I am currently trying to read the entire Arthur C. Clarke shortlist, before the announcement I only read Europe at Midnight but since all the other books looked interesting I decided to challenge myself to read the entire shortlist before August 24th (the date the winner will be announced). The shortlist is as follows :
- Europe At Midnight by Dave Hutchinson
- Way Down Dark by James Smythe
- The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
- The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
- Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovski
- Arcadia by Ian Pears
Arcadia by Iain Pears
Length: 602 pages
Rating: 4 stars
“Henry Lytten – a spy turned academic and writer – sits at his desk in Oxford in 1962, dreaming of other worlds.
He embarks on the story of Jay, an eleven-year-old boy who has grown up within the embrace of his family in a rural, peaceful world – a kind of Arcadia. But when a supernatural vision causes Jay to question the rules of his world, he is launched on a life-changing journey.
Lytten also imagines a different society, highly regulated and dominated by technology, which is trying to master the science of time travel.
Meanwhile – in the real world – one of Lytten’s former intelligence colleagues tracks him down for one last assignment.
As he and his characters struggle with questions of free will, love, duty and the power of the imagination, Lytten discovers he is not sure how he wants his stories to end, nor even who is imaginary…”
Arcadia is peculiar novel following about ten different POVs and three different settings setting: Oxford,England in 1962, a dystopian future and what we could called a typical mediaval European fantasy setting.
In the dystopian-like future, Angela, a scientist designed a machine both capable of creating and allowing travel between dimensions and time. However, her invention is threatened by the CEO of the company she works for who wants to sell it to the ruler of the society and her only solution is to destroy all informations on the machine and flee in another time period. However, time travel is not something withour consequences and basically, everything starts from there.
Arcadia was a very quick read, it took me two months to read the first 10% because I was reading other things and I had to study for my finals, however, I powered through the last 540 pages in two days. It was a very fun read; the short chapters really helped because each time I finished one I was like “Just one more!”.
However, not only was it fun and addictive, it also tackled some interesting themes such as hormonal control and snowball effect. I never read any books about hormonal control (I am pretty sure A Clockwork Orange also brings up the subject but since the movie terrified me, I am not too keen on reading the book) but it was oddly fascinating, in the book: scientists force Angela to be pregnant because it is a way for them to trigger synthesis of some hormones in her body that are going to upset her emotional stability but enhance her mathematical abilities. I never heard of something like this before and I found that it was a cool (and creepy) idea.
At first Arcadia appears more as fantasy but the more you read, the more I realized that this was much more science fiction than anything else. Iain Pears makes a lot of reference (sometimes subtle, sometimes less so) to Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Shakespeare: As You Like It is referenced quite a lot and plays an important role especially in one of the character storyline.
Arcadia is a blend of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, spy adventure novels and portal fantasy and it is delightful.
Despite of those elements, do I think that it’s the best book on the Arthur C. Clarke shortlist?
Well no. It is a very good, it was delight to read and I’m glad that I picked it up but compared to novels like The Book of Phoenix or Europe at Midnight, it’s not as memorable. I read it about ten days ago and I already forgot most of what happened: it’s a fun adventure and I am sure that it is going to please a ton of readers but, I don’t think that i really brought up new things. I like fun adventures in speculative fiction but, more than that, I crave new ideas and concept and important and thought-provocking themes. Arcadia had some of those, I mentionned the hormonal control bits, it had some interesting on genders but it wasn’t nearly as fascinating as Hutcherson’s or Okorafor’s books.
So yeah, I would highly recommend reading Arcadia, I’m just not rooting for it to win the award!