Cozy Fantasy is having a moment right now and for good reason: things are terrible. Not as terrible as they have been, mind you, but that’s a pretty low bar to trip over. The Mimicking of Known Successes however is the first Cozy Sci-Fi book I’ve read so far. You wouldn’t think the cold dark reaches of space could feel comforting, but author Malka Older adds a liberal dose of scones, tea and fireplaces that makes this book fully curl up-able.
The Mimicking of Known Successes takes place in the future on (or more accurately around) Jupiter. Humanity has fled Earth due a total environmental collapse (see above about everything being terrible) and now resides on a collection of platforms suspended above the gas giant connected by railways. Mossa, an Inspector, is called to the scene of what appears to be a crime: a man has disappeared from a distant platform without a trace. The trail leads back to the colony’s preeminent university where her ex-girlfriend Pleiti just so happens to work. Pleiti is a biologist working to preserve and rebuild Earth’s plants and animals in hopes of an eventual return to the planet. Together they tackle the mystery of the missing man and the greatest mystery of all: love. Okay that was an extremely corny way of explaining a plot which is not corny at all. This book is a delightful homage to Sherlock Holmes with a compelling mystery and excellent atmosphere.
I freely admit I have not read any of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes, or much of the 150 years of fan fiction that followed, but Holmes is such a cultural icon that you don’t need much exposure to understand the aesthetics. Rainy streets, an investigator explaining things to their scholar partner, meals in quiet dark spaces lit by firelight–you get the picture. Older has adapted that style to create a cozy Victorian atmosphere in the middle of space, to great success. The parallels are simple but effective, and recognizable for a Holmes novice like me; I imagine there’s other references that I missed for aficionados. The book is quite short, and Older harnesses existing tropes to efficiently create something that is recognizable but new.
Creating a workable mystery is no easy feat, and for me an important test of a mystery is “could I have solved this myself with the information given in the book?” I’ve read books that do this to varying degrees of success and personally, I don’t see the point in reading a mystery if at the last minute something pops up that I could not have predicted using clues given. It’s not a mystery at that point, it’s just railroading. Part of why I enjoy non-mystery-branded fiction like the works of Brandon Sanderson and Jenn Lyons is because they love to drop clues to what is really happening. The Mimicking of Known Successes accomplishes this in what I always find to be the best way: the one where I want to go back and see what I missed because I bet it’s there somewhere.
An element I did not expect to contribute as much as it did to the cozy vibes of this book was the romance subplot. It was all very adult, tinged with sadness in the way that you get when two people confront why their relationship previously fell apart. It’s incredibly intimate, and the subtlety of it pairs nicely with the tone of the plot. A whirlwind youthful romance would probably feel jarring against the quiet, reserved characters and environment. We could stand to have more adult queer romances out there. Adults fall in love too, dammit!
The Mimicking of Known Successes comes out on March 7th, 2023 and is an excellent short read for anybody who enjoys a good mystery, queer romance, or unique sci-fi setting.