Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Every now and then, a new authors appears on the SF scene who presents a fresh new voice and viewpoint. Even more rarely, a new author appears who is completely different from anyone who has come before. Richard Garfinkles first novel, Celestial Matters, seemed to herald such an arrival. His second novel, All of an Instant, proves that Garfinkle is capable of coming up with multiple strange ideas and present them in a readable form.
All of an Instant, has a mythic feel to it as Garfinkle relates the adventures of Nir, Kookatchi, and Quillithé through the Instant, a region outside of time which can be used to change the outcome of events, sort of. Ever since Einstein, we have been taught that time is a dimension, just as height, width and length are dimensions. Garfinkle uses this seemingly basic concept to create the strange world of the instant, where one of the most important dimensions is duration. Although it takes some getting used to Garfinkles descriptions of Nir, for instance, as having a tail ten years long, the reader eventually comes to accept the strange physics which are present in the Instant.
In fact, the concept of the Instant is so strange and difficult to grasp, there are times when Garfinkles characters, who know more about navigating in the Instant than anyone else, are confused about how causation works in the Instant and how events in the Instant relate to the Flux, as our world is called. Garfinkle, however, does understand the theory and functioning of the Instant and, even as the reader flounders for that understanding, it is clear that there is a logic behind the situation.
The mythic quality is enhanced by the manner in which Garfinkle elects to tell his story. A third person narrative, All of an Instant only occasionally resorts to dialogue between the characters. Furthermore, although their specific goal is relatively shrouded throughout much of the novel, there is a distinct feel of an epic quest throughout, which is eventually revealed.
As in the earlier Celestial Matters, All of an Instant focuses more on the concept of the Instant and its relationship to the Flux than in does on developing characters. While Nir, Kookatchi, and Quillithé all have very interesting, and very different, features, these tend to have more to do with their positions and roles within the Instant rather than any specific personality or character traits. Perhaps in the future, Garfinkle will learn to flesh out his characters more, however, he has proven that he can hang the story on the strength of his concepts.
Garfinkles writing isnt for everyone. If you are looking for light, escapist reading, neither Celestial Matters nor All of an Instant will fit the bill. In fact, opening these books looking for that sort of entertainment will probably turn you off of Garfinkle entirely. If, on the other hand, you are looking for speculative fiction which will require you to think and which will stay with you long after the book is back on the shelf, Garfinkles books will be right up your alley.
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