A delightful, endlessly unfolding fiction that is meta beyond meta, a sort of Da Vinci Code for smart people.
When lead author Abrams isn’t busy rebooting the Star Trek film series, he’s cooking up puzzles, mysteries and legerdemain. With lieutenant Dorst (Alive in Necropolis, 2008, etc.), he’s conjured up a fine frame on which to hang the enterprise: a sort of gothic romance—though of the Horace Walpole rather than Barbara Cartland sort—called Ship of Theseus (a title that, as game theory enthusiasts will know, itself conjures up a thorny philosophical puzzle). Written by a Poe-esque poet named V. M. Straka, the invented piece is a study in gloominess: “The stolen look becomes a prolonged study, not of the devastation but of the figure he notices skulking at the foot of the port’s only lighthouse, hidden from the shooters and watching S. recede into the dark, perhaps even waving once before S. disappears from view.” Weaving its way through this book is a second story, marginal notes exchanged by a young man and young woman who sometimes flirt and sometimes fret, puzzling over Straka’s yarn while gabbing their way toward resolution over their own lives (“I seriously doubt your dad is some evil Bouchard person.” “I know. But it makes the marketing job even more repulsive. Don’t want to be any part of that world.” “Hard to avoid. Maybe impossible.”) The twin narratives, spinning in and out of each other like loopy helixes, are absorbing enough, but the most impressive thing about this shaggy-dog story is its physical form: a book that looks every bit like the 1949-issue stolen library book that it is supposed to be, hatched with doodles and annotations and underlinings, its pages full of laid-in treasures: postcards, letters, notes, photographs and, yes, a decoder wheel. The book is a simulacrum as wondrous as the one the protagonist of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore invents—and if this book has a spiritual twin, it’s Robin Sloan’s lively 2012 tale.
Beguiling. For fans of mysteries, postmodern fiction and fine bookmaking: a book that makes demands of its reader, but that amply entertains in return.