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The Mimicking of Known Successes

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This is a great book for people who love mystery, sci-fi, and romance. At points, I found the characters to be a bit stagnant but for me, the tying up of the mystery aspect at the end was so satisfying and I wasn't as bothered by the character development.

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Malka Older.
Middle-future (not really soon; not humanity throughout the galaxy).

... if you need more than that, longer review coming soon. (but what more do you need?? :D )

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Review based on an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley

I have a soft spot for sci-fi and fantasy based around trains – think the anime Baccano!, Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail series, or Snowpiercer (I haven’t seen the show yet, but I loved the movie). To start with, trains are a great transportation system – you can see what’s going on outside, don’t have to focus on driving, and are more comfortable than flying, not to mention that it’s safer than driving and better for the environment than flying. When you make that into a story setting, you’ve got the isolation needed for horror or mystery, characters from a variety of backgrounds interacting with people they normally wouldn’t, and a ticking clock as the train nears its destination. So when one of my favorite authors writes a mystery about climate-apocalypse refugees living on Jovian train stations and a plucky academic helping her ex-girlfriend investigate an impossible disappearance, I’m fully onboard.

The setting was the first thing to grab me in Mimicking of Known Successes. Though I’ve not yet been to Asia, the opening paragraphs made me think of isolated Siberian rail stops. Older reveals her worldbuilding deliberately without resorting to expositive dumps, the way an early-21st century London resident would reference tube stops without lecturing on the history of the Underground. At the time of the story, humanity has fled Earth and is living on disparate platforms over Jupiter, connected by a set of rings that are transited by the railcars that got me so excited. So whether the characters are moving through their equivalent of a bustling city or rural farmland, there’s a pervasive sense of desolation as they’re surrounded by barren and bottomless clouds.

I also loved the dynamic between the two main characters, Pleiti (the narrator) and Mossa. Like many great detective duos, there’s a bit of Holmes and Watson to these two; however, several changes make this a refreshing take. For one, Pleiti and Mossa are ex-girlfriends, which both makes explicit the attraction that is either subtextual or relegated to fanfic for most Holmeses & Watsons and shifts things from “will they/won’t they?” to “can they, without hurting each other again?” Mossa isn’t infallible (as Holmes portrayals often seem to be) and her rudeness is commented on in the text, and Pleiti is far more independent than many other Watsons.

Without getting too much into spoilers, I wanted to mention several themes of Mimicking that are relevant to our current ethical dilemmas
-Slow scholarly processes in the face of urgent needs
-Direct action by a few individuals with great conviction vs slower (imperceptible?) collective/social/democratic action
-The difference between preventing harm the current system creates vs seeking good things the current system delays or prevents

(Lastly, I have a list of questions about the Jovian transit rings, and I think this is a sign that I’m invested in the worldbuilding rather than a problem. Any one of the rings would be the greatest human engineering feat to date in the 21st century; how many are there and how are they laid out? They’re named by degrees & minutes – does this mean that they’re longitudinal great circles, latitudinal smaller circles, or great circles laid out on other angles? If they’re on other angles, what to the degrees & minutes in the name refer to? I’m not owed answers but I am deeply curious!)

This book was great and I highly recommend it, particularly if you’re a fan of Older’s other work (and if you’re not, I recommend starting with Infomocracy and catching up).

The Mimicking of Known Successes‘ expected publication date is March 7, 2023. You can find a local bookstore to pre-order the print version at IndieBound, or an ebook at Kobo (or presumably most other ebook distributors).

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*I received an arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for the free book.*

"The Mimicking of Known Successes" is a Sherlock-Holmes-ish investigation story and a scifi. After humanity has destroyed Earth, they live on Jupiter but seek to return to Earth at some point. Scholars are working on recreating flora and fauna on Earth. When a scientist jumps off a platform into most certain death, detective Mossa joins up with her former university sweetheart and they start investigating the disappearance together. The story was fast paced, I loved the setting, and the slow burn. I'm not really a crime fan but this scifi crime novel was so much fun and sweetly queer.

