Epeolatry Book Review: The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older
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Title: The Mimicking of Known Successes
By: Malka Older
Publisher: Tor Publishing Group
Release Date: 7th March, 2023
Synopsis: On a remote, gas-wreathed outpost of a human colony on Jupiter, a man goes missing. The enigmatic Investigator Mossa follows his trail to Valdegeld, home to the colony’s erudite university―and Mossa’s former girlfriend, a scholar of Earth’s pre-collapse ecosystems.
Pleiti has dedicated her research and her career to aiding the larger effort towards a possible return to Earth. When Mossa unexpectedly arrives and requests Pleiti’s assistance in her latest investigation, the two of them embark on a twisting path in which the future of life on Earth is at stake―and, perhaps, their futures, together.
It’s quite a feat to reproduce the cosy, gaslit atmosphere of everyone’s favourite Victorian London mysteries, and Malka Older smashes it out of the stratosphere with this delightful new novel. After all, who might be more readily aligned to do so than her protagonist duo – wryly intellectual, emotionally sensible re-population researcher Pleiti and her singularly focused, emotionally opaque investigator ex-girlfriend Mossa.
The book delivers on its welcome promise—a sapphic transposition of the Holmes-Watson dynamic amid the swirling mists of a post-Earth human colony on Jupiter. We are treated to concise dialogue, high-end vocabulary, and the absolutely-essential-to-mystery-solving tea and scones. These fireside deductions set centuries, if not further, into the future of humanity and provide the perfect wintry comfort read for those who have spent almost as long longing for the detective and the sidekick to just kiss already. Speaking of which, the romantic element is a well-played slow burn, with a delicious wink to the action itself. It’s an assured, accomplished story and you’ll miss the embrace upon its departure.
Where the world-building is confident and gracefully integrated, it could be allowed more space. Unlike the readily locatable London streets, this newly conjured geography would genuinely benefit from a map in the inlay; I found myself spending a too long trying to piece together the jigsaw of concrete visuals to envisage the scenery. This didn’t hinder my enjoyment, but it’s an indicator of one way where it left me yearning. There’s no denying, though, that the atmoscarf-wrapped, quietly distanced society forms an immediately recognisable reflection of our own, post-pandemic in 2022.
The case itself is gripping enough, hinging on the pertinent dilemmas of ecological balance and sustainability entangled with the age-old politics of the self versus the collective—not to mention the ever-orbiting elitist perfectionism of an academic-led charge to regenerate a ‘great’ past. Following a constellation of breadcrumbs with increasing gravity, the pair gradually come to understand the life-changing implications of the missing man and material they are pursuing. Here, we could perhaps be brought in a little closer; some further insight into Pleiti’s work up to this point may add impact to the climax. With scant natural encounters, we don’t fully appreciate the weight of what is at stake.
Similarly, the closing line somewhat skips a beat, telling rather than showing us a character growth that, while we knew it was supposed to have happened, we were not quite a party to. The pair are fairly similar in voice and behaviour, and although Pleiti’s hopes are clear from the beginning, we don’t see what it means for them to be in a romantic relationship with each other, or why it didn’t work out the first time round. (Although, if their rekindling flame is anything like the rose-tinted, too-late apology of their world’s attempts to return to the Earth they destroyed, maybe that lamp is better left unlit.) That said, what we do see is both realistic and representative, and the characters make for enjoyable company. One (G)iant leap made in this reincarnation is that Mossa, perhaps-neuroatypical-presenting as she may be, sheds the egregious genius caricature of Conan Doyle’s Holmes, while Pleiti embodies the loyalty and intuition of Watson without displaying any jaw-hanging hero-worship. Regardless, if you’re a sop like me then you’ll root for both big second chances in their story.
Overall, this is a fantastic read for any fans of sci-fi, cosy crime, and sapphic friends-to-lovers-to-friends-to-lovers-again stories. Bending gender and genre, this reimagining of a classic makes for a brilliant speculative jaunt with a quietly bonded, nurturing heart at its core.
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