“A MIND is a sort of star-chart in reverse: an assembly of memory, conditioned response, and past action held together in a network of electricity and endocrine signaling, rendered down to a single moving point of consciousness.”

Arkady Martine, A Memory Called Empire

I’m a little way in to A Desolation Called Peace, the second and final (I think!) part in Arkady Martine’s duology that began with A Memory Called Empire. Incidentally, I was reading the first book around the same time last year. It was the first fiction book I’d read in some time, and I was finding it difficult to get through.

There are all sorts of reasons this can be true of any reading experience, but after getting through three other books in record time at the beginning of the year, I’ve slowed down once again for Desolation. It’s an odd sensation, like the mental equivalent of slogging through wet sand.

This has nothing to do with the plot of the novel, which is multi-layered and surprising; nor the characters, most of whom are wonderfully idiosyncratic, deep and engaging; nor Martine’s writing, which is lyrical and free and so alive, a tiny diamond glittering in what is often a staid and immovable boulder of a genre.

I think it has more to do with where I am meeting this book, this series, this writing. Like near everyone on the planet, I’ve had a Big Few Years(tm). Throw multiple health issues into the mix, add a dose of grief, your basic burnout, and you’ve got a lovely thick batter to play with. I don’t think that’s necessarily it, though. It’s just where I am, what I’m doing, the byways and backstreets around which my thoughts often careen.

Martine’s writing feels like a foil for my current state of mind; a fitting opposite; yin to yang; boy I’m really stretching the old metaphors this time aren’t I.

Sometimes it’s not up to the reader as to how long something takes to read. Sometimes it just takes as long as it takes. It might be a page or two here and there; it might be a hundred pages in a sitting.

At a time when everything feels accelerated, truncated, made more homogenous and shallow, where the maxim is more, more, more, but never deeper, never stopping, never allowing thoughts to wander, connections to be made, boredom to set in… at a time like this, it’s nice to meet a thing, a story, that literally stops me in my tracks.

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