4.5 stars

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I love a good cozy mystery, and a queer cozy mystery? Sign me up! Sweet and deep and impactful, all while maintaining novella length.

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Source of book: NetGalley (thank you)
Relevant disclaimers: We are Twitter moots and occasionally have bants. This author was invited by one of my editors to blurb one of my own books in the past.
Please note: This review may not be reproduced or quoted, in whole or in part, without explicit consent from the author.

I liked this tremendously. I sometimes think the Holmesian riff market is oversaturated (and I say that at someone who once wrote a Holmes riff and would write more Homles riffs like a shot given half a chance) but then I read a good one and I remember, no, I just fucking love this stuff. Because there’s so much you can do with the dynamics, the setting, the particular type of detective story that the original Homles typified, especially when you leave all the Victorian nonsense behind.

In this case, we’ve left it so far behind we’re on Jupiter.

The basic premise of The Mimicking of Known Successes is that our greed and selfishness have wrecked the earth—so far so plausible—and that what remains of humanity as a species is eking out a more careful existence on the gas giant, with people essentially living upon platforms attached to a planet-spanning rail system. When a man disappears from a remote railcar system, we have our mystery, and the story begins.

Our Holmes and Watson analogues are both women and former lovers: the former, an independent-minded investigator called Mossa, the latter, Pleiti, academic, who is working on a project to reconstruct Earth’s lost ecosystem. It’s a restrained take on both characters, with Mossa retaining some of Holmes’ methodology and emotional distance, and even a bit of his arrogance, but she’s infinitely less obnoxious. Pleiti, similarly, is neither as obsequious nor as horndoggy as the original Watson, but she is loyal and resourceful in the way that Watson is loyal and resourceful. And I’m aware this is probably coming across as unnecessarily spiteful about the original Holmes and Watson But they’re straight white Victorian men, written by a straight white Victorian man. That’s like ground zero for awfulness. Not that I’m trying to cancel a dead Victorian, or anything: I’m not disputing the value of Conan Doyle’s work, but it’s work that is (inevitably) a product of its day. And the advantage of reworking these stories with modern values is that they can be a product of … well … our day.

Anyway, I really loved this take on Holmes and Watson. Like Holmes, Mossa is brilliant, but frustratingly oblique, often declining to explain her thought processes until already proven, which evokes the atmosphere of one of those Holmes stories where Holmes is constantly out and about and will—at some point—deign to explain himself to Watson, probably over breakfast. But, unlike Holmes, Mossa is not an abstract figure of patriarchal genius: she is very much a whole person and, if you’re willing to pay attention, a person with strong and specific feelings. There’s an extent to which I think Mossa can be read as non-neurotypical but it is never the focus of the text, nor something that is posited as a romantic or personal obstacle for her. Pleiti and Mossa’s re-kindling of their relationship has nothing to do overcoming or addressing Mossa’s non-neurotypical ways: it is simply about both of them learning how to better recognise each other’s needs and expressions of care.

This isn’t the sort of detective story you can play along with at home, but Conon Doyle isn’t Agatha Christie. There is, however, an element of puzzle solving offered to the reader in terms of Mossa and Pleiti’s relationship. In typical Watson fashion, Pleiti can be quite a coy narrator and, because Mossa and Pleiti already know each other, there is a lot that goes unspoken between them. This doesn’t mean it’s not romantic, though. In fact, I found it deeply romantic, precisely because of its quietness, the way it belongs to Mossa and Pleiti in ways the reader (as an external observer) can only partially access.

