Thanks as ever to the Prism Book Alliance for hosting me (AJH), my twice-monthly column and today’s special guests, Santino Hassell and Kat.
The One about Mnevermind
Hello Teatimers! Today I’m joined by Santino Hassell and Kat, and we’re going to be talking about Jordan Castillio Price’s Mnevermind series.
Set in a not-too-distant-future where interactive short-term recreational memories are a thing, the books revolve around memorysmith Daniel Schroeder. He and his father once had a thriving business, but since one of Daniel’s programmes – Life is Awesome – glitched, leaving his father with a persistent (false) memory it’s all been downhill for Daniel. And then he encounters stranger-who-shouldn’t-be there in a Love Connection mnem. Look, it’s all very complicated, okay?
Spoilers most likely ahoy.
AJH: Thank you both for joining me.
Kat: Thank you for asking.
Santino: Good to be here.
AJH: So, just to put our responses in context, this was my first JCP experience, but both Kat and Santino are long term fans. How did you find it?
Kat: Well, I only read my first JCP at the beginning of this year. I’d had Meatworks and the Turbulence series on my kindle for eons. Then I got some recs from Santino and a quite magnificent birthday present in the form of all the available books in the PsyCop series… takes a moment to squee a little bit over Vic & Jacob clears throat Ahem. So armed with a plethora of JCP reads, I was good to go on a binge. Now I’ve read 23 books (and counting) of hers. While I’m not a long term fan, the amount of JCP books that I’ve devoured – and in a relatively short amount of time – tells you how much I love her writing. Meatworks (which everyone needs to read, btw) was the first full length novel that I read. I finished it on the 22nd of January and wrote on Goodreads that I thought, even though 2015 was only 22 days old, I’d just finished reading what I thought would be my book of the year because it really was that exceptional. Fast forward 2 months, and my mind was changed and that statement was made redundant because I read the Mnevermind trilogy.
Santino: I’ve been a JCP fan for… a while. I’m actually a really embarrassing fanboy. As in, I’d probably turn red and go into hysterics at a convention if I met her. So unsurprisingly, I found the trilogy absolutely brilliant.
AJH: People (Kat) have been telling me YOU HAVE TO READ JCP for what feels like a long time, but I was still quite staggered by how fucking awesome this was.
Kat: I feel totally unbad for telling you that YOU HAVE TO READ JCP. And I second your ‘how fucking awesome’ wholeheartedly.
AJH: Although it really wasn’t what I expecting. Since it’s sort of speculative fiction (?) if I had to pick a genre, I was braced for lots of tech and plotting, and what I got was … not so much with the plotting, and a heck of a lot with the characterisation.
Kat: I’ve given up trying to pick specific genres for her stuff because everything is so unique to her and the way she writes and the way she tells her stories. Actually, I would probably say JCP is a genre all of her own.
Santino: I feel like…that’s pretty much what I’ve come to associate with JCP. If you think about Meatworks, The Starving Years, and now Mnevermind, it’s definitely speculative and smart and full of tech, but doesn’t go over the top with details that would lose me, and the characters are always very… real.
Kat: You’re never the recipient of info dumping. Ever.
AJH: That’s definitely true – almost to a fault. I mean, the first book is a little bit alienating straight off, I thought, as you’re straight into this guy’s world and you don’t really get to grips with how things are working, and what the rules are, until basically you’re putting the trilogy down. At least, that’s how I felt.
Santino: I would agree with that. It took me a little longer than usual (again, I have TSY and Meatworks in mind as comparisons) to “get it” in terms of the tech and the world, and I think that had to do with a lot of the lingo. There was a fair amount of vocab that I had to associate with what they were doing and how it was working before I had a full picture of how the mneming worked. Which, for people who have not read yet, mneming is kind of like… VR? Or an interactive dream? That you don’t fully recall later since it’s all… based on short-term memories? Gah.
AJH: Pretty much. I was sort of expecting something like Inception, to be honest – with lots of OMG AM I IN MNEM stuff, but while there’s a bit of that, it’s not actually a big deal. I guess, just to immediately pick on what didn’t work for me, I did find that semi-frustrating. There’s lots that happens in the books that, in the end, doesn’t turn out to be remotely important. Like Elijah’s (he’s the romantic interest) initial incursion into Love Connection as a crow … whut?. And in book three, An Antagonist, sort of comes out the woodwork for thirty seconds and then goes away.
