The ShortRead of 26 August
Author: Iain Pears
What's the story: Iain Pears has done something rather extraordinary.
Many authors have had a good go at creating a 'unique' digital novel experience: some link with Twitter accounts, some use animations to bring a page to life. Arcadia tops the lot.
With a sprawling narrative that dips between three interlocking worlds (past, present and future), the app version of Pears' novel allows readers to not so much 'chop-and-change' between the characters' stories (there are ten of them), as flow between their strands - flipping between journeys when you arrive at overlapping junctions. A map page allows you to keep track of where you are in each story... it'll make a lot more sense if you watch this.
Rest assured, this isn't a book with a fancy digital cover: Arcadia is a twisting, enticing novel of time travel and exploration, of experiments gone wrong and futures colliding - a story enhanced by its app form (though the static sequence of the print version still succeeds in capturing your attention).
If you're passionate about books, Arcadia is an essential narrative experience.
As far as Jack More was concerned, the outside world, unhealthy and artificial though it might be, was a tantalising idea of freedom. So he often came to the large display screen that decorated the space leading to the conference rooms, just to stare and remember. It wasn’t real; there were no windows anywhere in the complex, but it was better than nothing. At the moment, it was an imaginary but fairly realistic view of cows and hills and grass. Only the hills might still actually exist, but he liked looking at it
nonetheless. In a moment it would change to empty snow-topped mountains, also imaginary as no snow had fallen anywhere in the world for at least a decade. He didn’t know why it was there. Few except him had any interest in the outside world; everything of importance lay inside the huge, sealed building they lived and
worked in. It was dangerous and frightening outside.
He turned as he heard voices. A little group was walking along the corridor that led to the research area, talking quietly. He scowled in annoyance. He wasn’t meant to be in this part of the facility; he was meant to stay in the administrative block, and certainly he was not meant to hear anything that others might say.
Then there was an explosion of wrath from around the corner. Jack stopped in his tracks and positioned himself to observe without attracting attention. The group of scientists formed a sort of defensive gaggle, huddling together to meet the approaching threat.
The source of the noise was a mathematician by the name of Angela Meerson. She strode into sight, the look of thunder on her face contrasting strongly with the flat, compliant appearance of the others. Everything else was different as well; she was taller, dressed in vivid purple, while they wore the almost uniform grey-brown look of their type. Her hair was long, and untidy, as though she had just got out of bed. Their gestures were measured and controlled, hers free-flowing and as ill-disciplined as her hair, which had been valiantly organised into a complicated bun at some stage and then allowed to grow wild.
The researchers collectively decided to pretend she wasn’t there. This was a mistake on their part. She did not take kindly to it.
‘Where is he?’ she bellowed at the top of her voice. Some looked shocked at her lack of respect, control and decorum. Others were merely frightened. They weren’t used to such behaviour, although some had worked with her in the past and had witnessed her explosions before. They generally meant that she was working hard.
‘Well? Can’t you talk? Where is the devious little weasel?’
‘You really should calm yourself,’ said one anxiously. ‘The protocols for registering dissatisfaction are clearly laid down. I can forward the documentation, if you like, I’m sure . . .’
‘Oh, shut up, you moron.’ She brandished a piece of paper in his face. ‘Look at this.’
He read it with what looked like genuine surprise. ‘You are being suspended,’ he observed.
‘Is that a smirk on your face?’
‘Of course not,’ he replied hastily. ‘I didn’t know anything about it. Really.’
She snorted. ‘Liar,’ she said.
‘There’s a hearing tomorrow. I’m sure everything will be explained.’
‘Ha!’ she cried out. ‘Tomorrow? Why not today? Shall I tell you? Because he’s a weasel.’
‘I’m sure Dr Hanslip has the best interests of everyone in mind, and it is our duty to obey his wishes. We all have complete faith in his leadership and I don’t see what you hope to achieve through such a display.’
She gave him a look of withering disgust. ‘Do you not? Do you really not? Then watch me. You might learn something.’
She hurled the crumpled piece of paper at him, making him flinch, then wheeled around and marched off down the corridor, going ‘Ha!’ twice before she disappeared.
The group broke out into giggles of nervous relief. ‘Must be tanked up again,’ one said. ‘She needs it to get up to full power. She’ll come down again in a day or two.’
‘She really is quite mad, though,’ added another. ‘I don’t know how she’s lasted this long. I wouldn’t stand for it.’ Then he noticed Jack watching from the sidelines. He glared and dropped his voice.
(Images: Flickr/Kate Hiscock; Rex)