Bookish Memory Check: SF Edition

#SciFiMonth 2021 (1-30 November)

I had a hoot taking the Bookish Memory Check for Wyrd and Wonder, and when Tanja jogged my memory by running an SFnal edition over at Where Stories Lie, I knew it was going to be my first tag of the month. I like to think my TBR and my shelves are fairly curated, so I should know what all these books are about, right? Yes, well, let’s find out!

The Rules

Tanja’s rules are delightfully straightforward:

  • Go to your Goodreads ‘read’ shelf (or your SF shelf if you have one)
  • Sort by random (from the dropdown at the bottom of the page)
  • Test your memory on the top five books

I don’t have genre shelves and I like to make life hard for myself, so I ordered my Read shelf by Date Read for maximum memory work-out (in practice, books I read before I uploaded my catalogue to Goodreads in 2015). Spoilers ahoy, because guess what I primarily remember? You got it… (also: SO MUCH EASIER than the fantasy edition, which I think just goes to show that I started reading SF a lot later, so I’ve had less time to forget it all).

What I remember

Well, actually…

The Children of Men by PD James

There is no future for humanity: there are no more children. The final generation are awful, everyone else is screwed up and the pressures of an ageing population sure have accelerated the rush towards dystopia. An unlikeable but well-connected academic is pulled into the heart of the dystopian mess by a student and his ex-wife.

To be fair, I remember the film better than the book but the differences were in the details and my synopsis is vague – and accurate – enough to be of either. Or both. I’ve actually had a review on ice for over 4 years (whaaaat) waiting for me to rewatch the film to comment on the differences. This is so on brand: my life is an arm wrestle between good intentions and pragmatism.

Inherit the Stars – James P Hogan

This is old-school, white, male-dominated scifi with a strong anti-war message. I remember a creepy scene of a transmission from astronauts on Mars getting cut off; and I remember the big reveal: we are not alone and hooboy the relatives aren’t keen to see us. Thankfully, there are some big friendly giants who are willing to get in the middle.

So far so good, but I should probably have remembered that it all kicks off with astronauts finding a body on the Moon that’s been dead for 50,000 years. Which is a brilliant hook. It’s set in 2027, so excuse me, I’m off to schedule a reread for 6 years time…

Split Infinity – Piers Anthony

A sci/fantasy of parallel dimensions: Proton is the high-tech planet of competitive games, where only Citizens can wear clothes (everyone else has limited tenure as naked serfs); Phaze is its fantasy counterpart, which also has massive power imbalances but far less nudity. Murder, mystery, world-hopping, unicorns, sexy robots, conspiracies and truly awful prose abound.

What she said. In addition, the protagonist is a Gary Stu who rails on about his height, but every woman throws herself at him, he’s a master of Proton’s Game and a magical adept. It was a fun read as a teenager, but it’s hard to swallow now – I couldn’t get past the sexy robot whose boobs were still sexy when she took them off and used them as bedpans. And that’s the least sexist detail on page.

One of Us – Michael Marshall Smith

I can only remember peripheral details: it’s about a guy whose ex-wife turns out to be involved with the mob and whose major relationships are with his gadgets, all of which talk. There’s a scene where a cafe blows up; and another where his fridge (and his much-maligned alarm clock? maybe?) stop him from getting murdered at home. It’s an MMS book, so there’s probably a cat. But I can’t actually remember the plot… Is this the one about outsourcing your dreams?

It is! Only the twist is that our hero – Hap – works the illegal side of the hustle, and takes on memories as well as dreams. Which is lucrative and harmless until a young woman leaves him remembering a murder he didn’t commit and doesn’t show up to take it back; and then the world and his wife (well ex-wife) start trying to kill him. I recall this was a lot of fun in an off-the-wall, cross-genre noir kind of way.

King’s Sacrifice – Margaret Weis

Book Three of Reverse Star Wars: in a galaxy far, far away, the nobility were overthrown and the Republic brought in fairer rule. Honestly. After a lot of executions. 20 years on, the heir to the throne is at the centre of a power struggle between two former lovers as Darth Vader General Sagan tries to seize control of the galaxy and Lady Maigrey is determined to stop him holding everyone to ransom with a doomsday device. Entertaining space fantasy – complete with psychic powers and basically lightsabers – with a lot of humour and all the feelings.

Sure, my synopsis is broadly for the first two books rather than specifically book three, but how many spoilers would you like?

Okay, fine, I admit it: turns out I have zero memory of the plot of book three. Zip. Nada. Everything I thought happened in terms of plot detail that I didn’t go into was actually in book two. Shhhh.

I finished my Fantasy Bookish Memory Check with a lingering urge to reread almost everything; I’m about halfway there with my SF selection – I really do want to revisit the Star of the Guardians trilogy (which ends in King’s Sacrifice) and I’m tempted to revisit Michael Marshall Smith. Let’s see if I get to either before 2027, because I am absolutely definitely going to reread Inherit the Stars then if I haven’t got to beforehand!

Fancy a go? Tag yourself in and link back to Tanja’s post!