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A truly fascinating read from an equally fascinating premise: in this possible future – or alternate present – criminals are not sent to prison anymore, since their minds are wiped of memories for a number of years proportionate with the crime. Washington’s (the main character) memory has been wiped clean though, since he was sentenced for life: as the story begins, a police cruiser is taking him to the home and family he does not remember having, and he starts his new life in the company of strangers – people he does not know and who don’t know him either, since he’s now a totally different person than the one who was arrested and sentenced.
The story is narrated through flashing glimpses of Washington’s new life, which is interesting because that’s how it appears to him, unrelated flashes that have no background to rest on, no connective tissue to put them together into a cohesive whole: as the man starts to build a new life for himself, the curiosity about the person he used to be grows, and he feels the increasing pull of his forgotten past battling with the equal and contrary pull of the new ties he’s creating with his family – mostly because his wife and kids seem both surprised and wary of this new individual, and Washington gets the definite impression his former self was a very unpleasant one, to say the least.
Once it becomes impossible to live being constantly “torn between the possibility of having a future and the possibility of having a past”, Washington looks for information about himself online…
The mind-wipe of criminals is not a new concept in SF, but it’s still one that can fuel an intriguing debate (just as we discussed in the comments to a recent post by Bookstoge): is erasing an offender’s mind and memories punishment enough for the crime committed? And what about the victims’, or their families’, understandable desire for retribution? These are the kind of questions that cannot get a definite answer, and that’s what makes them so compelling – and actual.