Sep 10 2018

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

So let me begin with a quotation from near the end of the novel (pg 345 of the paperback Titan edition):

“If I took away the sensory overlay I could directly know the patterns of so many concepts coming to fruition out here on the North Sea: the physics behind pressure gauges and safety seals, the signal processing in the robotic arms, the quantum processes in giant screen monitors with thermal imaging of the ocean floor, the statistical mechanics and psychological theories of bonding and interaction in the design of the recreation rooms. This place is a microcosm of humanity’s machine.”

If this is the kind of prose that floats your boat, then you will freaking love Tricia Sullivan’s Occupy Me. An ambitious novel about angels and waveforms and the fight against entropy, it features a cast that’s refreshingly different from that of the average book in today’s market. It’s also got some great ideas about humanity and love and survival.

Unfortunately, it’s also a book about time travel. Unless done right, time travel is one of the most frustrating subject matters I’ve ever come across, for a plethora of reasons. Here, half of my issue was the fact that, as with the rest of the science in the book, it was over-detailed and under-explained. There are so many interesting concepts in this book, but they all get smushed together as we hop between viewpoints — which, in an impressive feat of storytelling, Ms Sullivan successfully presents in first, second and third person — to, um, save some great ideas, I guess? I think if the book had focused on that, and perhaps how it intersected with Dr Sorle’s life, it would have been a much sharper book: as it was, the corporate intrigue and occasional dinosaur left me both unmoved and bored (which is a shame, because Alison is probably my favorite character in the book.) It’s like the financial “conspiracy” was thrown in just to shepherd our characters along to the location where the big finale takes place, as described in my quotation earlier. It feels just as mechanical and inorganic as it sounds.

In fact, a lot of the writing feels more like Ms Sullivan wanted to present some Really Cool Concepts but didn’t know how to comfortably couch it in a human experience. She excels when she’s describing Pearl engaging with her feelings and helping others (also, Alison) but there are things thrown in for no apparent reason, and certainly with no explanation. What was the point of the isometrics? Or of post-Resistance Marquita’s transformation? What is the deal with that freaking refrigerator?!

Anyway, there were too many loose ends for me to really enjoy this novel, but it does have some interesting theories regarding the application of physics/quantum mechanics. It’s not an unenjoyable book, but it could have been a lot more tightly written and less contrived.

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