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Book Review   |    
Kenneth E. Fletcher, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2000; doi:
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by Jeffrey Ford; New York City, Avon Books, 1999, 230 pages, $12 softcover

Set in the far distant future, after the destruction of any civilization that we might find recognizable, this fantasy novel attempts to take us inside the mind of a future evil genius—literally inside his mind. Memoranda is a sequel to an apparently well-received previous novel by Jeffrey Ford, The Physiognomy, which covered a period of time just before the setting of this book. I have not read the first book, so I cannot say how well it lives up to its promise. I must say, however, that I found the story in this second novel disappointing.

It is not because I disdain the genre. Fantasy and science fiction are among my favorite kinds of fiction. I believe that some of the best modern writing and storytelling are done in these genres. In fact, this book is extremely well written. Its prose is lucid and paints a clear picture.

It was the story that left me cold. The basic notion is that the protagonist must rummage around inside the mental world of an evil genius in order to find the remedy for a deadly virus the big meany has let loose on the remains of civilization and has himself fallen victim to. To accomplish his quest, the protagonist is magically inserted into the living inner world of the evil genius. That is, he feels as though he is physically transported into a world that represents the inner workings of this evil mind. There he finds three other characters who have previously been imported into this mind-world.

In an afterword, the author acknowledges his debt to the scholarly works of Frances Yates, in particular The Art of Memory (1). Unfortunately, Ford's book is but a pale shadow of that work. Well written as Memoranda is, it is never involving. Indeed, it is frequently stagnant and insipid. I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that once we've forced ourselves to work our way through the surprisingly tepid insides of the mind of the evil genius, we find that the solution is not really there after all.

When the antidote to the virus is finally found, it is strangely unsatisfying to one and all—not only to the reader but also to the characters to whom it must be administered. I found the book as unsatisfying as the antidote.

Dr. Fletcher is assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the behavioral sciences research core at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Yates FA: The Art of Memory. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1974


Yates FA: The Art of Memory. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1974

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