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The Memory Agent by Matthew B.J. Delaney

Published by 47North on July 18, 2017

The Memory Agent is entertaining, but it struggles to find its identity. The novel starts as an adventure story with an Indiana Jones feel, then it becomes a science fiction prison break novel, then a section has a post-apocalyptic Mad Max feel, and yes, there is sort of a zombie story, because if you’re going to mash up a bunch of subgenres, why not include zombies? And then there’s a killer minotaur, so I guess The Memory Agent is also a horror novel. The writing is sufficiently strong to sustain interest as the story meanders, provided the reader has an even greater willingness to suspend disbelief than science fiction usually requires.

In Cairo 1933, an expedition is formed to find a lost city, supposedly discovered by a tribesman who produces a journal by one of Napoleon’s soldiers describing a lost city of glass and steel, as well as a copy of the New York Times from 2017. The expedition does, in fact, find the mysterious city, thanks to a subway that takes the members there as they flee from an angry mob. The future Manhattan is empty (mostly), although it conveys the impression of a lingering presence.

Eventually, after the novel jumps around a few times, the reader learns the secret to the (mostly) empty city. And eventually the reader learns the whole truth, in a series of surprising revelations as the novel nears its end. Some of the revelations seem contrived, or perhaps it is their cumulative weight that makes them all seem contrived, but they also seem fitting given the story that precedes them.

Some nice moments of humor contribute to the story’s fun factor. I like the effect the song “Thriller” has on the quasi-zombies. On the whole, though, there’s a bit too much going on in this confusion of genres. I got the impression that Matthew Delaney had an idea for a novel but wasn’t sure how to flesh it out, so he made seemingly random choices to fill the pages. Again, the prose is good and the story is usually interesting, although I had trouble staying motivated after the Minotaur showed up. A sharper focus would have improved the presentation. The Memory Agent might have worked better as a novella, perhaps turning a couple of other sections into short stories. But on the whole, the entertainment factor is strong enough to earn my recommendation.


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