Friday 28 September 2012
ARIA: Left Luggage, by Geoff Nelder
A technician at a US air-base is excited to be one of the first to handle an alien artifact – but he soon finds that his memory is beginning to fail him. And not just him, but everyone he comes into contact with – and then everyone they come into contact with. That’s the starting point for Geoff Nelder’s new SF novel ARIA: Left Luggage.
This is a global disaster story with a unique twist – a highly infectious amnesia virus which gradually destroys people’s memories, starting with the most recent and working backwards. People first forget what they were doing the week before, then as their memories are wound back to their earlier selves, wiping out about a year’s worth every week, they forget how to do their jobs, where they live and who they are married to. To make matters worse, they are unable to form new memories and start each day unaware of what has happened to them. Inevitably, society rapidly collapses except for a few who manage to avoid infection and do their best to survive while they try to work out what is happening and what to do about it: scientists at isolated bases and astronauts orbiting the Earth. Meanwhile, some who have the virus are struggling to find ways to continue with their lives.
Inevitably, the story is reminiscent of The Day of the Triffids which I reviewed on this blog not long ago. If Geoff Nelder’s writing style is plainer, with less of a literary gloss than Wyndham’s, the plot is more complex and there is a series of unexpected twists and turns to keep the reader’s attention gripped. It is an exciting page-turner of a story, tautly written at less than 300 pages, and I read it from start to finish in one sitting. The price of this is a degree of unevenness in the characterisation; some of the cast are strongly drawn but others could have done with more development. Left Luggage is the first book of the ARIA series and concludes with yet another major surprise to set up the next volume, Returning Left Luggage, which I am already looking forward to reading.
In contrast, I have been struggling to read Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and finally gave up after getting more than a third of the way through. It is set in an alternative world in which the Jews were thrown out of Palestine in 1948 and were granted a self-governing lease on some islands off the coast of Alaska; a lease which at the time of the story was due to expire, leaving the inhabitants to become ordinary citizens of the USA. The principal character is a police detective trying to solve the mysterious death of a chess genius. I found the writing to be of high quality but, although developed in great depth, the setting and the plot were only moderately interesting and the pace very slow. In the end it simply failed to hold my attention or persuade me to continue reading it, a fate which befalls an increasing number of the books I start, due to the large pile of unread books awaiting my attention.