Arcadia: a kind of heaven on Earth. Arcade: a place where games are played. Somewhere between the two lies this odd confection by the restless, genre-hopping Pears (Stone’s Fall, 2009, etc.).
It’s the artist’s pleasure to create. But what of the philosopher’s? As Pears’ latest opens, a younger Inkling—a member of the learned society to which C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien belonged, that is—is deep in a project with countless implications. “I want to construct a society that works,” says Henry Lytten. “With beliefs, laws, superstitions, customs. With an economy and politics. An entire sociology of the fantastic.” Alas, the 1960s will seem a golden age when that sociology takes shape. One of many possible futures, the world of the 23rd century, would do a robber baron proud. Bad corporatista Zoffany Oldmanter is determined to corner the market on everything; says our shadowy narrator, determined to thwart a hostile takeover, his priorities under the circumstances are to preserve his property and “prevent the entire universe being reshaped in the image of a bunch of thugs and reduced to ruin.” Good luck, though if the future baddies seem to have a head start on time travel, Lytten has a lock on the fantastic, to say nothing of a pergola portal into a medieval-tinged time in which 11-year-old Jay, having determined that Lytten’s assistant, Rosie, is not a fairy, blossoms into manhood after staring “a spirit in the eye without flinching” and otherwise proving that wispy bookworms are not without inner resources. Within those three broad swaths of time lie many alternate futures, and Pears darts from one to the other to the point that the reader who isn’t confused isn’t quite getting what he’s up to. Suffice it to say that there’s plenty of metacommentary on the art of storytelling, science fiction (ahem: “We say speculative fiction”), the destruction wrought by greed, and other weighty matters.
A head-scratcher but an ambitious pleasure. When puzzled, press on: Pears’ yarn is worth the effort.