I'm noticing a trend in slush reading regarding memory. Perhaps it's on my mind because John and I have talked about it so much in the last few months - he has several WIP's where it's a significant plot point in varying ways, and I'm playing around with the idea of it in my own new short (which isn't seeing quite the amount of time it wants to as of late, not only because of work busyness, but because I haven't got the worldbuilding sorted out to something concrete enough. I can't make up my mind which direction to take it in).
Just in the last few days I've hit 'reject' on at least five memory-based stories, and I'm guessing there will be so many more to come, both good and bad and mostly mediocre. The idea of memory loss, gain, wiping one's memory, and throwing both science and the government in to boot isn't new - anyone can probably name five different occurrences of which it's been the predominant subject; off the top of my head, the Ghost in the Shell series, The Matrix movies, several different Buffy episodes, the Wheel of Time books (Rand remembers things as the man he's reincarnated from), and the movie Memento.
The Ghost in the Shell series has had the greatest influence on both John and I, perhaps because it's so advanced in every way possible; the science, the technology, the hypotheticals of a scenario, etc. Anything is possible. There tends to be a bit of talking in it, but the writers are phenomenal at backing up every point - not once have we caught anything that doesn't make sense, and occasionally, we've even had to pause it and watch the scene again, just to grasp what's happening. Memory has been key in both of the seasons, going so far as the entire city's memories being wiped of a certain event, and even what they're presently seeing in front of them. Of course the people all have to be connected to something in order to do that, and since this is the future, everyone usually is linked up to what they refer to the net.
What I'm seeing in these slush submissions are writers trying to tackle these ambitious concepts of Bill wiping Ted's memory for whatever reason - because he can, because he's trying to prove a point, Ted wronged him some other way, a power trip, you name it. But once the whodunit is revealed, there's no real point. There's no reason for the reader to care. No one is delving into the real issue that gives power to memory as a theme - what it does to a person to have no memory. Perhaps that's because none of us (for the most part) know what that's like. If we're shown that by the author, then maybe we can connect. But hysterics on the part of the main character isn't enough to connect for a reader, isn't enough for us to care.
Ghost in the Shell is successful for several reasons. First of all, the people didn't know their minds had been hacked. They didn't realize their memories were incorrect. Episode after episode, layer after layer was unfolded until the idea of memory was even brought to the table, which is why I call all these mediocre shorts ambitious yet unsuccessful. They're trying to tap into the possibly next biggest thing in near future SF, but it's so big that it needs to be narrowed down a heck of a lot more before it can work. On top of the eventual revelation of memory as an issue, we had character involvement and development in GitS - we already cared about what happened to these people, and when it was revealed that significant tampering was done with what makes them them, that's when the real drama unfolded.
I almost want to shy away from memory altogether in this new short rather than run the risk of adding one more story to the mediocre pile, but we'll see - a story does what it wants to. And if it wants to have some memory issues, maybe I can approach it from a different angle. Perhaps the key lies in Tallis's character, and not in what happens to her - although that's usually the approach I take.