22nd April 2011 10:38 AM Ian Sales Cinco de Mayo, Michael J Martineck EDGE, 256pp, $14.95 Confession time: I’ve known the author of Cinco de Mayo for many years. We’ve swapped stories and novel excerpts, and commented on each other’s fiction, for over a decade. And I saw a few early chapters of this book about five years ago – in fact, one of the narratives is based on information I provided. But I’d never seen the entire novel. Now I have. Now I’ve read it. From start to finish. And those early glimpses actually meant very little, given the finished product. The plot of Cinco de Mayo can be encapsulated in one of those single-sentence pitches so beloved of Hollywood: on the eponymous day, everyone on the planet swaps memories with one other random person, without losing their own. That’s it. It’s an intriguing idea, and easy to mishandle. Happily, Martineck has handled it well. The novel is built up from the stories of a small cast of characters who now find themselves sharing a past with another person. Most of the protagonists, like the author, are American. But the people they swap memories with are not. The end result is an admirably diverse cast, and a novel that passes the Bechdel Test with distinction. Alistair swaps memories with the head of the Aryan Brotherhood (who is currently imprisoned). Susan, a programme director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, swaps with a Guatemalan shaman. Cindy, a white-trash beaten wife, swaps with a Swiss air marshal. Sultan, a young Emirati from Abu Dhabi, swaps with a child slave in India. Niven, a New York ad executive, swaps with a blind train driver in China. While Susan, and the think-tank she puts together at the President’s behest, try to figure out what has happened, the others characters are involved in stories revolving around their own lives. Alistair, for example, now that he knows all of the Aryan Brotherhood’s secrets, is fully aware that his life is at risk. Sultan discovers responsibility as he tries to rescue his Other, the child slave. And Cindy is empowered by her Other’s combat and language skills. Cinco de Mayo is a highly readable novel. It feels shorter than its 256 pages. The prose is polished, but perhaps could have done with a sharper eye on the line-edits – a “B” used instead of a “ß” on page two, for instance. Some of Sultan’s narrative doesn’t quite convince, although I fully admit to an unfair advantage as far as that character is concerned. Alistair, perhaps, turns into a man of action a little too suddenly, and gets away with the crimes he commits far too easily. Susan and Cindy are the best-drawn characters, and I enjoyed their character-arcs the most. Cinco de Mayo may not be a novel that sits in the heartland of science fiction, but it is genre. It’s more of a gateway novel, one that can be used to introduce readers to sf. It’s a quick, easy and thought-provoking read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Cinco de Mayo is not just a good book, it’s a book worth reading.