The Incrementalists

I saw that Scalzi, (author of Redshirts, (my review here) which I freaking (mostly) loved, blurbed a new book and when I looked it up I loved the plot. It seemed a little bit like that movie where Roger Sterling wears a fedora and keeps trying to break up Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, but they’re in love, so it doesn’t work.*

The Incrementalists is about a team of long-lived people who nudge the world in a slightly better direction. Well, they’re not exactly long-lived in and of themselves. Their bodies live a normal lifespan and then die. Whereupon, other members of the organization find a new recruit. The new recruit has things explained to him or her, and if they decide to join the Incrementalists to participate in Meddle Work (meddling in other people’s lives to make them slightly better) they agree to have the recently deceased person’s personality and memories “downloaded” into their bodies.

Sometimes the old personality (or personalities) is (or are) stronger than the personality that actually lived in that body. When that’s the case, the body-personality is subsumed, and the old one incorporates some new things, but mostly floats to the surface, effectively killing the body-donor. It’s all very complex.

The book begins as Phil works on recruiting Ren, (short for Renee) to take the personality and memories of Celeste, his lover for the past 200 or so years. They’ve kept up, body to body. Phil is one of the oldest surviving primaries (old personality) but something goes wrong when Ren agrees and it may throw the whole system out of balance.

It’s a good book, decent story, and Ren and Phil are great, though I don’t quite buy their insta-connection. The problem was that it didn’t seem like anything really happened. They have to hunt a traitor in their midst by going to what they call “The Garden,” which is a metaphysical realm reached by meditation where all of the memories of their many pasts are hidden. So they basically all just sit around, and then they wake up and talk a lot. Then they order pizza and talk some more. And while the Garden is a metaphor that is described physically, it still doesn’t exist, and it sort of feels like a book where nothing happens.

At one point there was some gunplay and I said to myself, “YES! Now we’re cookin’ with gas!” And then all kinds of nothing started happening again.

The thing is, there is something here. It’s such a cool idea, and if it’s the first book in a series, I would definitely stick with it. The reason I started reading though, was because I love the idea of Meddle Work – the tiny, influential changes that make a person’s life, that make the world, a better place. And there’s very little Meddle Work in the book.

I don’t know. I wouldn’t recommend it. A book where I look at the Audible App and think, “Gods. Another 45 minutes and then I can listen to the Exes again” is not going to get my ringing endorsement. If it’s a series though, and if the next one redeems the first . . . then I’ll come back and change my tag on this post.


*And yes, I know that movie was The Adjustment Bureau and yes, I know it was based on the story The Adjustment Team by Phillip K. Dick, and yes, I know I’m a bad nerd for not having read any Dick.


One Comment

  1. Alicia November 1, 2013 11:06 am Reply

    I liked the idea behind that movie, too bad the book with the similar idea wasn’t good. Maybe I’ll read the book the movie was based on…

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