In the far-flung future of 2007, in a world that never quite recovered from a Cold War which didn’t stay cold, where Japan seized the global economy and the world went in the direction that novelists predicted decades ago, society now relies on commercial brain implants – artificial memories that afford skills and knowledge to the owner to give them immediate access to better standards of living. Some people bite off more than they can chew on payment, and that’s where recall comes in. John Bishop makes a meager living for himself on the edge of civilized society with these recalls, having lost everything on a burn job some time ago, but on a job he can’t refuse – as much as he’d prefer – he stumbles into a darker business than just recall. So begins the events of The Memory Hunter, a retro-futuristic science-fiction Noir by Jon Konrath.
As a send-up to an older genre gone quieter in recent years, the book is a cultural grab-bag of inspiration from classic cyberpunk/sci-fi like Bladerunner, Neuromancer and – closer in tone – the more absurdist Snow Crash. More importantly, the similarity to the story Repo Men (and several similarly-themed books and films since) is hard to overlook with its dry-wit Dystopian horror of bio-technology financing a better future at unsafe costs, and the grimy, ethically-nightmarish, but stable work of repossessing a life as a distinct, even run-of-the-mill career. Mega-corporations and hovercars, AI helpers and hand-held lasers, American virtues against the Japanese and the Soviets running in the background, it’s all there. It’s tried and tested – and a bit out of time, purposefully – but used as a good springboard for this particular novel that thankfully takes different turns to any before it. A jaded, alcoholic ex-mover-and-shaker takes the job of his life, and with help of a new friend, busts open the case for the good of humanity and his own sense of honor – it’s the genre trope, and part of its reason for the adherence to that outline is to take new turns and demonstrate some retrospective good humor about the entire thing. It’s a pleasant tribute to the old-school while doing new things as its own distinct piece that borrows only what it needs to tell an original, extremely thoughtful story, even if the big questions are kept from being too big.
Konrath is a proven author with several different books under his wing with a flair for absurdity running through titles such as Fistful of Pizza and a more somber tone in titles like Atmospheres and Summer Rain. It should be no surprise to followers of his work to know that he tackles a new genre of classic science-fiction with the right balance of the ridiculous and the thoughtful. The world Konrath creates is very believable and full of details and side-notes that mesh into the narrative perfectly. It really feels like the old novels, but with a better sense of self-awareness and tech-savvy, owing to Konrath’s experience in the real world as much as an author. It’s very successful in selling a sense of immersion that is often hard to strike with fiction with an absurdity about it, and makes it convincing as a satire as much as a realistic and serious story.
If old ’80s sci-fi Noir pulp-fic is a genre you feel is sorely lacking in the current Zeitgeist of literature, this is a blast from the past ready for importing to your personal storage chips. Dark, terrifying, and satirical, The Memory Hunter is an excellently crafted piece given life from a bygone era of literature.
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