Short Story Review: LIFE SENTENCE, by Matthew Baker




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.


My Rating:

6 thoughts on “Short Story Review: LIFE SENTENCE, by Matthew Baker

  1. Hahahahaha. Is THIS what set off that bit of back and forth on that Piers Platt book?

    What I’d like to see is a story that deals with memory wipe as a total loss, as opposed to most memory loss stories where the memory wipe is just the person having amnesia. If you wipe all memories back to 16 years old, what about all the skills you learned? And how far back does a memory wipe have to go to really affect the person and what they did?

    I’d also be interested in WHY memory wipe is considered punishment at all.


  2. To say the truth, I was not thinking of this when we discussed the topic some time ago, but once I posted it I thought it was serendipitous, sort of…
    Ad for a story about a total memory wipe I can only recommend the Babylon 5 episode “Passing through Gethsemane”: I would be interested to know what you think!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.