Living Memory by David Walton
Living Memory (2022), by David Walton, is a fast-paced techno-thriller that reads with a bit of an echo of Michael Crichton, though with a premise that I’d say is more richly imaginative than at least the several Crichton works I’ve read. The beginning of a new series, this first book will leave many a reader eager for more.
The story’s opening is set in Thailand where an American-funded group of paleontologists, led by American Samira Shannon, are frantically wrapping up a dig site thanks to a just-announced deportation policy following the installation of a new government via a Chinese-backed coup. As they’re readying to leave, the paleontologists make a stunning discovery, but before they can further explore it, they find themselves arrested by the Thai police/military as CIA spies. Eventually the narrative splits into several strands. One follows Samira’s experiences in the US as she becomes further embroiled in both scientific mystery, geopolitics, and military missions. Another follows Thai scientist Kit Chongsuttanamanee, one of Samira’s original team members who continues to work on their discovery, motivated both by a sense of national pride but also co-opted by the military, a betwixt and between spot that leaves him trying to figure out exactly where he stands.
These two strands are the “thriller” part of the techno-thriller, with chase scenes, gun battles, escape attempts, and more, all intertwined with several serious topics, such as imperialism, militarism, and sex trafficking. Exploring these subjects in a thriller is an ambitious and admirable move, and one I applaud. That said, the seriousness of these issues does knock heads a bit with the breakneck speed of the thriller plotting. In fact, my only real quibble with Living Memory is that I wished the pacing wasn’t quite so blistering, which would allow us to delve a bit more intensely into some of these serious topics and also allowed for some more plausibility in terms of some of the decisions made by the characters and a few plot points (particularly the military ones). That said, I have to admit the zip-through-the-plot pace of most thrillers is something I’ve never been a fan of in that genre, so there’s certainly a good chance your mileage may vary on this complaint of mine.
That quibble is counter-balanced by the third strand of the novel, my favorite aspect and the one that I’d argue elevates Living Memory above standard techno-thriller fare. This one is set roughly 65 million years ago, not at all un-coincidentally the same time period an asteroid struck the Earth and (helped) wipe out the dinosaurs. I don’t actually want to say much more about this strand so as to allow the reader the pleasure of the eventual reveal and exploration. I will say though that as I noted above, this segment is supremely imaginative and richly, vividly developed. It’s also the most lyrically written, as if Walton himself found this the most enjoyable part of his book and raised his language craft to meet it (or, more likely, he crafted a different style to match a different narrative group, but I like the first idea).
As one might assume, the past and present somehow meet, and it is this that sets us up for the next novel. I, for one, am excited to see how Walton carries this forward and eagerly anticipate book two.
Tomorrow at noon, we’ll feature an essay written by David Walton and we’ll be giving away a copy of Living Memory.