Space an­gels save the day

SFX - - Re­views - To add to a BA in mu­sic and MA in ed­u­ca­tion, Sul­li­van is study­ing for a BSc in physics and an MSc in astro­physics.

Brace your­selves for be­wil­der­ing weird­ness in Tricia Sul­li­van’s lat­est novel.

re­leased 21 Jan­uary 272 pages | Pa­per­back/ebook Au­thor Tricia sul­li­van Pub­lisher Gol­lancz

Tricia Sul­li­van is on the thresh­old of big things. She was the win­ner of the Arthur C Clarke award in 1999 (for Dream­ing In Smoke), and has been short­listed again twice. This book was tagged as one to watch out for in the last is­sue of this very pe­ri­od­i­cal. Now we’ve read it, we can say Oc­cupy Me does not ce­ment her po­si­tion as a modern power in SF, but nor does it top­ple her back down the hill ei­ther.

Pearl is a... some­thing. She’s not quite sure. Wak­ing up in a fridge on top of a pile of bro­ken ma­chines ready for re­cy­cling at a Long Is­land tip, she has no rec­ol­lec­tion of how she got there, only that some­thing is miss­ing, and that she likes to fix things – in­clud­ing peo­ple.

Find­ing work with a se­cre­tive or­gan­i­sa­tion who go by the name of The Re­sis­tance, she’s pulled into a con­vo­luted con­spir­acy in­volv­ing big oil, time travel, a mys­te­ri­ous brief­case and higher-di­men­sional space.

Sul­li­van’s writ­ing can be beau­ti­ful. Al­though at times her prose es­capes con­trol and drowns us in art­ful metaphors, she has a tal­ent for de­scrib­ing things in un­usual ways, and mostly suc­ceeds in an­chor­ing this po­etry with a con­ver­sa­tional style that man­ages both wit and pace. The char­ac­ters here are also a great strength. Pearl her­self is deeply sym­pa­thetic, but it’s the hu­mans of the piece that make the story, par­tic­u­larly down-to-Earth Scot­tish vet Allison. As an ex­pa­tri­ate Amer­i­can liv­ing in Bri­tain, Sul­li­van has a sin­cere af­fec­tion for the na­tions ei­ther side of the At­lantic.

The story, on the other hand, is con­fus­ing, con­fused and of­ten gar­bled. The plot be­gins with a pro­tag­o­nist who is ig­no­rant of her na­ture, work­ing for an or­gan­i­sa­tion that re­mains shad­owy through­out, run by an AI (maybe) who is never ex­plained, hunt­ing a man who is dogged, shall we say for the sake of not spoil­ing things, by a ter­ri­ble split per­son­al­ity, for rea­sons which are never quite sat­is­fac­to­rily de­scribed. Sci­ence fic­tion shines when it has a mys­tery to be solved, but this is all mys­tery. It gives the reader so lit­tle to go on it’s be­wil­der­ing. It set­tles down, even­tu­ally, but we’re never given a chance to catch our breath. Trips up and down higher-di­men­sional con­tin­u­ums, and back­wards and for­ward in time are de­liv­ered in a wel­ter of stream of con­scious­ness im­agery that just about man­ages to con­vey high weird­ness, but which is then jux­ta­posed with strangely mun­dane ex­cerpts from in­struc­tion man­u­als that un­der­mine the cos­mic bonker­sness of it all.

Sul­li­van’s cos­mol­ogy is given in a blur of scin­til­lat­ing sen­tences that, in the end, ask us to ac­cept things just be­cause. Peered at closely, it doesn’t hang to­gether. The jokey asides, di­nosaurs, an­gels, ar­tif­i­cal in­tel­li­gence, se­cret time agencies, odd bird crea­tures and end of all things make it seem that Sul­li­van is trying to have her cake and eat it in pretty much ev­ery way.

This all con­trib­utes to Oc­cupy Me hav­ing a first draft feel­ing. It crashes down on us all of a rush, and al­though its wave of en­ergy surges into the reader and car­ries us along, we’re even­tu­ally dumped splut­ter­ing and chok­ing on the sand, won­der­ing what the hell just hap­pened. There are mes­sages about post-colo­nial ex­ploita­tion, cor­rup­tion, causal­ity, and be­ing a de­cent sen­tient en­tity in there too. Good mes­sages, all, but they’re al­most lost in the Gor­dian Knot of the plot.

Oc­cupy Me keeps the pages turn­ing and the wheels of thought whirring. It’s a psychedelic ex­pe­ri­ence, a wacky ta­pes­try of idea. Sadly, it’s frayed around the edges, and the pic­ture never quite emerges in­tact from all the blaz­ing threads. Guy Ha­ley

It’s a psychedelic ex­pe­ri­ence, a wacky ta­pes­try

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