The Flies of Memory

Ian Watson, Author Carroll & Graf Publishers $0 (220p) ISBN 978-0-88184-782-6
Watson's ( Stalin's Teardrops ) latest novel is a quirky, thoughtful exploration of memory, history and the nature of individual identity, all couched in a playful, fast-moving story full of well-drawn characters. When the alien Flies arrive and announce their cryptic intent to ``remember'' the planet, a team assembles to try to communicate with the aliens and, if possible, learn the secret of their stardrive. Psychologist Charles Spark psychic Olivia Mendelssohn and nun Sister Kathinka study the Flies as they tour Rome, apparently committing every detail of the city to memory. But then a Fly is killed by a hostile mob and the dome of St. Peter's vanishes simultaneously--it seems that when a Fly ``remembers'' a place, the site's very existence relies on the Fly's memory. When, after other ``forgetting'' accidents, a lost part of Munich appears on Mars, the world mounts a hasty expedition to investigate as Charles and the others persevere. Watson does a superb job of holding his material together, while offering intelligent comments about the power and burden of memory and history. Although he sometimes falls back on unvarnished exposition to develop his points and although his use of surreal elements becomes heavy-handed toward the end, this is surely one of the more ambitious and rewarding science fiction novels of the year. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1991
Release date: 01/01/1991
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