Santino: waits for Kat leers at Alexis
AJH: blushes charmingly
Kat: returns triumphantly from a bout of cat wrangling I cannot leave you two alone for a minute.
Santino: I’m totally innocent. Even waiting for you to talk first!
Kat: Okay. Okay. AJH, I’m glad you brought up Elijah as a crow. I found the whole crow element completely fascinating and would like to have known more about how he came to be one. It was never explained how this came to be, was it? I didn’t have many frustrations while reading the books, but that was one of them.
Santino: That was also one of my very few niggles. I didn’t totally get the explanation about how he ported into Daniel’s mnem. And since that was the primary plot of the first book, I wanted to understand.
AJH: Especially because it isn’t remotely relevant ever again!
Kat: Yep. It’s hardly ever mentioned and considering that when it happens is when they first meet, I think there could have been more of a resolution. I mean, I wanted to know if Elijah made himself be a crow. Or was it a coincidence he became a crow because of his surname.
Santino: Ahh, good point. If he had a choice in how he could represent himself in the mnem (which generally, people running the mnem just showed up as they would in the real world), that’s a pretty amazing talent. I’d be curious to know more.
AJH: Yes, a crow has emotional resonance for him as well because he tells this story about a bird (a raven I think?) he nurses back to health.
Kat: Oh god. You’re right. Yeah, Elijah and his then wife were given a crow as a gift and he becomes very attached to it before learning that keeping a crow as a pet is illegal and decides to set him free.
AJH: But, I think this is a general … I’m hesitant to call it a problem because I wasn’t actually bothered by it when I was reading, and I’m not really bothered by it now. But that’s kind of … Rule 1 in writing alternative worlds. The rules have to be consistent, and if you break the rules, there has to be a reason. I mean, even though these books were obviously a trilogy in an emotional and thematic way, actually there’s very little plot to connect them. Book 1 is all about Daniel meeting a strange man in Mnem and finding out who he is. Book 2 is Elijah’s POV and hardly about that stuff at all. Book 3 … finally decides what the plot of the series is going to be, which is fixing Daniel’s father persistent memory … and it was just all a bit … disorientating.
Kat: I think I’ve made this seem more of a problem than I intended to. The crow thing not being explained was something I only realised I had an issue with after I’d finished reading them all. It wasn’t something that bothered me at all during. In fact, it probably only became a conscious thought when I was started staring adoringly at the paperback version I have of Forget Me Not (Book 2) and noticed all the crows on the cover. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have given it much thought unless someone else brought it up.
Santino: I bet that’s because it came up again at the middle/end of Book 3 when he and Daniel were once again in the same mnem. I’d forgotten about it before then. But like you said, it wasn’t a major issue. There were other things I wanted to know more about before they got wrapped up or focus shifted, but I think part of that is because there were a lot of tiny subplots throughout, and I was interested in all of that so I wanted to know all of the things. I would have liked to have known if Elijah’s homophobic (repressed?) co-worker came back, how he dealt with Beth, if Pipsie stayed retired or got another part-time gig, etc. But yeah, none of that was something I was upset over so much as kind of “huh. side stories some day? plzz? blinks imploringly at JCP”
Kat: joins in with the blinking imploringly at JCP
The Beth thing was my other niggle. She was obviously a huge part of Elijah’s life – even after they divorced. But it was never explored or explained what she felt after discovering Elijah was in a relationship with Daniel. I need to know these things!
AJH: See, none of these things bothered me. The trilogy wrapped up in a way that I felt was emotionally satisfying as it left the characters in a new and hopeful place, but it didn’t actually CONCLUDE anything. And I think that was important because life doesn’t conclude. And so all these extra bits of life not being completely resolved and explained and tied up struck me as part of the thematic landscape of the books. What did bother me was Author In Search Of A Plot. I mean, it’s obnoxious to speculate about how someone works but a lot of the time it read to me like she had a world, and she knew how it worked, and she had characters, and she knew how they worked, and there were emotional experiences she wanted them to have … but she had no coherent path to bringing those things about.
Santino: I did wonder if that was a deliberate thing, but I’m not sure how to articulate how I think that sort of plotting would work. I think you kind of hit on what I’ve been feeling about it in terms of the thematic landscape. It was almost like I was in the book with these characters and I was experiencing these things with them, and if there was no plausible or organic way to access the information that I wanted, I just wasn’t going to get it. I don’t even know if that makes sense. I got distracted mid-babble.
AJH: Total sense. This is starting to sound like I didn’t love these books. But, honestly, I really did. Lack of accessible through-line aside, pretty much everything else really worked for me. Writing, characterisation, themes, the whole caboodle.
Santino: Seriously, I’m worried it seems like we weren’t bookgasming over it. Totally were. Alexis’ Twitter commentary is what led me to leap into book 2 and then… to keep reading through the next two days. Which–can we talk about how brilliant Elijah’s POV is? FYI readers, Elijah is a man who has autism and JCP’s portrayal of him was absolutely fantastic.
AJH: Book 2 was me going from “this is very good” to “omfg!genius.”
Kat: Being an unashamed JCP fangirl, I was already “omfg!genius” about Book 1, but Book 2 had me going “omfg!thisisoneofthebestthingsihaveverreadever.”
Santino: I second that.
Kat: A big reason I went from “omfg!genius” about Book 1, to “omfg!thisisoneofthebestthingsihaveeverreadever” aout Book 2 was the change in narration from Daniel to Elijah. It was such a massive risk to do that. You’re asking people to read and experience things from one persons voice, then in the next book ask them to do that for another character. So to change the narration like that while still being able to continue the story and not let Book 2 become filler… I thought was nothing short of a spectacular achievement.
AJH: And a non-neurotypical character at that. It was a stunning piece of writing, completely stunning. I mean, okay, I don’t know, I’m not an authority. But, to me, it had a real depth of commitment to it, you know? And, hilariously, having whinged about lack of plot consistency, the intellectual and emotional consistency of Elijah’s worldview was done perfectly. I loved how clever and abrasive he was – how non-sentimental the approach. You’re never asked to pity him, just to understand him. That’s amazing.
Kat: I’m not in a position of authority of a non-neurotypical character either, but something I realised while reading was it didn’t matter. Because I’ve reached the stage now with JCP’s writing where I inherently trust that what she’s telling me is right. It wasn’t until after I read Forget Me Not that I became curious about if she got it right, and reading through some reviews from people who have loved ones who are non-neurotypical, it turns out that she unequivocally did. My admiration for her writing skills increased exponentially after that. Also, i want to say that I thought the first chapter was perfection. You’re introduced to Elijah. You learn how his brain works. You learn about his past. You learn everything. I loved it and any reservations I had over a character POV switch were quashed with that first chapter.
Santino: Part of the brilliance, and the reason I started salivating over JCP’s talent at portraying realistic characters, is that there was never a moment when he was written as if he was lesser than anyone else in the book, and I feel that a lot of writers would be afraid to write a person with autism for fear of them unintentionally coming off that way. Elijah was extremely intelligent, thoughtful, and an equal. He was simply wired differently. Being in his head really made it 100% apparent that JCP knew what she was doing with her portrayal of him. However, based on how other characters reacted to him, it was very easy to see that he was often treated as if he was naive or infantile, and he was very othered, and that was very realistic too.
Kat: His therapist (?), ex-wife, co-workers were all guilty of that.
AJH: But in understandable ways. There aren’t really any monsters in this book, just people trying and failing to understand each other. One of my favourite bits in the whole book was where Elijah has to dress to go to Daniel’s great aunt’s birthday party. And it’s only in the middle of the scene that you realise he’s wearing what appears to be a transparent goth shirt with skull buttons. I think that’s kind of very illustrative of JPC’s approach here – in that by the time you realise Elijah is wearing the “wrong” thing, you’re so deep in his thinking, that you absolutely understand the process that took him there. And the way the process is logical and intelligent, based on what ought to be sound social cues (like the last time he wore the shirt, it got a positive reaction). It’s not just a clueless person doing a hilarious weird thing, if that makes sense.
Kat: It does make sense. It may take him a while to figure out how to do said thing because his brain is wired differently, but that’s his reality and he does get there in the end.
Santino: For me, that was why Daniel and Elijah worked so well as a couple. It wasn’t that Daniel had to get over all of these hangups, and he didn’t try to be Elijah’s teacher or shepherd or anything. Daniel put the onus on himself as a boyfriend to learn instead of expecting Elijah to be able to change. Elijah’s autism was never a barrier for them, and it was great. There was a point in Book 3 when Daniel wistfully thought to himself: “I hoped it was just a matter of learning [Elijah’s] language, and that someday I’d achieve at least a passing fluency.”
Kat: I loved how Daniel researched autism. It was like he wanted to learn about it not so he could feel superior, but so he could understand him better.
