A part biographical, part sci-fi novel from author Gaertner (Preacher Sean, Antiterrorist, 2009).
The first portion of the book follows Ludwig van Beethoven from his childhood in the 1770s through his turbulent adulthood. Though Beethoven would leave behind an immense body of work, the reader learns that it wasn’t without great difficulty. With hearing issues arising as early as his 30s (“My ‘touch and go’ hearing continued as usual with its alternating ‘good spells’ and ‘bad spells’ ”) and getting only worse as he aged, irritability, public outrages and family disputes were all part of the Beethoven legacy. Of course, through all the physical and mental anguish, there remained a man dedicated to his art: “[Y]ou must wonder what a deaf old musician can possibly hear in your playing….I have learned to hear with my eyes!” Following Beethoven’s death in 1827, the novel takes a sharp turn. The idea of the “Second-Order Life,” a complex system of reincarnation that allows one to continue with the journey of the soul, is introduced. A young man named Paul Rezler ends up carrying on the soul (or “spiritual subelectron”) of Beethoven, and so the process of creativity continues well into fantastic worlds: “One solid year is spent visiting a hundred musical capitals on eighty-three different cultural planets” and Earth alike. Muddled by periods of heavy explanation, the book often takes on more of a dreamlike quality than a vigorous narrative: “Of the 600 planets comprising the system proper, there are 351 located within the Aaronian galaxy. These include one Administrative Planet (Aaron AP) that houses the seat of government, the College of Counselors, Population Records and Control, the Cultural Archives, etc., plus 350 planets supporting Aaronian life.” Readers unperturbed by lingering over Beethoven’s creations (both real and imagined) will find the pace suitable, particularly as elbows are rubbed with other masters ranging from Mozart to Handel. Readers without much patience for highly expository discussions of detailed concepts—such as “Any day now, a pair of Earthlings will die out of their First-Order existence….All that is ‘eternal’ about them is faithfully recorded in their spiritual subelectrons, which are death-freed from their First-Order brains, and which have sufficient spiritual momentum to place them in orbit within the third subelectronic ring, setting the spherical boundary of our own Second-Order-MAJOR universe”—may find themselves lost in the vast, albeit highly structured, world of changing souls and bodies.
As a portrait of the great composer and a foray into sci-fi, the book is ambitious, informative and meandering.