Rupert Lally – Solid State Memories (novella)

Brighton-born, Switzerland-based electronic musician Rupert Lally originally issued his debut novella, Solid State Memories, in 2018. The story was initially packaged up as a PDF with the download of the soundtrack he’d created to accompany the text, but Lally always felt that it needed its own oxygen away from the music; to coincide with a planned vinyl reissue of the album, Solid State Memories now exists as a stand-alone paperback, giving it the focus that it perhaps always deserved.

The creative impulse for Solid State Memories was the cover illustration, gifted by Italian graphic designer Hannes Pasqualini to Lally on his fortieth birthday. The image shows a woman standing on a rooftop overlooking a futuristic landscape, surrounded by broken technology, her identity card being cast to the floor. The most striking quality is not the mournful, pensive way the character is looking out toward the city and the monorail slicing its way through the landscape, but the way her hair appears to be a figurative device for the ephemerality of memories, here uncoiling out of her brain to join the dust and rubble of her rooftop perch, along with her discarded identity.

With that image as his inspiration along with a documentary about memory, Lally’s story emerges as science fiction grounded in worrying plausibility; namely, being able to implant chips inside the brain to suppress, change and create new memories and behaviours. The novella’s protagonist and pioneer of the new technology, Dr. Alex Wells, awakes into the fog of displaced recollections: initially focussed solely on trying to explain the absence of her lover, who we learned died in a car crash several years before, the story unfolds to reveal that Wells herself has one of her own chips implanted in her brain and that the whole project was bankrolled by shadier quarters of the government for use by the military.

Overtones of J.G. Ballard abound here: Dr. Wells’ girlfriend was called Rachel Ballard, the orchestrated means of her fatal collision recalls Crash, and a lengthy section where Wells is pursued by government agents through a forest but blurred with inexplicable phenomena echoes his short story The Crystal World. The story is laced with as much scientific detail as it is emotional revelations from Wells’ personal life, the same enmeshed narrative between the two facets being allegorical for what’s symbiotically happening inside her brain with the chip.

Ultimately, Solid State Memories reveals itself as a thriller, where, true to the form, the odds seem perpetually stacked against Wells. It is only through encounters with benevolent characters that the gaps in her memory and her awareness begin to close themselves, in so doing revealing her motives and plans. Lally’s sleight of hand here is to pace his ambitious novella to reflect those memories returning, while also maintaining a level of acute tension through the endless chase, leading to a conclusion that is both harrowing and worryingly prescient.

Solid State Memories by Rupert Lally is available through Amazon.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2021 Further.