Saturday, October 10, 2020

Recursion by Blake Crouch: A Time Travel Book With Heart and Thrills


By Scott D. Parker

(No, you are not suffering from False Memory Syndrome. Yes, Beau reviewed the very same book yesterday, something I didn't know until I went to post this review. Perhaps that is yet another key indicator of how good this book is.)

How often do you read a book in which the last sentence is the perfect end to the story?

Well, I finished one this week, and the last line was awesome.

Recursion by Blake Crouch is a thriller with a huge scoop of science fiction, specifically time travel. It was the most recent selection for my SF book club although I wasn't the chooser. We generally keep our selections within the genre--I actually picked the Sherlock Holmes book The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz--but occasionally we get books like this one. But this is one that really leans into the thriller aspects and it kept me engrossed all the way through.

As the story opens, New York police detective Barry Sutton has lived eleven years without his teenaged daughter who was killed in a hit-and-run accident. He's meeting his now ex-wife to commemorate their daughters birth. There have been a lot of things called False Memory Syndrome, a condition where folks remember whole other lives. 

In the reality of the story, these are alternate timelines.

Soon, Barry meets Helena, a scientist with a mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Her goal is to invent a tool that can help map her mom's memories before they are all gone. What another character realizes is that this machine can be used to travel back in time to a specific, vivid memory. And, when a time traveler arrives at the point in time where the traveler actually left, all the other timeline's memories cascade on them...and everyone else.

And there's a race...against time. 

I really enjoyed it. Loved it, actually. As recent as this past weekend, I hadn't even started it. I started listening while doing chores...then started finding new chores to do so I could keep listening. The Houston Texans helped by sucking so I stopped watching and started listening to this book. The premise drew me in pretty quickly and just kept me going.

The alternating narrators really worked in the audio. Enjoyed both of them. 

Really liked the moments when a certain timeline caught up with a character. When I was explaining this to the wife, what came to mind (but not during the reading) was the end of the movie Frequency back in 2000. Also had lots of echoes to Replay by Ken Grimwood.

Go no further if you don't want the spoiler, so if you don't, I thoroughly enjoyed Recursion and would highly recommend it.

SPOILERS for the end

Lastly, it is very rare that a last line of a book is this awesome, but this one is. Again, this is where listening to an audio version really brought it home. I was standing in line at the DPS on Tuesday. Outside, morning sun, looking at all the other folks doing what I'm doing. Crouch is talking from Barry's POV and building it up to talk to Helena. This is after he's killed the bad to prevent the whole thing from even starting. And he has realized that life has pain and that, as humans, we just have to deal with it. 

And then the last line! "And he says...."  I barked out a "HA!" as the credits rolled, grinning big time. Loved it! Crouch let the reader finish the story, creating our own, unique timelines.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

recursion: did you mean: recursion

This week, Beau takes a look at Recursion, a novel by Blake Crouch.

Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That's what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Walks Through the Changing Landscape

During this pandemic, I've been lucky enough to continue working without interruption.  I've been doing it from home primarily, though necessity dictates that I go into my office once or twice a week.  I can do most of my job from home, but not absolutely everything, thus accounting for the office trips.  I work in a large city-owned building (the Municipal Building, located in lower Manhattan just next to the Brooklyn Bridge), and at this point, in order to gain access to the building, I have to take a brief questionnaire through my phone in the morning certifying that I've had no temperature above 100.4 degrees within the past 10 days, that in the past 10 days I have not tested positive from a COVID-19 test, and that to the best of my knowledge I have not in the past 14 days been in close contact (within 6 feet for at least 10 minutes) of any other person while they had COVID-19.  It's an honor system test, really.  Once I answer these questions, I get an auto-generated email sent back to me approving me for access to the city office location I intend to enter.  I take a subway to work (about a 30-minute trip) and then at the Muni Building entrance, I show a guard the approval email I received and he lets me into the building.  

My elevator ride lasts 22 floors. I step out, walk down a hall, and use a card key to enter a large deserted office suite.  About twenty desks, cubicle partitions, a small kitchen area -- a typical office environment save for the fact it's completely deserted.  I walk past desks and cubicles to my own personal office within the general office suite, and there get to work, doing what  I need to do in absolute silence and solitude.  To be there alone, like a ghost, a phantom consigned to work in a place once full of living people now no longer in existence, felt odd at first, but I've gotten used to it.  And of course, I am not only alive, but so are my fellow workers, people in my particular unit, who I'm in touch with every day as they plug away at their jobs from home.  

It's all part of the "new normal", as the phrase goes.  And so, I suppose, is the acknowledgment of change, loss, the demise of so many familiar establishments in the area where I work.  It's going on everywhere, of course, and all you can do is observe and pay a silent tribute to a store or watering hole or restaurant you took pleasure in frequenting.  

I stopped by the office yesterday and then took a leisurely walk around the area.  I noticed yet more losses to what has already gone for good: the big Irish bar where we had a few retirement parties for people; the other bar I'd spend an hour in during the last World Cup to catch the second half of a game; the Thai restaurant that was there for twenty-four years, a cheap and fast lunch spot that had excellent food; the tiny informal French place that had a huge selection of wines and such a tasty croque monsieur.  I could go on with the list and I'm sure the list will only lengthen.  Every perambulation now becomes a tour through a zone of casualties.  It's not a literal war we're going through, but to see parts of your city fading before your eyes makes it feel, in certain ways, like a war is taking place.  Instead of ruins, you see signs saying VACANT, CLOSED, THANK YOU FOR  YOUR YEARS OF SUPPORT

What can one do? Not much. Except, as a writer, as a human being, steadfastly pay attention as much as possible. A changing landscape may not be pleasant, but it is not, shall we say, uninteresting.  Now that we know without a doubt that this situation is going to last a while, I'm trying to adapt myself to the new environment and I'm starting to jot down notes.  I find that it's good for my mental health, and cold though it might be to say, we have to work with what we're given.  So there's mourning, and remembering, and there's keeping both eyes open to see, in the areas I inhabit, what comes next.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Last Chance!

By Claire Booth

This is it—the last day to register for Bouchercon. I’ve talked about the convention moving from in-person to online, so no matter where you’re located, you can attend.

If you’re still undecided, please, peruse our Virtual Bouchercon page. It has previews of the interviews with Guests of Honor—Scott Turow, Anthony Horowitz, Anne Perry, Cara Black, Catriona McPherson, Janet Rudolph, and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Walter Mosley.

The schedule of panels has also been finalized. Click here for the full live program schedule.

Once you’ve been dazzled by all of this, you can click here for the registration page.

And if you’ve already registered, stay up-to-date with Virtual Bouchercon’s Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.