Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

Occupy Me

Out of the blue. That’s how the briefcase turned up in your life. The Audi’s security camera shows images of a man very much like you approaching the car. GPS records put the time at 4:37 this very morning in the parking lot of Short Hills Mall. The man opened the door using your own biometric signature. A hand very much like your hand placed the briefcase on the passenger seat gently enough to suggest that its contents were fragile.

Or explosive.

But you weren’t there.

The Audi is now in the VIP parking area at IIF headquarters near Amagansett. Its records claim that you drove it to the mall at 3:53 — you have no memory of that, either — and then you drove here. Now you sit in the driver’s seat, yawning, trying to piece it together.

Pearl is an angel working for the Resistance. She appeared a couple of years ago in a junk yard with no memory of her former self, no knowledge of how she got there, and no explanation for her wings, which she usually keeps folded away in higher dimensions. Of the Resistance’s angels, she’s the only one who might actually be, by some definition, an angel. And part of her is missing.

Meanwhile, Dr Kisi Sorle has been having memory lapses, waking up in places he doesn’t remember travelling to and — in one particularly notable case — finding himself in possession of a briefcase he doesn’t recognise. Except this is no ordinary briefcase. And Sorle’s body is being hijacked by another instance of himself, an almost-identical waveform, a disembodied consciousness which is like him but stronger, able to step in at will and take over his movements.

At its simplest level, this is Pearl’s story, as she tries to uncover her past and put herself back together. And there’s a lot to recommend Pearl as an unconventional heroine. She’s an older woman, in body, at least, even if she’s only had about two years’ human-life experience; she’s a wall of muscle who builds her body to handle stress; she’s in a lesbian relationship with Resistance colleague Marquita. She’s a vehicle of pure compassion; she loves everyone and wants to fix every being she encounters, using her unique powers to reach out and tweak people into happier, more contented versions of themselves. Working for the Resistance, she allows herself to be guided into a series of small acts designed to assist humanity overall.

But Occupy Me is an odd book, and that’s an oversimplification. I was drawn in by the narrative alternation between first-person (Pearl) and second-person (Sorle), just waiting for their respective stories to entwine. Pearl’s narration often falls into a fluid stream-of-consciousness style, using a string of concepts that are familiar but twisted sideways, and never fully explained. It is, you might imagine, exactly what it would be like to be told a story by someone from a civilisation with an entirely different level of technology. The overall result is often surreal and deeply lyrical. There are stories told in the language of biology, and those in the language of computation and artificial intelligence. There are prehistoric creatures, and libraries of higher-dimensional data hidden away in the spaces between molecules, and at least one temporal discontinuity. Taken as a whole, it’s a philosophical musing on the nature of identity and self, informed by the intersection of technological extremes. Weird and rather wonderful.

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