The Mimicking of Known Successes

A good novella can be read and enjoyed in a single sitting. That’s certainly true of this new book by Malka Older. But just because a book is short it doesn’t mean that it can’t have depth. Nicola Griffith did amazing thing with the plot in Spear. Older has done something different but equally impressive with The Mimicking of Known Successes.

Plot-wise, the book is relatively simple. On the one hand it is a murder mystery which must be solved by the two protagonists. On the other it is a lesbian romance between two people who were once a couple, and must become so again by the end of the book. In short, it is the sort of thing that Aliette de Bodard might write.

This story, however, is not set in the Xuya universe that de Bodard has spent many stories carefully establishing. It is set in an entirely different future that is both fascinating and beautifully realised.

The Mimicking of Known Successes takes place on Jupiter, or Giant as the planet is known to its inhabitants. Earth has been devastated by humanity’s carelessness, and is now uninhabitable. Jupiter is a last refuge for the small remnant of the human species, and those few other living things that they managed to rescue.

Of course there is no surface of Jupiter on which to build a civilisation. Humans have, with a great deal of care and effort, built platforms in the upper atmosphere on which to live, and have built farms, towns and even a city on those platforms. The whole thing is linked together by a railway network.

Ever alert to political nuance, Older notes that train travel is free on Jupiter, for the same reason that governments build roads on Earth. Commerce must flow, and if railways are the only sensible means of transport they must be made available.

Armed with this knowledge, you can now understand the mystery side of the plot. A stranger arrives at the station in a remote town. He’s seen by the locals as he pops briefly into the bar by the station. Then he leaves, and vanishes. He’s not in the town. No trains passed through the station before he disappeared. The only conclusion is that he left the platform in another way, either by jumping, or because he was pushed. Hence the investigation.

Mossa, our detective, needs to know more about the missing-presumed-dead stranger. She has established that he was an academic. There is only one university. Mossa once studied there. Someone she knew from her student days still works there, and could be a useful source of information. The trouble is, that person is Pleiti, her ex-girlfriend.

Mossa is rather Holmes-like, obsessive over detail and relentless is pursuit of answers. Pleiti is much more relaxed, friendly and open. It is perhaps not a surprise that their relationship failed. And yet there must have been a spark there once. Older, slowly and carefully, re-kindles it.

Meanwhile Pleiti is important for other reasons. She knew the missing man. Indeed, he was something of an academic rival. And that leads us to the discipline in which they both worked: Classics.

No, dear reader, that does not mean the study of ancient Greece and Rome. On Giant, academic disciplines are divided into Classics and Modern. Modern means studying the world as it is now. Classics looks back to life on Earth.

Both Pleiti and Bolien Trewl, the vanished stranger, work in a discipline that studies Earth ecology in preparation for the day when the many species stored (either alive or as DNA) at the Preservation Institute can be returned to their rightful home. Pleiti is currently working on a rare and important surviving text. She is studying Watership Down in the hope that it can give her key insights into the way rabbits lived on Earth. Thank goodness she is reading Richard Adams and not Beatrix Potter.

I’ll leave it there, because saying any more might give you clues to the denouement of the story. What I will say is that I understand that there will be more stories featuring Mossa and Pleiti. The world that Older has created is too fascinating, and to vibrant, for just one novella.

book cover
Title: The Mimicking of Known Successes
By: Malka Older
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura