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All of an Instant
Richard Garfinkle
Tor Books, 383 pages

All of an Instant
Richard Garfinkle
Richard Garfinkle's first book was Celestial Matters (1996) which gave us the premise of a universe where the natural laws as understood by the ancient Greeks were true, literally.

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A review by Steven H Silver

Richard Garfinkle's novels are not always easy to read. Garfinkle comes up with strange and complex ideas and proceeds to expand upon them. The central idea in his second book, All of an Instant, is that there are two levels of reality. One of them, the Flux, is the world in which we all live. It is constantly in a state of flux, changing in both a chronological way and shifting through alternative realities. The other dimension is the Instant. Running parallel to the Flux, the Instant has no duration, although most of its inhabitants view it as sequential. Events occurring in the Instant are what cause the alterations seen in the Flux, and small bands are constantly warring to create their own view of reality in the Flux.

Either end of the Instant is anchored by special regions. The first is known as the Now and its time dimension is a couple of centuries which are inviolate to the warriors who range throughout the Instant. The Now is defined as the period of the first Homo Sapiens, and the warring tribes realize that changing the Now could result in the end of everything. At the opposite end of the Instant are the Deeps. This region is controlled by Quillithé, a century-old woman who is the only inhabitant of the Instant capable of controlling a large army and, therefore, is able to protect all of the Deeps from the marauding bands.

In addition to the normal dimensions of height, width and depth, duration forms a fourth dimension in the Instant, and it places limitations on the memories and abilities of its inhabitants. Kookatchi, for instance, has a particularly short duration, and therefore his memory recycles frequently, only allowing him to retain the most vital of information. Nir, the War Chief from the Now, has a duration of a decade which allows him to take part in longer term planning, although Garfinkle reveals that those inhabitants with longer a duration have a more difficult time seeing the Instant for what it really is.

The majority of the novel follows Nir and Kookatchi's explorations of the Instant and their eventual partnership with Quillithé. However, rather than spend the entire book fleshing out the basic mechanics of his creation, Garfinkle puts an area of darkness into the Instant which nobody can explain. For all her foresight, Quillithé cannot penetrate the darkness and she sends Nir and Kookatchi to try to discover what the darkness is hiding and how it appeared. This exploration further emphasizes the different abilities related to the duration of an individual.

Although All of an Instant is loaded with difficult concepts of which the characters themselves frequently are not clear, Garfinkle also includes several light-hearted references within the novel. The names of the factions which inhabit the Instant could have been lifted from a particularly strange game of "Illuminati." Rather than break into the more literary aspects of the novel, these clever naming conventions provide the reader with a momentary mental respite from the difficult concept of the Instant while letting the reader picture the strange political and historical mechanizations required to permit the creation of such groups.

All of an Instant is not a book which will be to everyone's liking. It is not escapist fare and does not contain many of the traditional trappings of science fiction. Nevertheless, Garfinkle tells an interesting story which will make the reader think about the nature of cause and effect long after the book has been returned to the shelf. While his writing takes some getting used to, in the end, it is worth the effort.

Copyright © 1999 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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