REVIEW: The Archive Undying by Emma Mieko Candon

The Archive Undying

Last Updated on February 14, 2024

Deft of prose and evocative imagination, Emma Mieko Candon’s The Archive Undying unfolds an uncannily prescient promise: “When an AI god dies, its city dies with it.” This opening line sets the tone for a gripping narrative that binds elements of trauma, flesh-and-blood characters, and the mesmerising allure of the complex relationship between humanity and AI.

The Archive UndyingA haunted soul unable to escape the aftermath of a robotic god’s corruption that left his home in ruins, Sunai has roamed like a ghost for years, numbing his pain with vices and fabricated indifference. But just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in. 

The gears of fate start turning when Sunai wakes up beside an unexpected stranger with whom he shares more than one passionate night. Fate, like time, is never linear, and Sunai is once again sucked into the machinations of cybernetics deities and the ones that would seek to worship or destroy them.

Candon swiftly delves deep into her characters’ psyches, immersing the reader in Sunai’s heartfelt grappling with the profound impacts of past (and ever-present) trauma. The Archive Undying constantly challenges notions of reality and understanding, creating an ethereal atmosphere comparable to Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation.

Seeing the world through Sunai’s eyes was a visceral experience; witnessing his carving as he battles both powerful external forces and the demons within him was terrifying and blissful. The slow-build relationships add layers to the story, making the connections between characters feel substantial.

The Archive Undying explores the ever-more fascinating alliance between humanity and AI, a complex interplay beyond mere explorations of “human versus machine,” ably interweaving both.

As the story unfolds, Candon makes you think deeply about our entanglement with this technology and the coils of future faith. The concepts of pilot-priests and AI corrupting bodies allow for the introduction of body horror elements, adding terror-fueled awe to the already otherworldly narrative. 

The world of The Archive Undying is vivid and immersive, capturing the mind with its blend of speculation and emotional depth. It is one where the boundaries between human and machine blur, and the echoes of trauma linger long after the last page.

Challenging and thought-provoking, this masterful exploration of trauma, complex characters, and the enigmatic dance between humanity and AI is a triumph for modern sci-fi.

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A would-be mage-assassin, Arina's passion for the art of storytelling led her to book reviewing, while her love of tech turned her into a dev. Avidly advocating for the uncommon, she champions the gems of SFF, particularly drawn to space murder mysteries, morally-gray rogues, and quirky AI. When not reading, she spends her precious free time on MTGA, and hoarding recipes online for her numerous cooking sprees.