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Piercing the Elastic Limit - An Epic Fable Paperback – November 1, 2011
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The set up reminds me of the "Cloud Atlas" movie which spans across a number of time eras with different characters but who seem to follow a similar ‘template’ of existence (and acted by the same actors / actresses). This is achieved in the novel through common themes and characters – but crucially it’s the differences which are central to the plot, so keep an eye out!
We've already been introduced to the model of time and the technology behind it in "Beyond the Elastic Limit"; the time line is projected into the past within the bounds of the elastic limit. This is similar to the River of Time. The “time fistula” is a separate technology which opens up a window to view the past – like placing a rock in a river and seeing how the water flows differently around it.
Crucially, the future cannot be viewed, and viewing the past doesn’t modify the time line itself (which reminds of me the Deja Vu movie where Denzel Washington peers into the past through discreet time windows).
The crux is what happens when the observation window turns into a door.
I really like how Howard’s writing style encapsulates many epochs. For example, there’s a description of a peice of music which has just been written; in the future this would be considered to be great, but that was decades away from now and today it wasn’t recognised.
My only negative vibe from "Piercing the Elastic Limit" lies with the closing section where I became quite lost. Things seemed to be coming together but there was a lot of flitting about between different characters and I couldn’t make the connection. Given the quality of the writing beforehand it’s more than likely that this is my own failing...
While reading the first book is not necessary to the understanding of the second book, it does provide a background for the story that I think provides depth to the reading of the second book. The span of the series is epic in nature, covering thousands of years. The reader will find that the time viewing device that exists during the time period of the first book is lost and then found again during the time period of the second book (and lost and found again). Some of the recurring themes in the series are the time viewing device, mention of "Primus" (the Primus of the 2nd book seems to have been named in homage to the Primus of the 1st book), and a subset of people who seem godlike in that they never age over time and that they seem to have a godlike level of knowledge and power in comparison to the people that they encounter.
This particular book has 4 main mysteries: the significance of a young boy who can create "angels", the explanation for hearing an enigmatic A5 note, the reason an unchanging red-headed woman appears to various prodigious individuals (including Julius Caesar, Christopher Marlowe, and Robert Schumann) to lead them to consult with a powerful entity, and the reason for the need of the prodigious individuals to "form the perfect question". Honestly, I finished the book without feeling that I had a full answer to any of the mysteries. The origin of the "angels", the origin of the A5 note, and the identity of the red-headed woman is somewhat explained. However, not to my satisfaction. So either I didn't read well enough between the lines or there will be an explanation in an upcoming continuation of the series. Since there was no mention at the end of the book of this series being continued, I'm left a bit wanting.
Is it always necessary to understand the mysteries of a book in order to enjoy it? No. I definitely enjoyed what I read. It's generally a well-written book (minus the lack of scene-change indicators in a few places at the beginning of the book and a couple of typos toward the end). Loring has a very distinctive voice and cadence to his writings that are quite pleasant. The scope of his works are vast and the ideas behind them are quite imaginative. As such, I will continue to greedily read anything this author writes. I especially hope to see a continuation of this series that gives more insight into the mysteries left unexplained in both this and the previous book. Additionally, I want to meet the original Primus as well as to find out the purpose of the time viewing device and why there's a mandate to never look forward in time. I would suggest readers to tackle both books in the series to get a more in-depth view of the history of Amrif Arret and Terra Firma according to Howard Loring (not his real name).
Now I need to spend some time trying to form the perfect question and figure out to which entity I'd like to pose it ...