book reviews by Althea

Arcadia – Iain Pears ****

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Arcadia by Iain Pears
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read all of Iain Pears’ novels, and enjoyed all of them. I felt a little bit of trepidation about this one, after hearing that it was designed to be read in an electronic app, with alternate endings available. (…) I found the wisdom of this idea doubtful, as in general, I feel that it’s the author’s job to make those kind of decisions and to stick with them.

However, the printed version of the book, which I read, has no “choose your own adventure”-type elements. And I loved it.

However, it really did not resemble, even slightly, any of Iain Pears’ previous (widely ranging) work. It resembled David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas,’ more than anything.

In Arcadia, we’re introduced to three separate ‘worlds’ – or, maybe, ‘timelines’:

A pastoral realm resembling traditional European fantasy scenarios – with, perhaps, a few hints that this low-tech society might actually be a post-tech, post-‘collapse’ world. When a girl appears out of nowhere one day, like a vision, it’s assumed that she must’ve been a ‘fairy.’

A high-tech future dystopia where overpopulation is extreme, most animals are extinct and society is extremely authoritarian and corporate. But with the exception of a few Luddite rebels, people take their world for granted.

1940’s England – where we meet a tweedy professor who’s a minor member of the Inklings, does a bit of government spy-work on the side, and who works on creating a rather plot-less fantasy world in his spare time.

In the future scenario, we discover that a brilliant researcher has been working on a device that’s either a time machine or a way to travel to – or create – alternate universes. Threatened with a corporate takeover of her work by an amoral CEO who’d use her discoveries unethically, she flees through her machine to a place which will give her time and space to work.

However, when her device is accidentally discovered – and used – events start snowballing out of control. Physics demands that timelines be in ‘agreement’ – and if contradictions are created, whole worlds could end up zapping out of existence.

The above is a vastly simplified summation. This is a nice, twisty, complicated novel. It’s got a bit of the portal fantasy in it, a bit of harking back to HG Wells’ original Time Machine as well as its many descendants – and even, perhaps, a bit of Terminator! The separate worlds are nicely developed in parallel, and the separate threads are brought together masterfully.

Highly recommended. In conclusion, I send out a grimace of annoyance toward the public librarian who snidely informed me that this is “not a science fiction book” and I say, “IS SO!!!”

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