REVIEW: “The Pulse of Memory” by Beth Dawkins

Review of Beth Dawkins, “The Pulse of Memory”, Apex Magazine 116 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

It is generally agreed that, on a generation ship, nothing can be wasted. But what about memories? In this unusual story, people have discovered a way to recycle the memories of the dead, so that no knowledge or experience will be truly lost. How is this feat accomplished? Through fish. The fish eat people before they die, and then teenagers eat the fish when they come of age, thus gaining the memories of the people that fish dined on. It’s morbid, but effective.

The brilliance of this story lies not in the idea of memory-eating fish (though that’s a pretty great conceit), but in the way it shows how different people respond to this practice. Society is not a monolith, even in the constrained environment of a generation ship. Some people feel an almost religious reverence for the fish, others are disgusted by them, and some yearn to do away with them entirely. It’s a rich and organic source of conflict, and one that is too rarely used in most stories, making this story all the more sweet for really exploring it.

For such a strange (and at times, confusing) story, Dawkins keeps us grounded with a strong point-of-view character. Cal’s love for the fish, and for the role they serve in society, provides the reader with a hand to hold from beginning to end. This story gives us a unique take on generation ships, a staple of science fiction, and I’m grateful to have read it.

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