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Doerr, Anthony

Entry updated 25 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1973-    ) US author, active from before the turn of the century. The protagonist of his first novel, About Grace (2004), experiences moments of prescience (see Precognition), during one of which he sees his daughter die; he spends much of the novel, after the model of the Appointment in Samarra fable, attempting to flee this fate: which he meets. The blind protagonist of All the Light We Cannot See (2014), a Holocaust survivor (see Holocaust Fiction), has in childhood been separated from a jewel known as the Sea of Flames, which is purported to bestow Immortality at the cost of misfortune to others [for Answered Prayers see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Years after the War it is returned to her. She finds a key to end the curse. She can be understood as a person who radiates something like goodness. She comes eventually to express her reverence for the air she breathes – for the world she inhabits – through describing the noosphere as a Library.

At least one of the three integrated tales making up Doerr's third novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land (2021), is of direct sf interest. Its distant Near Future setting on the Argos, a Generation Starship, an argosy whose inhabitants believe has allowed them to escape a twenty-second century Earth become unlivable through Climate Change, lays an implied End of the World finality on the other tales, which are set in the fifteenth and twentieth centuries. The young protagonist Konstance is triggered by her grappling with an ancient fable by Antonius Diogenes (floruit circa 100 AD), The Wonders Beyond Thule (circa 100 AD), to tumble to the truth that the ship is in reality an experimental mockup land-bound in the melting Arctic (see Scientific Hoaxes), an expectable revelation out of the SF Megatext (see also Mainstream Writers of SF). She escapes back to what remains of us all, back to the world after centuries of the Anthropocene. Despite the sometimes over-bright telling of the tale, Doerr's novel as a whole breathes out an air of planetary grieving.

The two other tales are various but linked. One is set mostly in fifteenth century Constantinople, whose walls are about to be pierced in a final siege, and her great Library dispersed, though a young woman escapes with the sole manuscript of the fragmentary early novel that later inspires Konstance on the Argos, a recounting of the metamorphosis of an ass and his Fantastic Voyage to Cloud Cuckoo Land that may have inspired versions by Apuleius [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] and Lucian. The tale itself is understood as talismanic by Konstance: as something that – like all stories – diverts one's attention from the overwhelming disaster of living: Story being defined as "something to slip the trap". In the third segment, set in contemporary America, the text is translated by an "amateur", and directly transforms several lives; this is the version Konstance reads on the Argos. The passage from one owner to another of the manuscript (or rendering) of the tale, its presence significantly affecting each conjoined cast, makes it possible to see Cloud Cuckoo Land as a Tale of Circulation whose serial joinings distinguish it from other novels of temporal interweaving like David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (2004). This circulation through time and space of the transfigured and transfiguring Diogenes text is accompanied by language which hints that the world itself can be treated as a sacred Library, echoing the closing epiphany of the previous novel.

Ironically, all these non-mensurable implications are stored but cannot be clocked by the AI which governs the Argos, and whose memory vaults are claimed claim to contain the entire human story: but the Library of the whole of the race cannot be sorted into digits. [JC]

Anthony Doerr

born Cleveland, Ohio: 27 October 1973

works (selected)


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