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Seven Touches of Music
Zoran Zivkovic
Polaris, 162 pages

Seven Touches of Music
Zoran Zivkovic
Zoran Zivkovic was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1948. In 1973 he graduated from the Department of General Literature, specializing in the theory of literature, Faculty of Philology of the University of Belgrade. He received his master's degree in 1979 and his doctorate in 1982 from the same school.

He is the author of the following books: Contemporaries of the Future (1983), Starry Screen (1984), First Contact (1985), The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1990), The Fourth Circle (1993), Essays on Science Fiction (1995), Time Gifts (1997, 2000 US), The Writer (1998), The Book (2000), Impossible Encounters (2000), and Seven Touches of Music (2001). His short fiction includes: "The Astronomer" (1999), "The Bookshop" (2000), "The Cone" (2000), "The Confessional" (2000), "The Train" (2000) and "The Window" (2000). All were published in Interzone.

He lives in Belgrade.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Rev1ew: Time Gifts

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

As in the earlier Time Gifts, here Zoran Zivkovic presents a collection of tales that upon their surface bear no immediately obvious relationship, outside the shared element of music.  Yet, as in the previous work, though each of the seven short stories found here could be read singly, they are narratively and thematically woven together in a way that binds them inextricably, though with a subtlety that might be easily overlooked by the casual reader.  And once again the author has shown his control and mastery over his spare prose, a style entirely appropriate to the quietude of his subject and themes, where silence is as much an element as melody, and the characters live lives more removed than present.

All seven stories concern moments of ephemeral revelation, some of which leave no mark beyond the illusory instant of their perception, glimpses into mysteries that remain just out of view, or are snatched from the protagonists at the approach of full apprehension: a teacher whose autistic ward inexplicably writes down one of the fundamental values of theoretical physics; a librarian whose dream of a temple is reenacted upon her computer screen; a man who buys a music box that when played provides a glimpse into an alternative life; an elderly woman that, hearing a hand organ in a train station, begins to have visions of the death of everyone she encounters; a retired scientist who, despite having no real interest in art, suddenly begins to paint; a dying professor given a second chance to see beyond a moment lost in his youth; and a violin-maker's apprentice who knows the truth behind his master's mysterious suicide.  In many ways less readily accessible than Time Gifts, these stories at first glance appear deceptively simple, and can be read swiftly in a single sitting, afterward easily set aside in their understated modesty.  However a memory of their image remains to nag at the periphery of comprehension: a sense of things unseen or missed, a barely heard word or the shifting contour of a shape that fades just as it comes into view, eluding apperception and scrutiny.  There is something haunting about these tales, beyond the occult or surreal experiences of the narratives' characters, or the wistful solitude of their existence.  These are stories as much about alienation and loss, or the ephemeral nature of our experience of existence, as the curious incident, the blurring between the fantastic and the tangible constructions with which we prop up and frame our world.  And some might say these tales are yet another tiller steering the oars of Sexton's "rowing towards God."

Meditations, each story possesses the whispered longing and apprehension of a prayer.  Reiterative in their elements, these narratives quietly succeed through a compression of language and imagery and a concision of language that should never be overlooked.  One needs to heed the reappearances of contrasts between moments of silence and sound, the singular yet shared solitude of the characters, the transience of vision and experience, and most of all the singular yet reflective heralding of music.  Phrases within one story inform what will follow in another and, similar to the vibrations of a stringed instrument, create resonances that will echo throughout each story, to be replayed, if faintly and from a differing score, over and over again.  It is up to the reader to listen and remember.

Upon reading, some may wonder at the inclusion of these stories among a venue more dedicated to traditional genre.  As with every thematic element contained within these tales, no single one dominates, but instead is woven together into a complex mosaic or jigsaw akin to that found within the stories "The Violinist" and "The Puzzle."  Unlike Time Gifts, the fantastic here is reduced to the brief dream or curious incident, serving but as a muted backdrop or device in service to concerns and themes far more literary in scope and intention.  The closest one comes to any direct access to the genre is in the shape of criticism directed at science fiction writers in "The Puzzle," and that story's ancillary use of projects such as SETI to explore more existential questions.  Otherwise these tales share more in common with the recent works of Jonathan Carroll than a Robert Jordan, and I suspect that the average reader of fantasy or science fiction will find themselves venturing upon unfamiliar ground, unless their reading regularly includes at least a smattering of literary fiction.  

In the final story, "The Violin-maker," Zivkovic brings all his characters briefly together, the closest he comes to openly announcing that the short stories presented in Seven Touches of Music form a comprehensive whole.  Even then, he leaves their relationship open to interpretation, never clearly resolving the brief enigmas each story has presented, only offering their cumulative reflection. Whether intentionally, as in "The Violinist," the reader will discover that "when the grand architecture of tones [is] finally complete, he [has] to confront its most disturbing characteristic: the whole and its parts [are] not in harmony," I will leave for the reader to decide.  However I believe, as with the protagonist in that tale, that the reader, upon careful reflection and a close rereading of these stories that this work demands, will realize that it is not a lack of harmony that the author has achieved -- the "spheres" of each story "still tightly grouped together" -- but that it is his or her "preconceptions that [have] been wrong," and that the author has "based his composition on completely different principles."  Like life itself, "the world [does] not have to be orderly, at least not in the way [one has] imagined it."  Beneath this observation hides the enigma that reappears throughout all seven stories in this collection, presented in varying yet related guise, and possessing like that most profound of mysteries, the meaning of existence, questions that elude or escape any singular conclusion or interpretation.  Yet the clues provided, however elusive or ephemerally "touched" upon, prove irresistible.

(While sadly not as yet available in book form in North America or England, Seven Touches of Music can be read in serialization in Interzone Magazine.  The first story, "The Whisper," appeared in the August issue, with the other short stories to be published successively.)

Copyright © 2001 William Thompson

William Thompson is a writer of speculative fiction, as yet unpublished, although he remains hopeful. In addition to pursuing his writing, he is in the degree program in information science at Indiana University.

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