Review: The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White

The IncrementalistsThe Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White (2013): 9780765334220 (Tor Books).

“It’s the little things that get you when you weren’t paying attention…” Jim’s Big Ego, “Stress”.

The Incrementalists are members of an ancient secret society that seeks to make the world a better place, a little bit at a time. They use “switches”, psychological levers, to gently nudge people into making the right decisions. They use their influence to guide the moving forces of the world in the right direction. And they use their relative immortality to endlessly debate and consider just what the “right” direction may be. Renee, a smart and perceptive project manager, has been recruited to join their number by Phil, the most venerable Incrementalist alive. He wants her to take on the “stub” (an amalgam of memory and personality) of Celeste, his former lover and constant antagonist. But something has gone wrong, and it seems that Celeste has been making some changes not only to the world but to the Incrementalists themselves. Now, the core of the society must meet in Las Vegas to consider the ramifications her meddling.

I recently read and reviewed another “secret society controls the world through arcane manipulation of people and events” novel called Lexicon by Max Barry. It, too, had a male-female pair of protagonists that were drawn into an internecine struggle within that organization. But that is where the similarities end. Where Lexicon was an action-thriller, filled with car chases, explosions, and the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire, The Incrementalists is much quieter and more intimate. It is essentially a series of conversations and interactions between characters. There is only true act of violence in the book, an act so jarring that it makes quite an impact.

Despite the above description, the book is far from boring. Brust has always been a master of dialog (I love the interactions in the Vlad Taltos series) and White (with whom I am not previously familiar) obviously knows what she is doing as well. Their collaboration is seamless, both authors creating interesting characters and a fascinating plot that asks a lot of big questions. What is the nature of memory and personality? How does one interact with the other? What is the “soul”? Does meddling make love any less legitimate? And it manages to ask all of these questions while having fun at the same time.

The Incrementalists is a fascinating book and very human book. It’s a big plot told in intimate gatherings. It’s not a loud blockbuster, but a small independent film that has a lot of heart. Feel free to enjoy it in one big bite, or even just a little bit at a time.

About Shedrick

I am a professional librarian and a part-time writer that's working to do that the other way around. I currently live in North Texas in the lovely city of Denton (“The Home of Happiness“) with my lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, I can sometimes be found in a pub (or the American equivalent) enjoying a fine brew.
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