Does Tricia Sullivan need an introduction? I do not recall reading any of her work until this book and she’s been publishing since 1995. I don’t claim to be hip, so maybe that’s it. It turns out that while she’s a New Jersey girl, she’s been residing and publishing in the United Kingdom. For good and for ill, national borders still mean something in fiction publishing. Maybe that’s it.
Occupy Me is Sullivan’s latest work, originally published in 2016 though the Titan Books edition is dated 2018, and it may be her last for a while as she is pursuing a PhD in Astrophysics. The book is essentially a science fantasy thriller with some fairly heavy philosophical subtexts. These subtexts are not necessary for the reader’s pleasure, but they are there if you like. It wouldn’t be good Sci-Fi without them.
The story begins with an excerpt from a users manual that seems a bit out of place and is excerpted once more in the course of the story telling. It’s there as something of a clue as to what is going on, but my not-so-qualified opinion is that it is more of a bug than a feature. Sullivan also shifts between first person, second person, and third person (omniscient narrator) depending on the character being tracked. It is something of a surprise that Sullivan makes this work as well as it does.
Add to this many of the usual elements of a thriller: secret societies, corporate malfeasance, thugs in the service of white collar megacrime, chases, monumental fights, missing persons, engaging (more or less) characters, deadlines… My goodness! Sullivan tries to keep it moving fast enough to skim over the plot holes as any good author of a thriller should. She mostly succeeded for me, and the “what’s going on here?” question also helped my engagement. But I don’t think I would have finished the book with much enthusiasm if there hadn’t been, scattered like video game easter eggs or a book binding decorated with semi-precious stones, some occasional hair-raisingly lovely writing, for example:
“The creature looked like forged emptiness. It breathed smoke and the vast unlit places between stars. On the ground it seemed amplified. Its wings made a hard wind with even the most casual movement, and its breath rebuffed the waves. A pheromone fume seeped from its fur. There was a disturbing hum in my occipital bone, a sensation of drag on my consciousness. Like magnetism. The sensation was out of all proportion to my physical body. I felt I could be reeled, wings and all, into a single one of quetzlcoatlus’ black-hole pupils and never be found again.”
If you don’t like that paragraph, well, there’s no accounting for taste. But for me, the prospect of more writing like this kept me going even on those occasions when the pacing dragged or the plot seemed unlikely.
With other authors, I’ve encountered a page or two of really brilliant writing. Rarely it will be most of a book. But regardless of whether it’s the now and then paragraph or a page or an entire volume, writing like this makes my day.
If that isn’t enough of a recommendation for you, allow me to recommend three other reviews: Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me by Steven Shaviro, “Talk About A Lost Cause”: Tricia Sullivan’s “Occupy Me” by “danhartland”, and Occupy Me – Tricia Sullivan by Paul Kincaid.
Read this book. It’s good.