April 5, 2024

Review: The Archive Undying

The Archive Undying The Archive Undying by Emma Mieko Candon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the saga of an alternate world (not Earth as far as I can tell, or has been revealed yet), with giant robots and artificial intelligences sane and insane. It has some of the most complicated worldbuilding I have read in a long time, and is generally a pretty dense story all the way through.

Unfortunately, that sometimes comes at the expense of characterization. The primary protagonist (though not the narrator; it becomes clear as we move through the story that the person telling it is not human at all) is Sunai, the "relic" (read: human interface) of an AI named Iterate Fractal that "corrupted," or went insane and fragmented, seventeen years ago. During said corruption, Sunai had a copy of Iterate Fractal downloaded into his brain, a silent (and not-so-silent as the story progresses) "passenger" that increasingly becomes a key mover in the plot.

In this world, AI's rule the various cities and provinces, and for the most part, that rule is horrifying:

"Where do you think you are?" Sunai has to catch his breath. That heat flares ever brighter and more sickening. "What do you think happened here? This is where Iterate Fractal ate people, Adi. Every poor asshole who couldn't figure out where they fit in its master plan."


"Oh, sure! Criminals, in a state where the patron AI had integrated us so completely into its network that it could compel us to do whatever it wanted. Criminals who happily got on the boat to this killing field." Sunai scoffs. "If people in Khuon Mo hurt each other, it was because Iterate Fractal let them. Because it was running an experiment, or because it was curious. But it always got tired in the end, and then it got upset. 'Why couldn't you be nicer? Why couldn't you behave? How could you want to leave?' "

Sunai hunts down corrupted "fragtech," the copies of fragmented AIs that constitute themselves into giant and misshapen mecha roaming the wildlands of this world, even though his great secret is that he is "corrupted" himself. He carries a great deal of guilt and PTSD over what happened with Iterate Fractal seventeen years ago, and the revealing of this secret is a major plot point. Along the way, he gets involved with another relic, Veyadi Lut. Veyadi builds a machine to take down the resurrected remnants of Iterate Fractal called the Maw, and Veyadi and Sunai are dragged into a giant fight involving humans, said remnants, and fragtech.

The plot is just as complicated as the worldbuilding, especially at the climax. This is definitely not a quick, breezy read: you really have to pay attention to even halfway follow what is going on. I enjoy worldbuilding as much as the next SFF fan, and probably more than most, but this book got to be a little too much for me in places (which is one reason it took so long to read it). The fact that the characters needed to be fleshed out more--sometimes I could hardly tell the secondary characters apart--didn't help. I appreciated this book for being hugely ambitious in its worldbuilding and scale, but I wish that density could have been pared back just a bit to make the story easier to follow.

Still, this is a debut novel, so I can forgive a lot in such a case. Certainly this author has imagination and ambition to burn, and if they can improve they will be a writer to watch.

View all my reviews

No comments: