‘Occupy Me’ by Tricia Sullivan

A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world.

‘Occupy Me’ is an extraordinary, genre-defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. 

On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.

Wow. There’s thinking outside the box and there’s ‘What’s a box and why would I need one?’ Tricia Sullivan’s imagination is delightfully unbridled. If you can jump in and not worry about falling and just trust that everything will work out, you’re in for a great time with ‘Occupy Me’

You know those science fiction books that are about inter-planetary wars with human colonies spread out through space, travelling through the endless void in thin vulnerable metal boxes that they still insist on using to try to kill one another? Well, this isn’t one of those books. ‘Occupy Me’ makes those books seem like they’re a lazy translation of late seventeenth century pirates dressed in space suits and armed with mythical ‘energy weapons’, taking no account of how big the universe is or how it really works.

‘Occupy Me’ takes a different, more numbers-based view of life, the universe and the nature of causality. No, it’s not one of those ‘Look! Physics can be fun‘ nerdy books or one of those ‘Let’s science the shit out of this‘ uber-competent male scientist books. ‘Occupy Me’ does something unique, in my experience. It gets across the vastness of space and time, our limited, overly-linear view of causality and our inability truly to think in geological timeframes while building a compelling action-packed thriller filled with relatable people.

What made the book work for me was that although the core of the plot involved concepts that stretched my imagination – chains of events that are aeons long, a view of reality as essentially malleable if you can only read the code it’s written in, and the difficulty of sustaining a sense of purpose and identity in the face of entropy – it was made accessible and engaging by the nature of Pearl, the main protagonist in the story.

Pearl doesn’t know who she is, what she is or why she’s here. She does know that she has an instinct-deep need to fix broken things, including people, and that part of her, an important part, is not just missing but has been stolen from her. Pearl is a delight. Her curiosity-driven journey from ignorance to mind-blowing comprehension as she tries to get her component back and go home powers the book. Pearl works her way from squatting in a junkyard where she throws cars around to keep in shape, to working as an agent of the Resistance (although she’s not clear what they are resisting) to falling in love with her Resistance handler, destroying a passenger jet in mid-flight while working as a flight attendant, to becoming a wanted terrorist engaged in a covert struggle with a ruthless billionaire and the equally ruthless oil company that he used to work for and which is now trying to track him down. Did I mention that she also has wings (although they’re not always physically present), an affinity with Doberman guard dogs that makes them behave like puppies and the ability to alter people’s thoughts and moods?

Yeah, well, this isn’t an easy book to summarise. And I haven’t even talked about the guy who stole the component that Pearl is searching for or why he stole it or how there seems to be more than one of him using the same body or that the component is in a briefcase that isn’t a briefcase but some kind of portal which, amongst other things, occasionally releases a not very happy dinosaur upon his enemies.

I had a wonderful time with this book. I liked Pearl. The ideas, especially the scale of the ideas, were intoxicating. The story was exciting.

But – like anything really original – to get the most out of it, you have to put your assumptions and preconceptions to one side and give yourself up to the experience.

I think that’s easier to do if you listen to the audiobook version of ‘Occupy Me’. It has two narrators, one for Pearl and one for the man who stole from her. Penelope Rawlins gives an outstanding performance as Pearl who, for reasons I never really understood, has a strong Long Island accent. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart counterbalances Pearl’s extravagance with a more sober performance for his character. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample

Tricia Sullivan  is a Science Fiction writer who grew up in New Jersey, moved to the UK in 1995 and has made her home in the Shropshire hills. 

She has published nine Science Fiction novels and one fantasy novel under her own name and three fantasy novels as Valery Leith

In 1999, when she was twenty-eight, she won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Dreaming in Smoke and subsequently had three more of her novels shortlisted for the award Maul, Lightborn, and Occupy Me. Her novels have been shortlisted for the BSFA Award, the Tiptree Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and have been translated in eight languages.

She is currently working on a PhD as part of LIV.DAT, a joint Liverpool University / Astrophysics Research Institute project to train the next generation of data scientists. 

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