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Iain Pears

Iain Pears has ever been a favorite writer of mine—eloquent, witty, learned—and so entertaining! Arcadia is his latest, a large and complicated book, with a story that twists and twines through 3 separate worlds, eventually arriving at a delightful convergence of them all.

It starts in a horrible future, dystopic beyond our wildest nightmares. Angela, a brilliant psychomathematician (“She works by harnessing emotions to power her calculations”) is walking through the gray halls of some gigantic corporation, and she suddenly sees someone she does NOT want to meet–rushing away, she initiates a cascade of events which happen both before and after this moment. How so, you will ask. Because Angela has found a way to manipulate time. She had been seeking a way to access the multiple parallel worlds suggested by the theory that every choice made creates a parallel world in which the choice was NOT made, or a different choice was made–Terry Pratchett created exactly such worlds in his Long Earth books. The people she works for, and the mighty corporations running them slaver over the potential wealth they envision awaiting on them on these worlds. But Angela finds that her travels take her to different times, not different worlds. She explains: “Say that reality is a piece of string on a flat surface. Birth at one end, death at the other. Big Bang to Big Crunch, if you prefer. ‘Now’ is at any point between the two. The piece of string can, in theory, move anywhere on the surface, but can only be in one place at one time.”

And somehow, she has created a time machine.

Angela’s Time Machine

Pergola“I used an iron pergola as the basis for it—a piece of nineteenth-century garden furniture that you were meant to grow roses over. It was quite pretty in a rusty, decrepit sort of way. This became the framework for a matrix of carefully placed and shaped materials—from aluminium to zinc—arranged so the various elements in the body would be recognized and transposed in the correct order. Ideally I would have used refined aluminium, but I had to use aluminium foil in its place. Instead of sheets of pure graphite, I used lead pencils and old newspapers. Other requirements were satisfied by using patent medicines containing iron, potassium, sodium and all the rest as need. Not quite as efficient but a damn sight cheaper.”

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An outrageous and wonderful idea! Her time machine is hidden in the basement of an Oxford don, whom she met in another time, during the war. Now he is an astute old man, who meets a group of friends at a local pub where they discuss their writing. He is working on a book about a fantasy world, which Angela seizes upon to use as part of her experiment in trying to access other worlds. So now we have 3 worlds: the ghastly future, the charming Oxford of the 60’s, and Anterwold, Professor Lytton’s creation. List and learn! Iain Pears weaves his web, and it is a fabulous tale. Ending in the neatest most satisfying way–really, I burst into laughter!

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