‘The Archive Undying’ is really a brilliant title for a novel. Of course, that doesn’t say anything about the contents. Does that live up to its bombastic title?
What is it about?
The Archive Undying is a novel by Emma Mieko Candon. It’s set in a world of powerful AI gods. These AI gods have their own kingdoms, where humans live under the sheltering rule of the AI, at the cost of their freedom. Unfortunately, sometimes corruption hits an AI, destroying their realms, and turning their mechanical servants into insane ‘fragtech’. This doesn’t spare humans interfaced at the moment of corruption. In their death throes, the dying AI breaks their minds or changes their bodies in strange ways. The humans turn into what are known as ‘relics’.
Sunai is one such relic. He was interfaced with the AI Iterate Fractal at the moment of its death. It gave him the power to heal any wound, even fatal ones. The Harbor — a dictatorial state that oppresses their lands using war machines created from broken AIs and relics — scooped up the remains of Iterate Fractal’s realm. Since then, Sunai’s been on the run.
He’s happy to hide his misery in booze and sex, but after one such drunken night he wakes up drafted into the crew of a rig traveling into the wild. They are looking to unearth secrets from amid the broken lands where dangerous fragtech roam.
The Archive Undying has a pretty large cast of characters. On top of that it has a pretty complicated plot. In places, It reminded me of a Final Fantasy game; they too tend to have a plot that goes every which way. That isn’t a problem, per se; many of the Final Fantasy games are really interesting.
Although, to be fair, the plot of the Archive Undying isn’t that complicated. The problem is that everybody keeps lying to each other and they have insights and revelations which are not actually written down. There are some five or six important characters, and they all have their own motivations and secrets. As the story progresses, those slowly come to surface. But they never speak plainly what actually comes to the surface. It’s quite frustrating to read ‘he realized what her she truly wanted’ and then… nothing. No actual revelation. Characters have insights into other characters that are hard to follow and often incorrect, and make assumptions that are neither fully stated, nor turn out to be true.
So, I had trouble keeping up. In part that confusion is good, because it is the way the main character Sunai sees the world. The atmosphere of confused dread it creates is brilliant. On the other hand, it makes for a tough read in places, because I had not idea where the characters stood or why.
I like the Archive Undying. I’m always a sucker for AIs and large robots in a dystopian setting. That said, this book is not for everyone. It’s not a light read. Keeping track of all the characters and their motivations is hard. There’s a reason there’s a ‘dramatis personae’ at the start of the novel.
The writing itself reminds me of stories like Snow Crash and Neuromancer. Those too use the writing style to give their world body. The writing is not ‘transparent’ — trying its best not to draw attention of the reader — but instead clearly signals to the reader that this is an alien world. That does make for a harder read.
Anyway, I like this novel. I wouldn’t say love, it’s a bit too hard of a read for that, but I am very much in awe of the writing style and the world of the story.