Adrienne Martini Reviews Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

Architects of Memory, Karen Osborne (Tor 978-1-250-21547-5, $17.99, 336pp, tp) August 2020.

Imagined futures where corporations have remade societies so that they always provide a profit are a common backdrop for speculative fiction. That isn’t a value judgement, mind. There are only so many backdrops to go around, and this future feels increasingly likely with each passing day.

In Karen Osborne’s version, Architects of Memory, Ash is a former indentured celestium miner who is now working toward her citizen­ship with a new corporation after a mine col­lapse. (Celestium, by the way, isn’t a thing that truly exists but is, like Arrakis’s spice, a thing that controls the flow of money.) Ash is also starting to feel the effects of a celestium-based illness, one that should render her unfit for service with her new space salvage crew but doesn’t, be­cause Keller, the new crew’s captain, wants Ash to be able to buy out her indenture before she has to take a medical leave.

There are consequences.

There are also aliens, the Vai, who keep wiping out planets full of humans for motives that aren’t understood yet. And there are run-ins with their abandoned technology that don’t end well. Still, these artifacts are worth dying for because each corporation wants to collect them all.

At times, Architects of Memory fires on all cylinders. The story is clear, as are the characters’ motives and the stakes. At times, though, this clarity of purpose wanders away or gets mired in scenes that don’t seem to fit with the story Osborne is telling. This is Osborne’s debut work of full-length fiction – her short work has been in Uncanny, Fireside, Escape Pod, and more – and it is a capable, if at times uneven, step into a new part of the field.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the August 2020 issue of Locus.

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