The Archive Undying
The Downworld Sequence #1
By Emma Mieko Candon
Author’s website: www.emcandon.com
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Omar
War machines and AI gods run amok in The Archive Undying , national bestseller Emma Mieko Candon’s bold entry into the world of mecha fiction.
WHEN AN AI DIES, ITS CITY DIES WITH IT
WHEN A CITY FALLS, IT LEAVES A CORPSE BEHIND
WHEN THAT CORPSE RUNS OFF, ONLY DEVOTION CAN BRING IT BACK…
The Archive Undying is the first volume of Emma Mieko Candon’s Downworld Sequence, a sci-fi series where AI deities and brutal police states clash, wielding giant robots steered by pilot-priests with corrupted bodies.
Come get in the robot.
“You are alone when you die. The autonomous intelligence Iterate Fractal has corrupted, and it is dying, and in its divine death, it has killed you. You and thousands more across Khuon Mo, the island city-state of which Iterate Fractal is— was— patron and protector…”
How would your life be, if your god was an AI? If that AI was the city, were you livid? If everyone was interfaced with the AI? Well in the world of The Downworld Sequence series, this is how people live, well some of them do. This story is centered around Sunai and the city he used to call home, Khuon Mo, who fell when the AI Iterate Fractal was corrupted and killed everyone who was interfacing with it, even Sunai.
The Archive Undying takes place seventeen years after the fall of Khuon Mo, Sunai has made it his mission to run from anything that might remind him of home, even loved ones, and hide his true self, as he hasn’t aged at all in the last seventeen years. When Iterate Fractal was corrupted, he was in the process of interfacing with Sunia to kill him. Why? Sunai is not sure, but this left him different; he can no longer die, he has become a relic.
Iterate Fractal was not the first AI city to corrupt and was not the last one. In the absence of the AI’s to command the cities, a military group, Harbor, started to take over the cities and use the corpses of the AI archives to build giant robots, ENGINEs, to control the population. To control the ENGINEs, Harbor puts the priest or Archivist of the AI’s inside of them to interface with whatever is left. Sunai is one of those Archivists, yet still different from the rest of the relics alive, he knows that he cannot get caught by Harbor.
So, for the past years, Sunai has tried to not make connections even if he fails and later suffers, but after one letter from a person he has been running from arrives, he falls into a drinking spree that ends with him remembering a night of sex and waking up with a new job that will take him back to Khuon Mo.
Worst of all, Sunai learns that Harbor has created an ENGINE with Iterate Fractal corpse.
The Archive Undying is an interesting and exciting book. It’s like the anime Neo Genesis Evangelion meets Pacific Rim, meets Ghost in the Shell with giant robots. I like these science fiction stories that have as topics AIs, Autonomous Intelligence, with either futuristic or parallel worlds to ours. But the Archive Undying is much more, it’s about faith, traumatic pasts, right and wrong, and the need to stay alive.
We meet Sunai when he is a mess. The letter he received causes him to spiral down, but he meets Veyadi Lut, the doctor that has hired him to find a hidden archive of a dead AI Register Parse, and a somewhat affection blooms between them, but Vye is hiding his own past. I like Sunia, he was broken and the reader follows him as he finally starts to heal and confront the monsters of his past.
The Archive Undying is full of characters that come and go and will later play a role in things to come. Among them we meet Imaru, a mercenary friend and past lover of Sunai and owner of the ship Never Once, Jin a mercenary that takes a liking to Sunai and seems to want something from him and Iterate Fractal the AI who from time to time we get POVs in the story.
Another thing that I liked about this book is that given it’s the first in the series it’s full of lore and world-building information. Because the AIs are seen as gods, faith and the origin of them is built into the lore, which we were not given all of it but bits that catch our attention and keep the reader hooked. The Lay, their religious book, is full of myths and fables about creation that can be read and understood differently by its reader.
“Everybody knows Leaf 8: “Unify.” It describes two souls who meet again and again across spatiotemporal instances, two souls who inevitably kill each other. One is a falcon who eats the other as a fish; the fish returns as a king who executes a poet; the poet returns as a novice who treads upon an ant; and so on through the eons. At length, they come to a time in which they are both Emanations of God, and so realize the nature of their relationship. They fall into each other’s thousand thousand arms, weeping, laughing, kissing, and at last dying, whereupon they return to an instant in which one stalks the other across dunes, through forests, and into a city, and the Leaf comes to an end.”
Given the type of story and the lore behind this world, The Archive Undying is complex. As a reader, you need to pay attention to what the story is telling you as well as what the characters know and don’t know, for it feels like Iterate Fractal wants to talk to the reader and explain but the corruption doesn’t allow it. Although it may feel slow paced at the beginning, it’s an interesting story, but the narrative picks up and as a reader, you would want to continue reading way into midnight to understand what’s going on, who is the true villain, and who can Sanai trust.
“’I lean into your grasp, I tought my mouth to my mouth. Our mouth, together. I say, “I”, and “I”, and “I —”’
I recommend The Archive Undying. In this story, author Emma Mieko Candon brings to life a world filled with faith and sadness, but also with devotion and love that might even revive the fallen one one more time.