What if you woke up one day with the memories of a stranger?
That’s the intriguing premise of Michael Martineck’s Cinco de Mayo, a 2010 offering from EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing. On May 5, every person in the world wakes up at the same instant. There’s a quick flash of pain and suddenly the memories come tumbling in – names, desires, bank accounts, heartbreaks, aspirations and secrets. Everything that person knows, right down to the language they speak, has been downloaded into the mind of a stranger. Naturally, not everyone is happy about it – especially those with something to hide.
Martineck opens a wide vein of potential storylines with this one idea, and he smartly structures the book to take advantage of several of those possibilities. In addition to the expected group of scientists trying to discover what’s happened and why (while also grappling with their own new sets of memories), Martineck follows several individuals as they struggle with the sudden influx of new information. What does the spoiled rich playboy do when he suddenly understands what it’s like to be worked and treated like a slave? What does an ad executive drowning in his own ambition do when introduced to the simple pleasures of the labors of a blind railroad worker in China? And how does a transit worker deal with the knowledge he inherits from a leader of the Aryan Brotherhood – knowledge that could mark him and his family for violent retribution if he acts upon it?
To make things more even more interesting, Martineck soon reveals that the information exchange was just that – an exchange. That transit worker who now knows everything about the Aryan Brotherhood’s operation, including the man they’ve marked for death? His memories now reside in the Aryan leader’s brain. It was an even swap for everyone, leading to people the world over looking for the opportunity to meet their Other.
Cinco de Mayo almost reads like a series of interconnected short stories, a structure that keeps the pace moving rapidly. It allows Martineck to pepper little cliffhangers throughout the book, which he does regularly and with solid skill. We come to know each of the characters and their Others as real people, and we see how lives are turned upside-down with their exposure to thoughts, ideas and struggles that they otherwise never would have known existed. Martineck crafts a solid set of storylines for us to follow, each of them complex in their own right, but he doesn’t overstuff things to the point that flowcharts are needed to keep up. Yes, there are a lot of characters, but their situations are unique enough that, despite its length and ambition, the book never gets mired down.
There are resolutions to the individual storylines, but the overall situation that set them in motion is left open-ended at book’s end. Martineck could continue to mine this territory for years if he so desires. Here’s hoping for more stories or books set after the events of Cinco de Mayo. It’s definitely an idea and a world I’d love to revisit.