search for her brother Jolly who disappeared into the silver one night but who may be alive; her growing, if long distant, love affair with Yaphet; and the threat that, as in times past, the silver may engulf the world. In fact, a shadowy figure named Kaphiri works toward that very end.

Along the way Jubilee, discovers the nature of this world and gains some control over the silver. She also learns that the god and goddess who created the world may somehow be incompletely incarnated as some of the novel’s characters.

That’s not an entirely foreign notion to Jubilee. The inhabitants of this world know there are only a limited number of personalities which get reincarnated time after time. Their memories don’t survive death but some of their knowledge and talents do. Thus, Jubilee has a gift for languages. Yaphet’s talents run towards engineering.

The idea of a destined lover is quite important to the story. One can only bond and mate with a specific individual in this world for reasons revealed in the story. In fact, some people, like Kaphiri, never do, and it’s this alienation from normal life that drives his apocalyptic movement and brings him followers in a similar predicament.

The novel is called Memory because history and information are at its center whether it is the records Jubilee can access with her linguistic gift, legends, the incomplete memory of previous incarnations, or the silver itself.

Nagata’s story is complicated, and, after only one reading, I’m not sure I understood it completely. Unlike the novel’s sequel, Silver, this story is more a mystery and quest story than an action adventure. Nagata layers and revises her explanation of Jubilee’s world and its history as the story progresses. In Silver, it’s clearly laid out. Still, I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would and wasn’t troubled by reading Jubilee’s story in reverse order. The mysteries are engaging as well as the characters, particularly Jubilee and Kaphiri.

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