Roy Burnell enters a laboratory in Budapest, Hungary, hoping to help a friend recover stolen memories by allowing some of his memories to be copied into his friend’s mind; instead, he regains consciousness in England and realizes that ten years of his own memories have been stolen. In this story set in the twenty-first century, memory transfer has become a technological possibility, and the sex industry is one of the first to exploit its possibilities. Burnell discovers that his memories have been distilled into two memory bullets containing, respectively, salacious memories of his beautiful former wife and his knowledge of Christian architecture.
Burnell attempts to step back into his life, even though he has no memory of the past ten years. He goes on assignment to Central Asia and the old Soviet Empire to document religious buildings there. His adventures more concern the unusual people he meets than his business assignment and his search for one of the pirated memory bullets, which could restore his ten years of memory. The quest for his lost memories occupies a surprisingly small amount of Burnell’s time and attention, and he comes to question whether recovering the memories would cause more harm than good.
Aldiss presents a fascinating technological premise but fails to carry it through. His novel, although witty and cleverly written, is far more a reflection on the possible fate of Central Asia, and secondarily a contemplation of the value of personal memory, than a technologically oriented science fiction story. The memory technology could almost have been written out of the story. An author’s note explains that this is the fourth book of a quartet, all the books of which explore family life set against a changing political background. Politics and personal lives, rather than technology, are at the heart of this series.