Review: Scarecrow Has a Gun (Michael Paul Kozlowsky)

If you have the sudden urge to spend a couple of days hashing out the philosophical questions surrounding your memory, how it’s perceived by you versus other people, and how a not quite accurate memory can affect you, you’re in luck: there’s tons of that in this book. If you prefer to have those questions asked, but not in a drill to the center of the earth way, and to read a science fiction novel (as this is also categorized) wrapped around this, you may be slightly disappointed. I was.

First, the length. This book would have worked much better as a novella, in my opinion. There are pages in the book that could have easily been jettisoned, as they were a bit echo-ey of things already discussed, and it caused a drag in multiple places.

Second, the premise: our protagonist Sean works as a drone in a large, nameless company doing some kind of video/graphic production. Is this important? It could have been, if there was some exploration of how Sean, with a graphic-centered life at work, may have been able to remember things more accurately than someone without that focus. This was not explore, however.

The precise: There is a group of employees of this company called The Widowers Club, summoned once a year to the boss’ office. All members of the group, as the name describes, are men. I’m not sure why Mr. Ulger, the boss, only selected men for his little games, where he would tell the group to perform some inane stunt – running through a glass window, for instance.

One year, Sean, who has been summoned for several years but who has never “won”, actually does win. His prize is a box contraption with two lines that attach to the temples. This box then shows the memories of the person hooked to it. Sean has been trying his hardest to remember an attack that leaves his wife dead and Sean unable to recall the exact events surrounding the attack. Now is his chance, but he finds what he remembers doesn’t jibe exactly with what the machine is telling him. My question: why does he simply assume that Ulger is telling him the truth and the machine is more accurate than what he himself remembers?

The rest of the book proceeds with Sean trying to get to the bottom of the attack, discovering along the way that nearly all his memories have that same unsettling wrongness about them. We also meet his fiancee Hayley is entirely unlikable, and his son not much better. There’s also a female crossing guard with some serious issues. I get that she’s meant as a sort of humor device, given the inappropriate things she says and the gossip she dishes, but she comes across as annoying and doesn’t serve as much of a break from the overall rather dense story.

Eventually Sean makes it to the truth of his wife’s death, and there’s an ending that seems rather far-fetched, given Ulger’s penchant for knowing absolutely everything Sean is doing.

There’s a real lack of the science fiction component, as it isn’t clear just how the box works, or really anything about it, other than it’s the type of science fiction that exists just because. That is, it’s like warp speed in virtually any science fiction: it is simply something that exists in this universe, and doesn’t require many pages of explanation. I would have liked something, though, even just a little. A good example of how something exists in a universe without going on for many chapters about it is the Epstein drive in The Expanse books.

The philosophical question is interesting, but in this particular book it really brought things to a halt when I hit some of the denser pages of that discussion. I’d have liked to have seen some discussion of how Ulger saw this as a way to make whoever used the machine wealthy beyond belief – this wasn’t really explained, since the machine only looks backwards, not forward (so one might invest in an invention or company one might remember reading news about, only to find with a forward-looking machine that said invention or company was a bonafide winner, and one might invest in the thing/company in their current moment in the timeline, for instance). It’s easier to believe Ulger when he talks about mind control, as the machine could be programmed to serve up the memories Ulger wanted someone to believe about their past memories.

Overall, I’m rather neutral about the book, so it’s three stars out of five from me.

Thanks to Imbifrex Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Expected publication date: August 2022.

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