Recently Read: The Incrementalists

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White

The Incrementalists

The Incrementalists—a secret society of two hundred people with an unbroken lineage reaching back forty thousand years. They cheat death, share lives and memories, and communicate with one another across nations, races, and time. They have an epic history, an almost magical memory, and a very modest mission: to make the world better, just a little bit at a time. Their ongoing argument about how to do this is older than most of their individual memories.

Phil, whose personality has stayed stable through more incarnations than anyone else’s, has loved Celeste—and argued with her—for most of the last four hundred years. But now Celeste, recently dead, embittered, and very unstable, has changed the rules—not incrementally, and not for the better. Now the heart of the group must gather in Las Vegas to save the Incrementalists, and maybe the world.

My reaction:

I’ve been fascinated by the concept behind The Incrementalists since I first stumbled across a “coming soon” mention of it several months ago. In fact, back in July, this was one of my Wishlist Wednesday selections, and I was really excited to finally get my hands on a copy.

So did it live up to my expectations?

Yes and no.

I’m reminded of the line from Julius Caesar (oh, shush, stop rolling your eyes at me just because I’m quoting Shakespeare!): “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves…”

In the case of The Incrementalists, I think the fact that this book didn’t entirely work for me is less about the book itself than about me.

Me, me, me… and now I sound incredibly self-centered. It’s all about me!

But seriously… I think I expected much more of a paranormal thriller of some sort. Secret societies! Shared memories! Cheating death! But that’s not really what The Incrementalists is.

Instead, it’s a smart, intellectual science fiction brain-teaser centered almost entirely around something called The Garden, an “exo-brain” or virtual world that all Incrementalists can access mentally. It’s a non-material space in which Incrementalists can store (or “seed”) their memories, then invite other members of the group to “graze” their “seeds”. When an Incrementalist’s body dies, the others choose a new “Second” to receive the deceased’s “stub” — his or her essence, which will then basically fight the recipient’s personality for dominance until the weaker personality is integrated into the stronger. In this way, the personalities live on in an unbroken chain for hundreds or even thousands of years, being “spiked” into new bodies whenever needed.

The terminology of the Incrementalists includes terms like “switches”, “pivots”, and “sugar spoons”, and just boggled my mind after a while. While the plot is fast-paced and included some really clever and unusual characters, I often felt that I was missing something.

More about me — I consider myself a fairly smart reader and it’s not often that I feel that I can’t keep up. The Incrementalists made me feel like a cave-dweller at times. As the virtual worlds — and virtual chase scenes — became more and more complex, I increasingly felt like I was losing the plot thread and didn’t understand what was going on.

Which was frustrating. Because I like The Incrementalists quite a bit, and especially liked main characters Phil and Ren. Their story and their growing relationship was marvelous and tricky and intellectual and challenging. And yet, I finished the book feeling like I’d only understood a portion of the details, and while I got the big picture, I couldn’t tell you exactly why it had worked out the way it did, or even what specifically had transpired.

To sum it all up: For someone who enjoys virtual worlds, artificial intelligence and constructs, symbols and multiple realities, this would probably be a great choice. It’s certainly not your run-of-the-mill thriller, and it definitely will send your brain into overdrive. I do think The Incrementalists is quite a good book. I just think that perhaps I wasn’t the right reader for it.

__________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Incrementalists
Author: Steven Brust and Skyler White
Publisher: Tor/Forge
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Tor/Forge via NetGalley

The Monday Agenda 10/21/2013

MondayAgendaNot a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

How did I do with last week’s agenda?

What with one thing and another, it’s been a pretty slow (but fun) reading week:

Longbournbad housesincrementalists

Longbourn by Jo Baker: Done! I loved this inside-out look at the world of Pride and Prejudice, as told from the perspective of the Bennets’ servants. My review is here.

Bad Houses by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil: Done! A quick and engaging graphic novel. My preview of this upcoming new release is here.

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White: Still reading — about 70 pages to go. A lot of the virtual reality stuff is going pretty much over my head, but it’s still interesting and puzzling enough for me to keep going and see if I can make it all make sense.

The Expeditioners by S. S. Taylor: My read-aloud book with my son — going great! I think we have another week or two to go.

Fresh Catch:

I’m still trying to be good and stick to the plan of finishing off all my current (and a teeny bit late) review books before digging into all the new books begging to be read. Meanwhile, two of my requests came in at the library this week:

The Rosie ProjectRASL

Two very different books, but I’m looking forward to both!

What’s on my reading agenda for the coming week?

Still sticking with my commitment to focus on review copies, this week I’ll be reading:

incrementalistsgood wife
Reality BoyParasite (Parasitology, #1)

First, I’ll be trying to finish up with The Incrementalists. And after that, I have a few more books lined up that I’m excited about:

  • How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman
  • Reality Boy by A. S. King
  • Parasite by Mira Grant

I realize that I’m being overly ambitious and probably completely unrealistic in thinking that I’ll make it through four books this week… but hey, a reader can dream, can’t she?

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.

boy1

The Monday Agenda 10/14/2013

MondayAgendaNot a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

How did I do with last week’s agenda?

It’s been a pretty fun and eclectic reading week:

Charming (Pax Arcana, #1)Before I Met YouWill in ScarletLongbourn

Charming by Elliott James: Done! A terrific first book in a new urban fantasy series. My review is here.

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell: Done! Contemporary fiction meets historical fiction in a novel set in both the 1920s and 1990s. My review is here.

Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody: Done! An exciting middle grade book about Robin Hood and his Merry Men. My review is here.

Longbourn by Jo Baker: Just started over the weekend, and I’m currently about 25% of the way into this new look at the world of Pride and Prejudice… as viewed by the servants below-stairs.

And in kids’ books, my son and I are about 1/3 of the way into The Expeditioners by S. S. Taylor, and we’re really enjoying it. It’s a steampunk adventure story, filled with mysterious maps and clever kids. After a bit of a slow start, we’re hooked!

Fresh Catch:

In keeping with my new need to name everything, I’m calling this my Pile of Sadness:

book pile

Why? Because these four books are YA new releases that I bought for myself and can’t wait to read… but I’m trying to stick to a vow* that I made to get caught up on my NetGalley backlog before reading anything else. It’s the right thing to do, and it seems to be working… but then I look at my Pile of Sadness and feel all sorts of tearful longing building up inside…

Must. Be. Strong.

*So what’s this vow about? I wrote a post yesterday about, among other things, my mid-October reading resolutions. And whatever else came to mind. You can read it here.

What’s on my reading agenda for the coming week?

Sticking with my decision to catch up on review copies, I have this coming week’s reading all queued up:

Longbourn incrementalistsbad housesgood wife

First up, I’ll need to finish Longbourn by Jo Baker. Then onward with:

  • The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White
  • Bad Houses by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil
  • How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman

I’m actually loving everything I’m reading these days… but that Pile of Sadness is so tempting… and I just got an email notification that I have some library requests ready for pick-up. Must. Be. Strong.

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.

boy1