Thursday, May 11, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Skill In Our Hands (The Incrementalists, Book #2) by Steven Brust and Skyler White

Long Review after the Jump:

The Skill in Our Hands is the follow up to The Incrementalists, a book that was full of LOTS of ideas (to the point where it lost some of them as the plot went on) and two really strong characters in a mystery/romance/scifi short novel with a crazy pace.  I liked the book a lot even if it was disappointing in how some of the more interesting ideas were kind of cast aside by the plot and the meta-nature of the ending was merely interesting.

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The general gist of the now-series is this:  There are a group of people called Incrementalists who have existed throughout history.  They maintain a shared collection of memories in a psychic space and upon death, one of them can implant those memories and their personality into a new person - whereby either that person's personality is mostly wiped out by the original incrementalists or that person's personality wins out and they become the new incrementalist.  What do the Incrementalists do?  Well they meddle with human psychology and humans throughout history, using their powers to find the "switches" of individual people and to manipulate them to make the world better, one small change at a time.

In this book, the plot basically is as follows:  Phil and Ren, the incrementalists from Book 1, are now living together in Arizona, where the two are engaged in some meddling of some sort in order to stop the Arizona Immigration Law........when Phil is shot dead.  But for an incrementalist, that isn't the end of the story, especially not that of Phil, whose personality is several thousand years old, and the oldest of all.  But who killed Phil?  And Why? And who should be chosen as the next recipient of Phil's personality/memories?  And perhaps most importantly, How far should the incrementalists go in order to change the world?

As with book 1, this book is largely framed as a mystery, although the exact solution to the mystery isn't really a big focus.  Moreover, the book is told (in a meta fashion) by Oskar, one of the other incrementalists, with occasional flashbacks to Phil attempting to stop slavery in the 1800s and his struggle with the actions of John Brown, the famous abolitionist.
-------------------------Plot Summary Ends---------------------------------
Basically, this book focuses a large part of its efforts into the actual goal of the incrementalists, changing the world for the better one small step at a time, which was sort of set aside pretty quickly in the original book.  This is a pretty interesting idea!

Unfortunately I'm not sure the book gives a satisfying answer to the questions posed by it (and the answers may be even less satisfying depending upon how your political views are - The book is clearly liberal, but for some liberals the concepts will not be satisfying). Moreover, in the framing of the mystery and on this idea, the character work is nowhere near as strong - whereas The Incrementalists was heavily characterized by the strong relationships between Ren, Phil and Celeste, this book lacks that near entirely - and none of the other characters really pick up the slack.

I shouldn't sound too negative - I still thought this book was enjoyable as it maintains the frenetic pace of the first book and the concepts are still interesting - even if they're not completely satisfying.  Note: DO NOT START WITH THIS BOOK, Read The Incrementalists first, or you will be completely lost.  Also, it's a better book.  So read that first, and if you really liked that, read this.

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