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In Jarlny H. Orlnakof’s Memory Magnet, the character of Alicia asks, “How will I remember you if I won’t be able to remember myself?”
Orlnakof burst onto the sf/f literary scene with his first work, I’ll See You Yesterday, garnering praise from some notoriously stingy critics, making the author something of an anomaly. Young (Orlnakof was but 24 at the time), popular and acclaimed? Make that everything of an anomaly.
Next, he defied expectations and wrote two of the strangest and most fascinating novels of his era (Shanghai Footwax and Grinning For The Parrot), neither one as lucrative as the first but again almost universally well received. Poking the boundaries of genre fiction, he enjoys throwing story elements together that would leave more timid writers wordless, sometimes even injecting humor or scares in unexpected places, making them that much more effective (and memorable).
His latest is a tidy little headscratcher that deals with the idea that life is simply a collection of memories of things that, ultimately, we may as well have not even experienced because the memories of it will fade, leaving only the here and now as real. If memories help form our identity, then without them we are merely transient and literally nothing matters.
And no one. Only you (or I) matter. Only you (or I) exist. And we only exist in the here and now, the right now. Not seconds ago or seconds from now, and certainly not tomorrow or yesterday. The joy or suffering of others is inconsequential. Other lives come and go in the blink of an eye. It is also possible that you and I will be gone, are already gone. Therefore no actions have consequences. Each is free to exist purely in their own moment, together or separate, it makes no difference.
This liberation poses its own set of choices, and one of them is the decision to try to do good, to make a positive difference to your world. There will of course be as many who would choose to do the opposite. Doing or seeing good or bad things can be a choice or a reaction, and without our memory/identity to guide our choices and interpretations, we are subject to a barrage of images/possibilities. Without tools to understand these stimuli, can we know for sure what’s right and wrong, what’s real and what isn’t?
The world can be a dangerous place when you don’t even know your own name, as our characters soon find out, but it’s a world we feel safe in knowing we can’t see, what with its dark slugs in people’s mouths and sand in our cereal. Things happen that shouldn’t, and when they do, you can’t remember if they really weren’t like that all along. This new world can be tasty or funny as well, with hot chocolate air balloons and workboots asleep on their feet. Logic bends, reality has lost its footing.
Orlnakof’s hero, Dr. Yeasmith, has interesting theories on memory recovery and suppression that certain untrustworthy individuals want to
steal hear, and his wiping of his own memories to protect his family leads to a journey of rediscovery. His quest to unlock his own past by the use of carefully hidden notes written before the wipe is a major part of the work, as Alicia, his wife, decides to join him in his loss of identity, leaving them both lost but safe.
The pace is fast and the sheer novelty of each change in scenery lends a welcome softening; you won’t even notice chapters as they speed by. Several passages contain fairly outrageous elements which the author manages to make stick, like the moments just after memory erasure, and the unpredictability of the story takes us out of the driver’s seat, leaving us trying to hold on.
Again, it would appear only Orlnakof can give us things like an incinerator demon and pulling candy weeds from the lawn in a search for the real world, so just sit back and let Memory Magnet tell you what’s real and what isn’t.