Review: The Mimicking of Known Successes, by Malka Older

Russ Allbery eagle at
Mon May 29 19:11:23 PDT 2023

The Mimicking of Known Successes
by Malka Older

Series:    Mossa and Pleiti #1
Publisher: Tordotcom
Copyright: 2023
ISBN:      1-250-86051-2
Format:    Kindle
Pages:     169

The Mimicking of Known Successes is a science fiction mystery novella,
the first of an expected series. (The second novella is scheduled to be
published in February of 2024.)

Mossa is an Investigator, called in after a man disappears from the
eastward platform on the 4°63' line. It's an isolated platform, five
hours away from Mossa's base, and home to only four residential
buildings and a pub. The most likely explanation is that the man
jumped, but his behavior before he disappeared doesn't seem consistent
with that theory. He was bragging about being from Valdegeld
University, talking to anyone who would listen about the important work
he was doing — not typically the behavior of someone who is suicidal.
Valdegeld is the obvious next stop in the investigation.

Pleiti is a Classics scholar at Valdegeld. She is also Mossa's
ex-girlfriend, making her both an obvious and a fraught person to ask
for investigative help. Mossa is the last person she expected to be
waiting for her on the railcar platform when she returns from a trip to
visit her parents.

The Mimicking of Known Successes is mostly a mystery, following Mossa's
attempts to untangle the story of what happened to the disappeared man,
but as you might have guessed there's a substantial sapphic romance
subplot. It's also at least adjacent to Sherlock Holmes: Mossa is
brilliant, observant, somewhat monomaniacal, and very bad at human
relationships. All of this story except for the prologue is told from
Pleiti's perspective as she plays a bit of a Watson role, finding Mossa
unreadable, attractive, frustrating, and charming in turn. Following
more recent Holmes adaptations, Mossa is portrayed as probably
neurodivergent, although the story doesn't attach any specific labels.

I have no strong opinions about this novella. It was fine? There's a
mystery with a few twists, there's a sapphic romance of the second
chance variety, there's a bit of action and a bit of hurt/comfort after
the action, and it all felt comfortably entertaining but kind of
predictable. Susan Stepney has a "passes the time" review rating, and
while that may be a bit harsh, that's about where I ended up.

The most interesting part of the story is the science fiction setting.
We're some indefinite period into the future. Humans have completely
messed up Earth to the point of making it uninhabitable. We then took a
shot at terraforming Mars and messed that planet up to the point of
uninhabitability as well. Now, what's left of humanity (maybe not all
of it — the story isn't clear) lives on platforms connected by rail
lines high in the atmosphere of Jupiter. (Everyone in the story calls
Jupiter "Giant" for reasons that I didn't follow, given that they
didn't rename any of its moons.) Pleiti's position as a Classics
scholar means that she studies Earth and its now-lost ecosystems,
whereas the Modern faculty focus on their new platform life.

This background does become relevant to the mystery, although exactly
how is not clear at the start.

I wouldn't call this a very realistic setting. One has to accept that
people are living on platforms attached to artificial rings around the
solar system's largest planet and walk around in shirt sleeves and only
minor technological support due to "atmoshields" of some unspecified
capability, and where the native atmosphere plays the role of London
fog. Everything feels vaguely Edwardian, including to the occasional
human porter and message runner, which matches the story concept but
seems unlikely as a plausible future culture. I also disbelieve in
humanity's ability to do anything to Earth that would make it less
inhabitable than the clouds of Jupiter.

That said, the setting is a lot of fun, which is probably more
important. It's fun to try to visualize, and it has that slightly
off-balance, occasionally surprising feel of science fiction settings
where everyone is recognizably human but the things they consider
routine and unremarkable are unexpected by the reader.

This novella also has a great title. The Mimicking of Known Successes
is simultaneously a reference a specific plot point from late in the
story, a nod to the shape of the romance, and an acknowledgment of the
Holmes pastiche, and all of those references work even better once you
know what the plot point is. That was nicely done.

This was not very memorable apart from the setting, but it was pleasant
enough. I can't say that I'm inspired to pre-order the next novella in
this series, but I also wouldn't object to reading it. If you're in the
mood for gender-swapped Holmes in an exotic setting, you could do

Followed by The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2023-05-29


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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