Thursday, April 28, 2016

Arcadia by Iain Pears

From library patron Norm:

Arcadia follows characters in three different worlds. The author is well known for running different narrative streams in his novels, whether it’s seeing the same events or small period of time from the point of view of several different characters or telling stories from different time periods centuries apart, so he knows how to move effectively from one place, time, and character to another, and he creates interesting characters and situations in each. One of them is as far as we know the world we are familiar with, its setting the Oxford of the 1950’s, and while one character finds a gate to a different world, another is charged with finding a mole in the British Secret Service. The second is apparently a highly technological and overcrowded world in the future run by scientists (not the enlightened rulers one would wish) where there is tension with green back-to-nature enclaves, and a brilliant scientist who warns that a scheme to travel to parallel universes will bring disaster vanishes with vital resources and becomes the subject of a manhunt. The third is the delightful rural world of the title, with scholars who interpret the sacred “story,” idyllic celebrations, romantic love, and wronged noblemen.

There are engaging characters in each world, and the plots play out well in all of them. It wouldn’t be any fun, though, if the characters from one world didn’t find their way to the others, and if we didn’t eventually realize that characters we meet in one world were originally from another. How all this happens and the mystery of how these three worlds are connected is a mystery, the solution to which makes an interesting if grim variation on the familiar science fiction parallel universes convention. As far as the characters we focus on are concerned the ending is happy, but how happy on the large scale it is would make a very interesting discussion.

In case I didn’t make it clear, I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly. 

 - Norm

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