An audaciously ambitious novel that takes great creative risks and, against considerable odds, makes most of them pay dividends.
What kind of novel is the latest from the British Arnott (The Long Firm, 1999)? Science fiction, most likely. Or World War II espionage. Or Utopian/dystopian. Or sexual manifesto. Or religious parable. Or a narrative about the possibilities and limitations of narrative. Or a series of interrelated stories inspired by the cards of a tarot deck. Or all of the above. Yet the reader need have no knowledge of the tarot (or the occult, which pervades the novel) to appreciate its imaginative vision or make sense of the way it hopscotches across genre, chronology, geography and cosmos. It begins and ends with the first-person account of a fictional American science-fiction writer named Larry Zagorski, best known for a novel titled American Gnostic, which attracted a hippie cult following in the 1960s. For the novel, Zagorski drew upon his own experiences with the likes of Robert Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard (the latter, fictionalized in Zagorski’s novel and rendered under his own name in Arnott’s, transforms his science fiction into a religion in both). Also playing key roles in the novel are Aleister Crowley, Rudolf Hess, Ian Fleming and Jim Jones (the prophet of mass suicide). Told through multiple narrators, it is a novel of “quantum leaps, of diverging timelines, alternate futures, and crucial moments when things could go either way." Yet, it sustains a narrative momentum as it unfolds as fact and fantasy, mystery and revelation, pulp fiction and metaphysical transcendence. Along the way, it traces the thematic arc of science fiction, which has gone “from being about the probable, the possible, the impossible, the metaphysical to the ordinary, the everyday. It seems the one form that can truly grasp the essential strangeness of modern living.”
A novel that combines the pleasures of genre fiction and the thematic richness of literary fiction, while blurring the line between the two and exploding the very concept of genre.