Tricia Sullivan is a US-born novelist now living in the UK. ISFDB lists 12 books for her (some were written under a pseudonym), she herself lists 8 of them as SF on her site. She has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and has been nominated for a number of others (and twice more for the Clarke), but, according to her blog, this critical success has not always translated into sales figures.
I would hope that her latest offering, Occupy Me, can change this. Yes, the market is fickle, but the book tells a cracking tale that's hard to pigeonhole, told in a convincing and absorbing manner. I find it genuinely hard to classify this story, and have to say that, in this case, this is A Good Thing.
Occupy Me contains an Angel called Pearl, with wings hidden in another dimension, working as a stewardess – Angels have empathic abilities, and can thus affect humans and animals; and Pearl is a pathological sucker for fixing things and smoothing over issues.
It features a doctor, Kisi Sorle, saved from death as boy by the oil company killing his homeland and its inhabitants, who now looks after the dying former CEO of said oil company. Who he skimmed from whilst Austen Stevens skimmed from his company. And Kisi has an evil twin, a Hyde to his Dr Jekyll, so to say – who can inhabit him (ok, ok, occupy him) and do things mild-mannered Kisi would never do.
Pearl is missing part of herself (her 'launcher' she calls it) and is thus stranded in this odd corner of space-time, and is generally unclear of what she is or what she should be doing:
“There's so much I haven't figured out yet, and most of it is myself”
But she works for the Resistance, a mysterious organisation fighting, in a non-causal way, Entropy across history. You see, this is also a time-travel story, which obviously serves excellently to further tie the story threads in knots, and thus making them less linear and more interesting, and laced with the promise of time paradox. The Resistance's systems are always a little more sophisticated than the contemporary technology; and it is led by an AI called Filippe, who calls himself a projection of the consciousness of the Resistance. Make of that what you want...
We don't get much of an introduction or build-up, instead we are thrown into a moving story, set in a complex world/universe, and are grasping for traction on what's going on (a trick a lot of films use, too). There were cases where I went back to re-read, and thus pick up more of the background and reasoning for what had just happened. This approach serves Tricia well in avoiding info dumps, but it requires the reader to be nimble on their (mental) legs, and have a good memory for what went before, or, like me, occasionally go back and check.
Pearl's abductor (she remembers his waveform) has a Higher Dimensional shadow attached to himself, and she describes him as human, but with Extraterrestrial AIs grafted to his form (we learn the why and how at some - late - point.) We also learn that (SLIGHT SPOILER!) the Resistance works to the Austen Correspondences, and is funded, in some very roundabout way, but Austen Stevens, which creates a loop which turned most of things I thought I knew and understood at that - early - point on its head.
The story is told through the viewpoint, the eyes of its protagonists, mostly Pearl and Kisi (only the very ending confirmed for me who the main protagonist was, and it was not the one I expected for most of the book! Hah, how is that for a foreshadowed spoiler!). Each protagonist has his own voice, his own way of storytelling, for those attunded to such things you can tell whose chapter you're in simply from the language, I guess.
There is no simplistic plotting here, no clear and permanent black&white, good/bad ratings. Things shift, change, and link up in unexpected ways. I can confirm that this keeps the story fresh and the reader guessing! As the book progresses there are more and more incursions from the 'outside' of what would otherwise have been a fantastical setting in Urban Fantasy, which drag this tale, kicking and screaming, deeply into SF territory for me.
There were parts (and no, telling what these are would be ways more of a spoiler than I'm happy to commit in such a review) where, for me, Tricia's writing became rather reminiscent of M. John Harrison – and that's high praise in my book! And whilst some of the setting and tropes in use (parallel dimensions/viewpoints on the same topic, things turning out being substantially different than we/the protagonist first encounter them whe we see them from the other side) are classic Tricia Sullivan ones I very much felt that the author had taken a large step forward with her writing, her focuse, and both her ability to tell as story and to hold her audience's attention.
I hope the above does not sound too scary – if your reading age is above the average 13 years old (yes, I'm being unfair here) then you should be more than fine with following this; and I would think that it would keep you entertained for as long as it takes you to make you way though this tale, which will not be very long!
More Tricia Sullivan
Title: Occupy Me
Author: Tricia Sullivan
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher URL: http://www.gollancz.co.uk
Publication Date: 21 Jan 2016
Review Date: 160121
Topic: Parallel dimensions
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.