Sci-fi Novel Review: Memoirs of a Synth–Gold Record by Leigh Saunders

We’ve made it to the finals of the third annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition. My team has whittled down a slush pile to two semifinalists, and then joined up with two more teams to cut our combined six semifinalists to just two finalists. Now everybody is reading the same books, as only six remain. And my penultimate read of this year’s competition was Leigh Saunders’ space heist novel Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record. 

Memoirs of a Synth follows a synthetic human who centuries earlier had been among humanity’s ambassadors to the galaxy at large. But in the years that followed, public opinion turned hard against the synths, and they’ve become viewed as less than people. So she must constantly change identities to conceal her unnatural lifespan and keep the bounty hunters off her trail. But that task gets all the more difficult when a drunken encounter with a human man turns into a whirlwind romance and a heist targeting one of the most beloved artifacts in Synth culture. 

SPSFC tries its best to leave room for the polarizing books that will be one reader’s favorite and another’s DNF to have their moments in the sun, but any competition that combines the scores of multiple judges is eventually going to favor books with broad appeal, and it’s easy to see the appeal that sent Memoirs of a Synth into the finals. It’s not a book that’s really trying to be risky or daring in breaking new ground within the genre; instead, endeavors to be an entertaining heist story with a bit of romance. And in general, it succeeds. 

Structurally, it does diverge a bit from my typical expectation of a heist novel–though perhaps it’s more appropriate for a cross between heist novel and memoir. While such stories frequently have intermediate crimes required to set up the big one, there’s usually a clear focus running throughout the story on planning the big job. Here, it’s a bit different. The main character isn’t the primary planner of the heist, but rather someone who joined a plot partially underway and had to work to gain the trust of the primary planner. As such, we see a lot of the smaller jobs, but mostly in the doing and not in the planning. And while there is a progression over the course of the story toward the main goal, it’s a book that feels more like one constituted by the complications and intermediate stories than one that funnels all the narrative energy into the primary plot. There’s romance, there’s building trust and losing it and building it again, there are moments of pure survival, and there’s dealing with a host of other figures who find themselves intruding on the main plot. Put simply, there’s a lot going on. 

Ordinarily, I don’t enjoy the thriller pacing that tosses the character from peril to peril without much connective tissue, but Memoirs of a Synth provides enough up front to sustain investment through a fair few action sequences. The interest in both the heist and the relationship may feel a bit impulsive, but the impulsivity is baked into the main character, and her need to hide and to survive keeps the tension high through the dangers of the first half of the book. 

The second half either introduces or spotlights a variety of side characters that give the story more the feel of a series of crimes than either the initial expectation of one big heist or the desperate push to stay alive and hidden that took up much of the first half. And these characters allow the story to explore the implications of its various crimes in an interesting and largely satisfying way, even if there are moments where the story begins to feel repetitive and others where the moral constitution of the various side characters feels a bit too convenient for the story. Those complaints aren’t enough to derail what was a pretty entertaining tale, but they do slow some of the momentum and break some immersion. Fortunately, the final sequence brings the momentum roaring back, with a thrilling and narratively satisfying capper to both the heist plot and the interpersonal one. 

Overall, Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record feels like a book that knows what it wants to be and is precisely that thing. It won’t be the book that makes you rethink what sci-if can do, but it’s an engaging read that offers plenty of thrills and a bit of romance, while exploring the world in enough depth to keep the story from feeling too flat. There may have been some moments in the second half where the book felt its length or where the tale felt a little too neat, but on the whole, it was entertaining and immersive—an excellent read for those looking for a story on the lighter side. 

Recommended if you like: sci-fi thieves, romantic subplots. 

Can I use it for BingoIt’s hard mode for Self-Published, Criminals, Prologues and Epilogues, Space Opera, and Dreams. 

Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads. 

SPSFC score: 7/10 for my personal score. The official team score will be determined in concert with my teammates.


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