SONG OF TIME by Ian R. MacLeod
They say the past is a foreign country where folks do things differently. The world constantly moves on, places change, affiliations fade, relationships end... and at some point in one's life social paradigms have shifted sufficiently that this becomes not so much an expression of bemused noncomprehension as a desire to go home. There is something of this pathos in Song of Time, Ian Macleod's Arthur C. Clarke Award winning novel.
Roushana Maitland, world-renowned violinist is nearing the end of her long life. Song of Time, set in the near future, is her story. As she contemplates technology's now-available option to go on living a sort of virtual life-after-death (details about this are vague, but then technology isn't the point, just the pretext prompting her to look back), an amnesiac man washes up on her Cornwall beach who may have a mysterious connection to her past.
Maitland lived in some very interesting times- to paraphrase the old Chinese curse. She grows up in Birmingham, England with a musical-prodigy brother who develops a mysterious new illness and eventually takes his own life. This illness proves to be the first salvo in a world about to be dramatically transformed by apocalyptic events, and Roushana guides us through the geopolitical, ecological and personal upheavals as she now looks back over her life.
Song of Time is an excellent portrait of an age, in this case an age yet to happen, and perhaps a glimpse of a future we may experience. It is a quintessentially English novel. In American dystopian novels, the future is often brutishly totalitarian, a suspension of normal life leaving little choice but abject servitude or active resistance- usually involving explosions and acts of heroic daring. In Song, with the Brit's richer literary tradition, one finds a more nuanced and subtle exploration of the mundanities of living in a cautionary future- after all, ordinary life does go on; careers must be forged and groceries shopped for- and it is infinitely more interesting and enjoyable to read for that.
If you are looking for a genre-centric dystopian adventure story, this isn't the novel for you. But if your taste skews toward the literary side of speculative fiction, I highly recommend Song of Time. I give it a rare 5-out-of-5-stars rating.
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