Also, I’ve just realised I’ve spent most of my review of a detective story talking about the people. The mystery is … interesting and has some excitingly outlandish twists to it (there’s a bit where Mossa and Pleiti are attacked by a caracal). By the end, the stakes are pretty damn high, but I do wish I’d understood fully what they were before, and who was involved, before we reached the point of villain monologues and fisticuffs. I don’t want to spoil anything but the role of Pleiti’s department becomes quite significant: there’s hints throughout of intra-academic conflict (but does any academic institution not have intra-academic conflict?) as well as potential conflict between those who, y’know, work for the institution and believe in its cultural value and those who would maybe like to do something more directly useful for a broader range of people with the platform-space that has been given over to the ecology project. But I think, given the nuances of the setting, I would have liked just a little more cultural context and maybe to have spent more time with the villain before I learned he was the villain? Of course, some of this is simply detective story personal preference: in most of the Holmes stories, the villain is whoever has size eleven feet and smokes a particular brand of tobacco. And the mystery—for all I would have like a bit more emotional connection to its various participants—is well constructed and well paced.

The setting, though, I found it super fascinating. It’s evoked with depth, detail and genuine thoughtfulness—quite an achievement given the fact The Mimicking of Known Successes novella. It’s kind of weird that “everyone is stuck on a hostile gas giant with no life of its own” could come across as … cosy? But somehow, between the trains rattling about, Pleiti’s scholars rooms, the links to academia, and the foggy 19th century London vibes of a planet where you literally can’t breathe, it does. Of course, the fact we have left Earth a fucked up ruin behind us does cast a gentle melancholia over the text. The trauma of this is occasionally referenced—its impact undeniable—but, mostly, people are just getting on with their lives as best they can. There’s something especially bittersweet about this, I think, especially in the wake of a global pandemic. But there’s still a sense of hope here; an implication that change is always possible should we simply care enough.

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It took me some time to orient myself in this science fiction mystery, to figure out who the characters were and understand the world-building. Once I got my bearings, though, I liked the characters and the future of humanity I found here.

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Older's latest short novel is "a cozy Holmesian murder mystery" on Jupiter. Which certainly sounded interesting. I started reading this pretty soon after I got it, and I thought it was rather good. I found the dialogue between Mossa and Pleiti sometimes a little stilted and strange, but there's some interesting and well-done world-building and mystery. Worth checking out if you're a fan of the author's previous work, or if you're looking for something a little different.

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This is a great low stakes, cozy mystery type of sci-fi that i'd love to see more of. Two exes reunite when one, Mossa the investigator, enlists the help of the other, Pleiti a Classics researcher, in solving a mystery. A man has disappeared without a trace from one of the remote platforms on Jupiter. Many assume it was suicide, but Mossa isn't so sure. Told from Pleiti's pov, the pair dig into the missing man, eventually uncovering a link to the preservation society tasked with revitalizing Earth's extinct species and a much bigger crime than they expected to find. There's a lot to like in this book, setting the story on Jupiter is an interesting choice, and the author made it work in a way that feels plausible. The worldbuilding is present and interesting, humanity fled Earth after they destroyed it and are trying to one day go back, but not the total focus of the story. I did like the bit where Pleiti is describing her research where she's basically reading the Peter Rabbit books for clues on rabbits and the plants they ate in an attempt to recreate their habitat. Mossa and Pleiti are interesting characters, and quite different from each other, but they work well together. I liked how it ended, but i'd love a sequel, it felt like there could be a continuation, but the ending itself was satisfying.

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I think the strength of The Mimicking of Known Successes is its imaginative vision of life on another planet in the aftermath of leaving Earth. It is clear lots of thought has gone into what kind of technologies and social systems could exist, although I can't say I ever fully grasped it all. Unfortunately, that just isn't enough to interest me on its own, and I found the investigation plot surprisingly lacking in hook. I was never really invested in the case and my reading experience was very slow for such a short book. The romance just about caught my attention, but it too isn't that dynamic. I do appreciate how Mossa is (like many fictional detectives) autistic coded, and that genuinely seems to inform her character in realistic and non-caricature ways. This novella probably just has a different audience than me, but I sadly just didn't enjoy it.

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