It took me two days to read this very speculative science fiction novel for my Sci-Fi Fantasy Book Club meeting next Tuesday night (April 14th, 2015). This does not mean that I understand what was going on in the book, which deals with thought transference and a shadowy Uber-company of more or less immortal personalities; and I think the book suffered from way too much sex.
The Incrementalists are a group of about 200 people (or personalities, rather), who can influence or nudge normal people and events, especially those people who are at a “pivot point”, which is, so to speak, a tide in the affairs of men. The goal of the Incrementalists is to only do this nudging in the interests of the good, if only because that is also beneficial for the Incrementalists themselves in the long run. When a given Incrementalists grows old, another Incrementalist recruits a “Second”, a person willing to have the old Incrementalist’s personality and memories “spiked” into his or her own body. If the Second is a strong enough personality, his or her personality will become dominant over the Incrementalist’s personality; otherwise, the Incrementalist’s personality will become dominant. Either way, the body has all of the memories of its own person, the memories of the Incrementalist who now is in it, and the memories of any previous Seconds the Incrementalist picked up along the way, going back to when all of this started in prehistory.
It is 2011, in Las Vegas, and Phil is a poker player, in town for the World Series of Poker championships. He is also an Incrementalist; his personality as Phil has existed for some two thousand years, successively dominating every Second. He recruits Renee, a software designer from Phoenix, to be the Second to Celeste, one of the Incrementalists who has died. Celeste’s memories and personality (and the memories and personality of any given Incremental) are in the Garden, which is a mental construct where each Incremental can save memories without effort to be accessed by any other Incremental. Renee agrees to be the Second to Celeste, but something goes wrong; instead of a dominance struggle within the Second, Celeste disappears. This is serious enough that other Incrementals are called in to find out what is going on; if a Second has no memories of their Incremental, this bodes badly for other Incrementals who want to live on in their eventual Seconds. Phil was also in a passionate love affair with the late Celeste, which complicates the relationship between him and Renee.
This book did bring up interesting concepts; it is in many ways an exploration of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood in Dune, where any given Mother Superior, in the process of becoming a Mother Superior, has the memories and personalities of another Mother Superior added to their psyche (and the memories of all previous Mother Superiors in the same lineage), and of the experience of the sister and children of Paul Atreides, who contain within themselves all of the personalities and memories of their ancestors up to the moment of conception of the next link in the chain. However, the book is deeply complicated, with characters interacting with each other in the “real world” and in the “garden”, physically, mentally, and sexually, with a definite lack of comprehension by this particular reader, which may be a fault in me rather than in the book; but I really cannot give this book a 100% positive review.