Arcadia by Iain Pears
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are so many ways I'm tempted to tackle this review, nearly as many ways as there is to read this novel, and that's not a bad thing. Indeed, it means that there's so much going on in here that I simply want to keep talking about.
I could simply say that I was delighted and I can continue to be enthusiastic about this novel for ages, but instead I'll try a few of my ideas out, perhaps calling it the Cloud Atlas that's better than Cloud Atlas, pulling together a narrative that is not only interesting but actually makes a lot of sense in the final pull-through, unlike Mitchell's rather overhyped (mainstream) SF.
Indeed, Pears points us right at potential problems and says, hey, look at this, I'm going meta, but rather than just dancing around the issue, I'm going to give you background, reason, plot development, and even more foundation as to WHY this meta is not only necessary... but why it is delightful to the crafting of the entire tale. And it is. Very much so.
Because what we've got is a fine literary blending of the key and core beauties of what made up pastoral literature back in its heyday, its beauty, its undercurrents of politics, its transpositions of topics both obvious and subtle, with what turns out to be a detailed historical spy novel couched within the omnipresent and omniscient black machine of a dystopian future society getting caught up in the potential nightmare of having just discovered time-travel.
So let's look at this: pastoral, historical spy fiction, hard-SF.
Come on. Who can't appreciate this? It's not only literary... it's beautifully drawn and interesting, with great characters, and an inherent time-travel potential paradox tragedy that threatens to destroy all universes. I'm not joking. This is the kind of thing I live for. And you know what's great? It takes its time, showing the wonder and the beauty of all the things we should care about or hate, even as we slowly realize just how much is at stake. It just gets worse because we're in the slowly boiling pot, getting to know everyone and everything as if we just don't need to worry about speed.
And we don't. This isn't a plot-driven novel. Or rather, it is a plot-driven novel just so long as you are a spider placing a rather large web, creating outer circles along different characters and settings and slowly moving inward until a razor-like focus pinpoints the little monster of a fly threatening to unravel the entire web. And by then you're invested in that web. :)
As for characters, I really enjoyed them all, but the ones I really focused on was Angela and Lytten. We could say that Lytten is the main Main Character, even if he's the unconscious spider, but I have to make an addendum to my estimation and point the Main Character finger fully at Rosalind, the inestimable and glorious pastoral fairy queen, the most perfect of Shakespeare's women... otherwise known as that mischievous kid next door who sometimes takes care of Lytten's fat cat.
What a surprise.
As for the SF parts, all of which usually get my engines moving, I rather enjoyed this take on time travel. It really kicks the legs out on a lot of the paradoxical struts and mainstays of the physics and makes for a really cool tale.
Am I reminded of Heinlein's Number of the Beast? Maybe. And as for all you people who love to see your favorite works of the imagination come to life, you're in for a sweet ride, too. This one caught me, too.
I will be rather sad if this book doesn't eventually get the kind of cult-recognition it deserves. Remember, even Dune went pretty much unrecognized for five years before the cult following blew it out of the water. This isn't the same kind of book, mind you, but it really needs that cult following. It's clever, complicated, literary, very imaginative, and its blurb doesn't come close to doing it any justice at all.
Why aren't you reading it???
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