Some memories risk doing more harm than good in this cerebral debut novel of speculative fiction.
Jay Shipman’s life is pretty standard, if nerdy, teenage fare as he navigates his science camp ambitions, position on a popular video game leaderboard, and feelings for Twila Mason, his quirky crush. But the twin moons above Jay’s sleepy town put the lie to this apparent familiarity, and Jay’s world, Duorth, has plenty more to set it apart from our own. The most obvious and incredible feature of Duorth is that its people are aware of Earth. In fact, they’re reincarnations of earthlings and even dream their memories of past lives. But when Jay begins to have these recollections himself, the contents threaten to upend his life entirely and throw all understanding of his world and ours out of balance. Recalling a life as a scientist working on a biological weapon—a veritable doomsday device—for an authoritarian government forces Jay to question his own affinity for biological science and epidemiology. And the apparent brilliance of his abused, frightened past self threatens to draw the eyes of the governments of Duorth’s three great nations and reshape the world as he knows it for all time. The storytelling here unfolds adeptly, although the dialogue occasionally falters: “Jay, your name tag says you’re here for biology. What kind of biology stuff are you interested in?” Jay’s inquisitive nature makes for an engaging protagonist, but the real star is the worldbuilding. Duorth could easily appear as a broad caricature of modern life on Earth. Instead, it’s a fascinating world with its own unique slants on religion, geopolitics, and education, particularly when it comes to the study of past lives and the way Duorthians depend on them for scientific and cultural advancement. Also, these details are all delivered seamlessly, without the need for long, clumsy exposition.
A sparkling debut that leaves the reader’s mental wheels turning.