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3.8 out of 5 stars5
3.8 out of 5 stars
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To begin with I have loved Steven Brust's books since they first started coming out. I have read all of them more than once. But for some reason I never got around to this book, maybe it was because it was co-written by Skyler White, who at the time was unknown by me. Then I read the short story Fireworks in the Rain and before I had even finished the short story I was starting to read this book. Both the short story and the book amazed me. Incredible concept, great execution and wonderful writing!

But first some back story. The incrementalists are a secret society, but there goal is to help stabilize society and improve life for the most part. They want to make the world better, but do so a little bit at a time. But like all organizations, especially one loosely run by committee they do not always agree on how to do that. They have personal memories that go back thousands of years. They can cheat death and share lives, they can pass there essence to a new host and in the passing will either remain dominant or the new host will. Phil is the longest standing personality in the group going back over 2000 years as a primary, he has loved Celeste and they have been together nearly 400 years. Celeste is dead and they must choose a new second for her.

Ren is chosen as Celeste's new host. But things do not go exactly as expected. And soon Phil, Ren and the rest of the leadership team are in Las Vegas to figure things out. Those things get a lot messier before they get better.

The story is written in alternate chapters told by either Ren or Phil. The story is compelling, it is a true page turner. The concept was sublime and the execution excellent. It is a great book and I hope we will get more stories set in this world. I really wish I had read it sooner so give it a try!
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on 4 April 2014
As a left-brainer, my thoughts often stop me from fully enjoying stories. I don't need every little thing explained in extensive detail, but something more than vagueness. For a novel filled with symbols and analogies, my experience was less than optimal.

Logic-fail kept me from falling under THE INCREMENTALISTS's spell. When even immortality sounds more believable than the concept herein, it's a sign the world-building is somewhat flawed. An incrementalist's memories can be implanted into someone else via A BURNING SPIKE TO THE FOREHEAD. Only because there's no mention of seared flesh or brain damage, the burning memory-spike may be symbolic/analogous and therefore not real. And that kind of stuff really gets my goat.

The whole novel takes place over a week, so there's insta-love. That could be explained due to meddlework, but the two parties seem relatively cool with the fact they were basically pimped, minds meddled with so they'd fall in love with one another. That's hella creepy, and yet our characters seem nonplussed. Huh.

And for a secret society dedicated to making the world a better place, a little bit at a time, they do no such thing in the main storyline - they just focus on themselves. Sure, they may have done some bettering in the past (though the references to real life events really irk me - YOU BROKE THE FOURTH WALL, BOOK!), but apparently nothing in connection to the major plot.

P.S. Early on a character checks their Google Reader, and I immediately thought, "Ha! You just dated yourself, book!" Then I realised the email above the reference is dated...2011. Yep, listing the year in the emails dates the book even more than Google Reader. We really only need to see the messages, and the to/from section. Dates are irrelevant. (Unless there's a particular reason the novel's set in 2011, other than that's when the authors wrote it. If there is a story-based reason, I missed it.)
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on 9 January 2014
What a terrific premise, I thought, when I read the book description. A secret society--the Incrementalists--has existed for all of human history and they "meddle" with people with a goal of bettering society. Sometimes that works out well, sometimes not. Incrementalists have finite bodies, but their memories and wisdom are immortal, because they are "stubbed" into a new recruited Incrementalist.

Celeste, Phil's lover for the last 400 years, give or take, has died in her physical body and Phil chooses user interface designer Renée, called "Ren," as his recruit to receive Celeste's stub. He finds himself falling for Ren, which is nice for them, except that Celeste's personality wants to rampage to the forefront, not only of Ren, but all the Incrementalists.

I was thinking I'd be reading an adventure through the history of Incrementalists meddling in history. Aside from a couple of brief asides, that didn't happen. Disappointment number one. The story is almost entirely focused on battling Celeste and following the progress of Phil and Ren's burgeoning relationship. That turned out to be disappointment number two, because the characters of Phil, Ren and the several other Incrementalists brought into the story were shallow and uninteresting. Celeste was the most vibrant character, which is not much of a compliment considering she was supposed to be dead.

The story's focus was also a disappointment because author Stephen Brust never makes us understand that there is much at stake in the battle against Celeste. I think we're supposed to believe that there are huge consequences for not only Phil, Ren and the other Incrementalists, but all of humankind. But I never saw that there was all that much at stake because the Incrementalists' work was never described in anything but vague and fleeting terms.

Something might have been salvaged if the Phil/Ren story had been engaging, but the characters lacked both substance and chemistry, and the couple of TMI sex scenes were a big turn-off.
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on 13 August 2015
TL;DR: Came in expecting SFish conspiracy theory murder mystery. Got something closer to a magic-realism romance story. In Vegas. Great fun.

My expectations coming into this book were that it was going to be romp on a large scale. A murder mystery in the middle of a secret society of semi-immortals that have been manipulating the whole of human society (for the better) for millennia.

If you're coming to this expecting a thriller you're going to be a little disappointed.

Instead the international conspiracy side was mostly background to the relationship between the two central protagonists. That's not to say the background isn't fascinating. I'm looking forward to future volumes set in the same world that explore this world in more depth.

I did initially found the similarity in voice between Ren & Phil's voices a little disconcerting but later revelations made that make sense in context.

(One other minor niggle is a typographic one. The Phil/Ren sections are introduced in the hardbook copy in a, to me, illegible cursive font. Caused a little bit of friction every single time I returned to the book.)
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on 1 July 2014
I LOVED this book. It's a fantastic concept, ripe with possibilities: a secret society of immortal humans use their long lives and preternatural communal knowledge to positively affect the future.

The catch? Big, sweeping changes seem to cause even bigger disasters. So they are limited to making tiny, incremental changes which provide small beneficial improvements for humanity -- changes which, if properly orchestrated, can add up to much larger forces for good. (The mp3 player? Yeah, that was me.)

The execution of the story was beautifully-done. There is plenty of conflict, but this novel is still such a wonderful change from the deluge of grimdark dystopian SFF coming out right now. And the worldbuilding is so well thought-out that it provides ample room for a variety of diverse storylines in a book series. I can't wait for more stories set in this universe.

You can read an associated Tor.com Original free short story, "Fireworks in the Rain", which is easily found through Google.
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