Another story about stories, this time a metafictional romp through a Scientologyesque religion and the end of the universe. Lavie Tidhar’s The Circumference of the World is imaginative and, dare I say, quite a bit wacky; however, it never coalesced into something I would call enjoyable. Thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for the eARC.
Delia is a mathematician from Vanuatu, though now she lives in London. Her boyfriend’s disappearance causes her to start looking for a book so rare some think it doesn’t exist. This pulp science-fiction novel is at the centre of a cult-like church that believes reading the book conveys protection against the “Eaters,” mysterious creatures connected to black holes (I am keeping the details vague to avoid spoilers here). Delia enlists the help of a book detective, essentially, who then falls in with a gangster, who then … you know what, it’s turtles all the way down.
The best and perhaps also worst aspect of The Circumference of the World for me was the structure of the narrative. We leave Delia in the first part of the book to follow Daniel, and then leave him to follow Oskar, and there is also an interstitial moment where we are in the Lode Stars story itself, which may or may not be real or even more real than the rest of this story. The way that Tidhar plays with the flexible nature of reality and fiction is skillful and thought-provoking. The scenes set within Lode Stars, in a far, posthuman future, demonstrate some really neat thinking about the nature of humanity and the cosmos. The wider novel as a whole dances around notions of the simulation hypothesis, albeit coming at it from a very different angle than we might be used to.
This is all to the good. Where the book failed to work for me was the characters themselves. The narration often felt stilted, and I had trouble connecting to most of the main characters. Although I like the segmented structure of the book, I wish we had come back to Delia and spent more time with her than we did. Overall, the book itself felt both too long and too short—with characters and plots being picked up and then dropped without resolution.
File this under “some amazing science fiction happening here but in a way that never comes together as a single coherent story.”