No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014/10: The Adjacent -- Christopher Priest

‘Quantum technology has been declared toxic. There are known to be occasional health risks for the user, and for anyone else in range. Too many side-effects.’
‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this. How can a camera have side-effects? [loc.860]

I read this because it's on the 2014 shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, which I was discussing at Eastercon.

I am not a faithful reader of Christopher Priest's novels, so suspect I have missed a plethora of references to his previous work: from what I did spot, I'm tempted to describe this as a 'Greatest Hits' compilation. There are magicians, the Archipelago, World Wars I and II, multiple variants of the same character (or are they), amnesia, misunderstood / insufficiently pragmatic scientists, et cetera. The different sections of the novel are interrelated in odd and unexpected ways: names connected with water (Flo, Torrence known as Floody); variants on the names Melanie Roscoe and Tibor Tarent; a weapon that leaves only equilateral black triangles; a camera that uses a quantum lens, based on the work of a scientist named Rietveld -- an echo of Wilhelm Reich? -- who invented adjacency technology.

Adjacency, as explained in the novel, is a standard technique of stage magic. 'the audience... should become interested and look away in the wrong direction. An adept conjuror knows exactly how to create an adjacent distraction, and also knows when to make use of the invisibility it temporarily creates.' [loc.1676] I'm still not sure that I understand how this relates to quantum photography, except that 'the adjacency defence' relocates an incoming missile to an adjacent dimension. But is that the same as a magician's adjacency? And does the quantum camera record adjacent realities, or enable (or force) the photographer to slip between them?

The Adjacent is a novel in eight parts, each set in a distinct reality: the near-future Islamic Republic of Great Britain, ravaged by superstorms; a Lincolnshire airfield in World War II where a female ATA pilot is delivering a plane; the island of Prachous in the Dream Archipelago, where refugees are banished to a shanty town named Adjacent ... and France, 1916, where a stage magician discusses new technology and warfare with H. G. Wells.

Every time I think about this book I note another connection, another congruence. I suspect that to reach understanding would be to internalise Priest's entire oeuvre and to familiarise myself with every sentence. I suspect this would be unsettling, but I believe it would be rewarding.

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