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The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar

09/10/2023
The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar is clearly a fan of the golden age of science fiction. This is the pre-war and post-war period when some of the most iconic and influential works in the genre were released. His most recent book The Circumference of the World riffs on, tries to emulate and interrogates both the works and the authors of that era.

The book opens with a short prelude from an unseen narrator that mentions a number of characters including Delia Welegtabit, Daniel Chase and Oskar Lens and claims that none of it matters as time is omnidirectional. The narrative then drops into the world of Delia Welegtabit, born in the South Pacific, now Living in London with a mathematician who is obsessed with a missing book by a famous science fiction author and who then goes missing himself. This leads to the second part of the book which focusses on a face-blind detective called Daniel Chase and then to the third which tells the story of Russian gangster Oskar Lens. All of these stories circle around a mysterious science fiction book from the 1950s called Lode Stars around which a cult-like religion has formed. Following these characters the book turns in on itself, reproduces a fragment of the missing book and then does more weird stuff.

Tidhar does all of this while riffing on the science fiction world of the 1950s and 60s. Authors like Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Pohl and Heinlein, among others, all get mentions or walk on parts. John Campbell and his Astounding Science Fiction magazine, where many of these writers got started and found fame also has a part to play. And it is hard not to imagine that Tidhar is also commenting on the creation and rise of Scientology, a religion created by a science fiction author based on his own work.

Tidhar can often be a little oblique but is always interesting and unique. And while The Circumference of the World is far from his most accessible work, with its causation loops almost demanding a reread, it has plenty to recommend it to science fiction fans. As the introduction warns – time is omnidirectional, but thankfully Tidhar has full control over how the narrative is delivered to ensure that it always makes sense. The joy in this is more in the milieu than the plot. It comes from not only recognising the cameos of famous authors but picking out all of the overt and sly references to their works of classic science fiction, works that continue to influence the genre.

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