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Pears, Iain

Entry updated 28 November 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1955-    ) UK art historian and author, perhaps best known for his Jonathan Argyll series of nonfantastic detective novels featuring an art historian [not listed below]. His most influential singleton, An Instance of the Fingerpost (1997), scrutinizes the same seventeenth-century intellectual revolution focused on by Neal Stephenson in his Baroque Trilogy: the metaphysics and politics attending the shift from mediaeval philosophies of science to "the scientific method".

Pears is of direct sf interest for Arcadia (2015; simultaneous 2015 ebook text varies), constructed, typically of this author, as a series of interlocking narratives set at different times in what seem to be different worlds. Three narratives dominate. In a distant-Near Future Dystopia, a bleak surveillance meritocracy created on the assumption that worth is measurable, a brilliant researcher, focusing her Mathematical genius on Time Travel, develops a Time Machine, escaping in it, Temporal-Adventuress-like, to a period just before World War Two. Here, gifted with technologized longevity (see Immortality), she begins a long-lasting affair with the central figure of the second narrative strand. He is a spy for Britain, eventually becoming an Oxford don who around 1960 is accustomed to foregather with colleagues on Saturdays in a local pub, where they all read their manuscripts to each other, explicitly continuing the tradition of the Inklings (C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien are both mentioned, though neither appears). The don's subcreation is a Young Adult-couched Pastoral Utopia, known as Anterwold, explicitly drawing on William Shakespeare's As You Like It (performed circa 1599; 1623). This subcreation (which comprises the third embedded narrative in Arcadia, and which characters from the first two worlds visit ad libitum) has complicatedly taken on a kind of reality through (it seems) the operations of the time machine, further complicated by plays with The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (1590; corrected text 1593) by Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586). The revelation that the future dystopia very closely resembles another of the Saturday pub tales further intensifies the dance, emphasizing a sense that each venue represents a Thought Experiment in the creation of storyable worlds, all of them complicatedly interwoven, as expectable in a tale which gradually becomes a full-blown Time Opera. A Gamebook-like Hypertext version, presenting a late twentieth-century "sophistication" of the nature of narrative, exists. Each of the three strands closes in a Slingshot Ending, with a projected World War Three juggling the temporal kaleidoscope occupied by the three worlds; no sequel has appeared. [JC] [JC]

Iain George Pears

born Coventry, Warwickshire [now West Midlands]: 1 January 1955

works (highly selected)

  • An Instance of the Fingerpost (London: Jonathan Cape, 1997) [hb/from various sources]
  • Arcadia (London: Faber and Faber, 2015) [hb/Faber, shutterstock, Bulychev]
    • Arcadia (London: Faber and Faber, 2015) [ebook: text viable from the above: na/]


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