Wednesday, August 17, 2011
REVIEW: Song of Time, by Ian R. MacLeod
Song of Time is a neat book with a really bad cover. I heard about at the 2008 Readercon presentation "The Year in Novels," where critics from science fiction and fantasy specialty journals talk about their favorite books of the year. I don't remember who recommended Song of Time but the critic thought it was a good example of "literary SF" and described its plot in a way that made it sound like catnip.
A 2009 Arthur C. Clarke award winner (among other honors), and set in a distant and oblique future, the story concerns an elderly woman who lives alone and who finds a nameless, naked young man washed ashore near her Cornwall property. The woman, Roushana, is an Irish-Indian retired violinist who shares the story of her life with her mysterious visitor, while preparing for a major transition in her own. The book covers decades of time. She recounts her childhood, the death of her adored older brother Leo, the impact of wars and pollution and politics on her life and that of her husband, the charismatic Claude, already a star when they meet and fall in love in Paris. Meanwhile, in the present tense, she's getting to know Adam, as she's come to call the man, and finding out exactly who, and what, he is.
Song of Time is more of a fictionalized memoir than a dystopia or futuristic book per se. MacLeod concentrates more on the characters and their life stories over another dramatic arc or world-building as such. It's distinct from a book like Embassytown that builds a fairly compelling plot on top of a complex and detailed world but goes a little light on character. Here, it's all about the people. He tells us the story of Roushana's life and then only what we need to know of the world to understand it. So questions remain, but MacLeod gives us a rich portrait of the people in a world different from our own but recognizable nonetheless. He writes beautifully; the style of the book is distinctly literary with vivid descriptions and lengthy exposition. Probably a must-read for committed SF readers, I'd also recommend it highly to readers of literary fiction looking for a strong character-driven novel a little different from the usual literary fare.
Read a great review of Song of Time at Tamaranth's Creative Reading.
Getting a hold of a copy might be tricky if you're outside the UK. I was unable to find it in Powell's extensive database and obtained my copy directly from the UK publisher.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.