Eldred (Capital and Technology, 2015, etc.) presents a fantasy allegory for physics enthusiasts.
Phi and Psi set off from their country of Rutan (where efficiency is a secondary concern) to the Land of Matta, home to an ancient civilization of immense learning and advanced technology. They are looking for their relative Mu, a curious eccentric who left Rutan long ago: “He had always been someone on the move in every way, not just bodily nimble, but also with an exploratory mind and a liking for trying out new things,” the narrator says. “Initially, at least in part, it was the promise of power through knowledge that had enticed Mu to Matta.” Phi and Psi arrive in Matta to find that Mu has moved on, out to the hinterlands of Upper Matta, from which all ancient knowledge may have originally sprang forth. In their quest for Mu, Phi and Psi meet an array of characters who have much to teach them on the subjects of knowledge and movement. In particular, they are confronted with a famous question that has lingered in Mu’s wake: “Why is there movement at all, rather than standstill?” The lessons Phi and Psi learn will help them not only locate Mu, but once again return to their homeland of Rutan. Eldred strikes a wonderful, absurdist tone that harkens back to an earlier age of children’s fantasy, though this book doesn’t seem meant for children (Phi and Psi are introduced as former lovers in addition to being second cousins). The novel may be a little too twee for adults, however: the buoyant cartoonishness comes at the expense of character depth and emotional stakes. Furthermore, the allegorical nature of the work is simultaneously heavy-handed and esoteric. There is clearly some discussion of quantum mechanics, but it’s annoyingly difficult to decipher. Signposts (the capitol of Matta is called Nosear—an anagram of “reason”?) confuse more than enlighten, and the novel ends up being a little too clever, its intentions too hidden, its strategies too dense.
A fantastical puzzle that may be too difficult to solve.