AJH: Hah, yes, while at the same time Elijah is trying to learn about gay sex. I’m not sure if it was deliberate – I assume so – but I thought the intersection of queerness and Elijah’s non-neurotypical perceptions and responses was kind of fascinating too. Like, a lot of Elijah’s behaviour is carefully learned (because he’s so clever): which means that he’s used to behaviour very much enforcing identity. Which obviously has ramifications for, well, for sex with Daniel. In that Elijah treats homosexuality much as he treats all other social markers and therefore wants to demonstrate it through what he understands to be gay-codified behaviours.
Kat: Yep. It Some of his views on sex are what he’s learned from being with a woman. His insistence on being the bottom was because topping to him was too much like having sex with a woman. I also particularly loved the symmetry in them both taking it upon themselves to learn something. I felt it showed in a quiet way, how much they were invested in each other.
Santino: I also wondered if that was deliberate! Because as you said, Elijah is learning about being gay but he’s using the Internet, and he’s using porn, and the messages he is receiving is that to have “proper gay sex” a man has to be able to do X, Y, Z, and you have Daniel trying to explain that those things do not necessarily equal a “proper gay man”, but… that is often what porn or erotic gay fiction implies.
AJH: I liked the fact they didn’t find a solution. I mean, they have successful sex that they both find enjoyable, but there isn’t like a magic bottoming moment or something. I also liked the fact that a lot of the sex they have is uncertain and awkward sometimes – like at one point Daniel goes down on Elijah for an hour in an effort to get him comfortable with anal play, and then gives up.
Kat: Daniel even thinks about how being with Elijah is like him being a fumbling teen again and that it was also something that he really like experiencing with Elijah. I loved that. There was something that was touching and romantic (at least I thought so) about how much Daniel revelled in the innocence of the beginnings of their sexual relationship.
AJH: Yeah, I found it very refreshing. Sex is sort of this process for them. Instead of romance novel sex which is brilliant and perfect all the time (which is fine, btw, it’s fun to have erotic fantasies of that nature). It all contributes to – as Santino said at the beginning – what came across to me at least as a certain realness to these books.
Santino: That’s one of JCP’s hallmarks. She writes characters that are gritty and real and experience very real things, even the things that aren’t necessarily always sexy or perfect. It’s easy to identify with. Somehow, even in an alternate world, many things in this book are easy to identify with. Day-to-day money struggles, family issues, co-workers, jobs that are just drudgery–there’s a wealth of realistic moments that had me nodding my head like “yep. I feel you.”
Kat: They are always ordinary people and you could imagine knowing them. Every book I’ve read of hers I’ve felt that.
AJH: Yes, we haven’t spoken much about Daniel, but I liked him too. He’s very flawed in this unglamorous, low-key way – like the way he responds to his father’s condition, with guilt and grief muddled into a kind of weird selfishness. And he doesn’t always ‘get’ Elijah or behave like the perfect non-neurotypical understanding boyfriend. But I found him very easy to identify with in his kind of ordinary humanness?
Kat: Daniel broke my heart. I can’t even comprehend what it’s like for him to be an expert in his field, but be responsible (or so he thinks) for his father suffering from a persistence memory as a result of a mnem he designed.
AJH: Something I found really interesting about that was the way, actually, he was contributing to his father’s condition, in a way, by acting like it was the end of the world and refusing to let his father deal with it. Once Elijah comes on the scene and is able to accept Daniel’s father as – essentially – another high functioning non-neurotypical everything starts to get better for everyone.
Kat: Yes. I think Daniel was kinda caught in a vicious cycle. Because he thinks he caused the persistent memory, he thinks the responsibility falls on him be the one to always tell his father what happened.
Santino: The relationship between Elijah and Big Dan (Daniel’s father) was fantastic. And not something you usually see in fiction that is dealing with romance and relationships. Usually older side characters and parents are cast to the side.
AJH: Yes – SPOILER ALERT – I also liked the way what happened with Big Dan was only partially resolved. The ‘happy ending’ (and I genuinely did find satisfying and positive) was more about dealing with stuff than fixing it.
Kat: There were no magical fixes. It was a case of: this is how things are for him, it can’t be changed at this present time, but that’s okay because he’s still capable of leading a full and healthy life.
Santino: Agreed. I kind of really loved that it ended that way, to be honest. Wrapping things up with a bow would crush the realistic nature of the book.
