Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White

 I think I have purchased and read nearly everything that Steven Brust has written in the last couple of decades, beginning with Jhereg, and including Cowboy Feng's Space Bar & Grill, Brokedown Palace, and To Reign in Hell. I ran across this collaboration with Skyler White at the library and decided I'd better read it. Not a fatal error, but not exactly up to Brust's usual standards, either.

Several years back, my insurance agent inexplicably hired an office assistant who was horribly incompetent. Her sins were far too many to list here, but they led me to state on more than one occasion that she had to be either related to him or having an affair with him. I'm afraid that I'm left wondering the same thing about Brust's relationship to Skyler White, as there seems to be no other reason to screw up a perfectly good writing process which has produced masterpieces of fantasy fiction for many years. I will, however, give White the benefit of the doubt at this point and will try reading something else by her to verify my theory. You'll be the first to know, gentle readers.

The novel is just way too long on talk and too short on action. The premise is that there is a group of effective immortals who make "incremental" changes by influencing people towards or away from some course of action, making the world a slightly better place, one bite at a time, so to speak. They never try to make major changes, just little ones.

The narrative is split between the viewpoints of Phil, an incrementalist who has been on the job for over two thousand years, and Ren, the woman he has selected to replace a member who has died, who was (it seems at first) incidentally also his lover for the last two hundred years, in various incarnations. These folks don't possess physical immortality, but their memories and personalities can be passed on to new bodies, integrating the old with the new, more or less, depending on how dominant each personality is.

Phil is a professional poker player, participating in the WSOP, so everything happens in Vegas, and stays in Vegas. It turns out that his dead lover, Celeste, was far more skilled at the whole business of subtle influence and change than anyone realized, as it develops that she influenced Phil to pick her successor, and to fall in love with Ren, even when Celeste's personality doesn't appear in her new host as expected. Celeste is playing some sort of long game, which may be detrimental to the long term plans of the Incrementalists as a whole, and they spend endless chapters debating what to do about it, while Ren and Phil work out their various emotional issues.

It could be that this is the first book in the series, and after a couple hundred pages of setup, we'll be graced with some actual plot movement in the next one. Keep your fingers crossed.

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