Epeolatry Book Review: The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles by Malka Older


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Title: The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles
Author: Malka Older
Genre: Science Fiction, Cosy Crime, LGBTQIA+
Publisher: Tordotcom
Release Date: 13th February, 2024

Synopsis: Investigator Mossa and Scholar Pleiti reunite to solve a new mystery in the follow-up to the cozy space-opera detective mystery The Mimicking of Known Successes, which Hugo Award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders called “an utter triumph.”

Mossa has returned to Valdegeld on a missing person’s case, for which she’ll once again need Pleiti’s insight. Seventeen students and staff members have disappeared from Valdegeld University―yet no one has noticed. The answers to this case may lie on the moon of Io―Mossa’s home―and the history of Jupiter’s original settlements during humanity’s exodus from Earth.

But Pleiti’s faith in her life’s work as a scholar of the past has grown precarious, and this new case threatens to further destabilize her dreams for humanity’s future, as well as her own.

“The seats were warmed, the glass covers on the gas lamps were an ancient and kindly yellow, and a tea service, authentically brought from Earth generations ago, shone on a sideboard amid chafing dishes and covered trays, promising cheering refreshment.”

Put on the kettle, run a hot bath, and order up your favorite scones, because The Investigations of Mossa and Pleiti continue in this charming second novel in the series that began with The Mimicking of Known Successes. The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles embeds the Sapphic-Sherlockian pair as a steadfast new classic detective duo, capturing a world very far in time and space, if not in spirit, from our own.

This quiet, pensive sequel luxuriates more in the mind of Pleiti, partly in her ponderings on the nature of her romance with Mossa. The mystery element of the story takes a backseat to the exploration of humanity, more Cozy than Crime, which is no bad thing at this time of year. We spend more time traveling Jupiter’s railcar rings, sipping tea and other refined refreshments, and of course staring disappointedly at the obvious implication of twin single beds. Like Pleiti, we’re here for the company as much as anything else.

“The idolization of the settlers for what they could not avoid, as opposed to for their choices…” Mossa succinctly condemns the short-sighted individualism of those playing tourist in the hardships of an early colonial ‘Good Life’, martyring themselves from the rest of humanity’s fragile society to clutch at an imagined greener grass. Echoing the prequel villain’s more immediate, global misdeed, the first thread of mystery unraveled in Unnecessary Obstacles depicts a more subtle, slow-burn act of narcissism that threatens the community of the established settlements. The draw is understandable, of course, but self-centered. This makes for an enriching expansion on the theme of colonization running through these tales, all pondered through Pleiti’s studious, scholarly perspective. It would be refreshing to find such deep thought in common media now, to infuse our loud dichotomy with insightful nuance and introduce some more unity to humanity.

Being so alike, and attuned – at least in the case of their assignment – these characters waste no words with each other, finishing each other’s sentences and replying to subtextual inklings. If only they handled their feelings for each other as they did their fact-finding missions, then poor Pleiti’s heart might rest a little easier in its cozy nest that definitely awaits in Mossa’s.

Being a less frequent reader of science fiction, I’m hard-pushed to pull comp titles for this series, aside from the obvious fact that you might like this if you like the canon of Sherlock Holmes, you might also find a similarly heartening exploration of the duty of care we owe to one another in Daniel M. Ford’s The Warden. I heartily recommend The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles for those long, dark winter evenings – a spiritual, intellectual companion for moments when the state of politics is distressing, and a balm for those seeking recognition of the longings of the heart.


Available from Amazon and Bookshop.

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