book reviews by Althea

Nest of Worlds – Marek Huberath ***

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Marek Huberath is a Polish physicist and author of seven books, to date. ‘Nest of Worlds’ is his first English-language publication, so I read it mainly out of curiosity as to what people over in Poland are reading!

There are some very interesting ideas here but I felt that structurally, the novel had some problems – which is ironic, considering that it’s a novel largely about theoretical structures.

The first half of the book concentrates on the story of a couple who have to make a significant journey to travel to a new land. Due to oppressive regulations and strange time-dilation effects (which I freely admit did not make sense to me), in order to remain together, the husband travels by a kind of plane (a day’s journey) while the wife takes a four-year journey by ship, in order to arrive at the same time. In the new land, the social structure is different. In both lands, status is determined by hair color. While previously, blondes were at the top of the heap, in the new land they are nothing but chattel, with no legal rights at all.
This first part of the book concentrates on talking about the randomness of social stratification and explores the psychological issues caused by such random classifications. A lot of it seems to be an allegory of fascism and oppressive governments in Eastern Europe.

It’s mentioned, almost in passing at first, that a minor character is obsessed with reading a book he’s found, called ‘Nest of Worlds.’ He mentions that he can’t finish the book because every time he starts reading it, the pages are different – but pretty much everyone assumes he’s having a mental breakdown.

In the second half of the book, a new and very random element causes the book to shift focus completely. Everyone who’s had contact with our main character, (Gavein aka David), starts dying. Gavein has alibis, and is not suspected of being a murderer – but still, it seems that in some way, he is Death. When the authorities figure this out, of course, they want to investigate and stop the deaths in some way.

Around here, the narrative starts to be intercut with random stories of people living in other worlds altogether. We learn that these stories are found in the previously-mentioned book, ‘Nest of Worlds.’ First, the book is passed on to the punk-rock, nose-picking physics student who seems to become obsessed with it as well. Then, the obsession passes on to David, who reads the physics student’s notes about the many stories contained in the book and how, using mathematics, he extrapolates from the book the structure of the universe and the many worlds contained within it.

As I said, the ideas are interesting and clever (and there isn’t room here to really mention all of them). (It’s cute how the theory allows for the existence of our world, as well.) I feel like I might’ve gotten more out of it if I were more versed in physics. But: I didn’t feel like the first half and second half of the book meshed together well; the other-worlds stories were also a bit too choppy and random; and the ‘notes’ on ‘Nest of Worlds’ were stuck in, in such a way that I felt that the author failed to work all his ideas into the narrative, so had to stick in ‘explanations.’

Stylistically, the book ‘felt’ like something written in the late 60’s or 70’s; I was surprised to see that it was first published as late as 1998. (I think the style is inherent to the book, not a translation artifact, because I’ve also read Michael Kandel’s translation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s work, which has a completely different style.)

I was reminded a bit of Christopher Priest’s ‘Inverted World,’ at times. I do think fans of the one would enjoy the other. It also brought ‘Flatland’ to mind.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this interesting work! As always, my opinions are my own.


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