AJH: We should probably look at wrapping this up. But can I just raise one minor concern about Elijah? Something that I vaguely wondered about was the fact that being in Mnem allowed him to access the emotional/social side of his brain more effectively – which meant that he and Daniel could have conversations that they couldn’t in the real world. Again, I’m not an expert or an authority but something I know that troubles some people with disabilities is if characters with disabilities are … equipped with, like, compensatory abilities or whatever? As it contributes to this idea that they’re MISSING something that they need in order to be able to function ‘properly’ – rather than whole people who simply navigate the world differently. How did the Elijah Mnem scenes strike you? I just mention this, not to claim JCP has FAILED AT REPRESENTATION, but just in case someone who feels this way is reading (and it’s something I’ve heard fairly often from people with disabilities).
Santino: That’s a good point (and I’m sure there are readers who will feel that way). I did notice that and at first I was kind of like “hrm”, but for me I think the moments when Daniel kept noting (in Book 3) that being with Elijah in the mnem was not comparable to the gratifying nature of their relationship in reality made up for any further “hrm” moments.
Kat: I was the same as Santino. I would have only had a problem with how Elijah was portrayed in mnem if Daniel yearned to be with that version of Elijah the most. I think it was believable that in the beginning Elijah in mnem, complete with less obvious non-neurotypical traits, would have been more attractive to Daniel – just because it would have likely made a relationship between the two easier. But I’m glad that Daniel realised that he was happier with Elijah as he was in the real world.
AJH: Yes, but it is the ability to go into Mnem and have more neurotypical conversations that allows them to navigate their relationship more easily. It’s just a minor point really.
Santino: I think… it would strike me more as an alternate route to them having a full relationship outside of the mnem if I’d gotten the impression that it would be used as a crutch. Or, really, I’d be upset if it was used for them to “overcome” the anal sex stuff. That would have bothered me a lot and thankfully it didn’t go there. I felt satisfied that Daniel was willing to learn and grow, and that he didn’t feel like things were missing in reality even if sometimes Elijah was self-conscious or had doubts. If anyone wanted to use the mnem, I think it would be Elijah. Which kind of makes sense to me.
AJH: Any final comments about Mnevermind? Despite all my picking here, I did completely love this series. Book 2, in particular, blew my socks off. I thought it was an absolutely phenomenal piece of writing. Would vigorously recommend with bells on.
Kat: I would like to share what was my absolute most favourite passage of writing from all three books and what I think is an excellent example of how amazing a writer JCP is. I think it’s important to give some context here because this part of the story, I think, is quite a landmark moment in the relationship between Daniel & Elijah. Okay. So this comes after Daniel accompanies Elijah to get some car maintenance stuff done. Previously Elijah had help in that area from his ex-wife’s new husband but on this occasion Daniel is the one who is there. Anyways, Daniel let’s Elijah deal with a mechanic, but he does it in a way so it’s not a big deal, even though it really is a big deal for Elijah.
“We got into my car–they had even vacuumed the floor mats–and I turned to Daniel and said, “Thank you.” And I hoped he didn’t want to know what I was thanking him for, other than to say he sometimes made me feel normal–and when I was feeling the opposite of normal, he didn’t press me for details. He just said, “Okay.” Which was a very good example of why Daniel Schroeder is awesome.”
I loved that part of the book with all my heart. It says so much about how much it means to Elijah to have someone treat him that way and that Daniel knew the right way to treat Elijah.
Santino: Good quote. It’s one of several that perfectly explains why they’re so right for each other. Daniel for Elijah, but also Elijah for Daniel.
Kat: I highlighted the crap out of all three books, but that quote was it for me and cemented Jordan Castillo Price place as one of my favourite authors.
AJH: Thank you for swinging by, you two 🙂
Kat: Thank you for having me… so to speak. 😀
We hope you’ll join us in the comments to talk more about just how goddamn awesome JCP is … or y’know … the books more generally 😉
Alexis Hall is alive and on social media
Santino is a dedicated gamer, a former anime-watcher and fanfic writer, an ASoIaF mega nerd, a Grindr enthusiast, but most of all he is a writer of LGBT fiction that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.
Kat lives in London where she is a super successful human sloth, has a penchant for torturing her boyfriend (in video games!) and is owned by two hellions masquerading as cats. When she’s not human slothing, she unashamedly nerds out on all the books and happily declares that Alexis Hall Is Her Favourite – usually to Alexis Hall himself because she knows it embarrasses him. Another thing you should know about Kat is that it would be wise to take nothing she says seriously… apart from the things she’s being serious about which you should definitely take seriously.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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