In keeping with its basis on thought reconstruction technology from unique MRI scanning patterns, the left side of the book shows scenes of his life while the right side depicts his increasing obsession with the past and eventual deterioration.
A man arrives on a new settlement on a previously uninhabited offshore island. Like many of its new residents, he has lost his job due to overpopulation and come to the new island seeking to start afresh.
On The Island, he meets The Librarian, who is in charge of the Central Library where inhabitants may contribute but also experience memories in an effort to preserve the past. The increasing importance of these activities have emerged as a result of their inability to return to their homeland.
Through conversation with the man The Librarian deduces that he has numerous unusual memories due to experience and is eager to collect them. However, the man is openly skeptical of the Central Library and its memory machines.
Gleaning that the man misses his old way of life badly, the former offers to show him the collections accessed through machines where inhabitants may recline or sit and watch the memories of others - or their own, if they wish. The man eventually agrees and is hence persuaded round.
Over time, the man begins to find that current technology is no longer able to provide an satisfactory engagement with the past, and turns to The Librarian for help in seeking further immersive experiences. The Librarian leverages on this, cajoling him into parting with more memories in return for access to a prototype that allows a user to move freely in a virtual environment.
Addicted to being submerged in historical virtual reality, the man gradually ceases to be concerned with the present physical reality of life. Engrossed with the new machine, he stops eating and sleeping, and eventually dies.