l :—




lain Grant mccts host-selling scicncc fiction author Grog Bcar.

3 ll(ircgBcarisoncol‘totlay‘xmoq

succcsslul scicncc iiction w ritcrx. is tltistluc to or in spitc oltltc lact that hc isa \cr} litcrar} (antl litct';ttcl\ot‘l

1 ()l'lilokc'.’ lt‘\ lltc‘ kltttl olqucxtion hp

lovcs to pontlcr. .-\ largc. sliglttl} shahh} . Amcrican intcllcctual with a moustachc and a nylon anorak. who illi.\\\ct‘\ titlL‘\Iltlll\ with grax it} and consitlcration. his air is that ol an amiahlc hut ltiglt-powcrctl collcgc pl'olc‘xsot‘. So. can liL‘ L‘\'pl;llll lltc‘ cultural conditions l'acilitating his popularity . with rclcrcncc to thc statcol'contcmporar} litct'aturc'.’ "l‘hc tlcmarcation hctw ccn \cicncc iiction antl ttt;titt\tt‘c;tttt iiction is \ anishing.‘ hc says. ‘.'\\ thc mainstrcam hccomcs morc antl tnorc Bitll’x'illll\Ckl. pcoplc w ill go an} w hcrc l‘ot'gootl writing. 'l'ltis also has to do with tltc w ay \cicncc is now rcspcctahlc in a w a} that it w asn‘t carlicr this ccntur} . whcn pcoplc wcrc com lllL‘L‘Ll it w as H il look at lluxlcy -antl\inlul.‘


In his Iatcst novcl. start/oilS‘Iurx. Bcar docs not slw away irom thc hig thcmcs morc rcatlil)‘ il\.\()ClillL‘(l with ‘rcal' litcraturc; thc cxtcnt ol‘his rcsponsc to cvcnts in thc rcal world is unusual tor a writcrworking in \o othcrworltlly a gcnrc. 'l‘hc hook conccrns a hand ol'sttrVix'ors irom a tlL‘\ll'(i}'L‘tl [iartlL tracking clown thc civilisation which hrought ahout tltc planct's tlow-nl'all and lacing a moral tlilcmma o\ cr thc qucstion ol wngcancc. ‘l w rotc thc hook during and lust aitcr thc ( iull' \Var. hccatIsc l\\'itlilL‘Ll to atltlt‘css tltc issuc ol' natural ltl\llL‘L‘ and punishmcnt f hc cxplains. ‘l thought thc war was crazy. a total w axtc ol tintc. hccausc w c in thc \\'c.\t w-crc poorly lctl. w c didn't go in thcrc antl linish thc ioh. \\'c w crc hampcrctl h_\‘ agonising o\ ct‘ tltc moral oucstions. lust likc

Ii you've always dismissed SF as pap, give this a read and be pleasantly surprised.

otic ol tltc cltaractcrs in thc hook. w hcn w hat w c llCL‘LlL‘Ll w as \otttcollc strong and ruthlcxs irom timc to titttc too do ncctl such pcoplc. illltll think too inan_\ ilttcllcclttah:tt'c unwilling to lacc up to Iltat.’

l'hc contcmporar} t'csonancc\ in “car‘s work also \ct‘\ c a lccltnical

s purposc. llc ixcom lllL'L‘tl ol thc ncctl to Ltllc‘litll' \c‘lL‘IlL‘L‘ llk‘lltlli to \olttc‘

t'clct'cncc point which isacccssihlc to tltc t‘catlct'. «mm c got to kccp it

: siniplcf hc c\plain\. ‘You can’t \cl

l'l/t/tt’gtm'x Hit/w on Mars. or LlU a (‘uhist painting iii" an alicn. hccattsc

thcrc‘x nothing tor pcoplc to latch on 'z

to and rccognisc.‘ l-ior tltc \amc l‘L‘.l\t)lt. llL‘ ll'lL‘\ to le‘c‘l‘ lil\

{ccltnolog} w lllllll hountls. llc tlocx \pcntl timc with his latltcr~in—law . Sl‘ w ritcr l’oul .\ntlcr\on. antl otltcr iamily ntcnthcrs. kicking around ltlc‘.l\ on ‘l‘at‘ticlc hit-structure" oi ‘tluark \c\'. and maintains that hi can hc a pro\ ing grountl tor itlcas which at‘ctt'l _\ct l\‘\[k‘t‘l;tlilk‘ \cicntilic lllL‘til'lL‘\. But hc tlULWll‘l altctttpt to tla//lc lltc t'catlc‘l' w ttlt such malt-rial. Iluxt tcll for w liat lltc‘_\ llc‘ctl [ti l’xllt‘“. i\ lll\ .l\l\ lc‘c‘ 1U wottltl-ltc .\t llltll' ( I ( ~larks. a ma\im ltc appltcs to olltct' clctttctttx ol a

litl\ Cl l‘C\ltlL‘\ lllL' \c‘lL‘llc‘L‘. l ll\ [tithe is lltllLl antl cconotnical. antl hc thtc‘\li-l \\;t\lc‘ lllllc' ttli L‘Vlc‘ll\l\ L'

tlcxcl'iplion or clahoralc

GregBear \‘ll;ll‘.tc‘lc‘l‘l\;tlltill. lll this. ltc says. ltc is guitlctl h_\ thc \\'l'llc‘l‘\ ltc llltl\l iltllilll'L‘\. ‘.lo}c‘c‘. littrgcsx ( ‘otiratl.

lllc_\ show }tillit\1;llltl;il'tlll'itlll w hich mu wouldn't want to stra} too lath-

ln otltcr wortls. ltcar‘s amhitions c\tcntl w a\ luwontl mcrc gcnrc iiction. antl hc comm clmc to lullilling lltcm. 'l hcrc |\ lust tltc right amount ol h} potltctical tcchnology in . lm l/U/ Marx lor lllL‘ lax rcatlcr. hot it ;il\o contain w l iting ol rcal tlttalitt. ll _\tltl.\L‘ alwats tll\llll\.\k'kl Sl- as pap. gi\ c it a rcatl antl hc plcasantl} surprisctl. xllll'l/H/ Show A [Hill/[\Ilt't/ /)\' /.r'gt'm/ (ll (NW).

Watching Brief

; The only clue is the transparent Swatch

on his wrist. Otherwise. Allen Kurzweil looks as though he would never consider the minutiae oi 18th century watchmaking; smooth-faced and

: wide-eyed. he still resembles the Yale

undergraduate he was eight years ago. His iirst novel, however, has setthe American literati chirping about the arrival oi another Voltaire.

The book in question is A Case oi

Curiosities. a lavishly intricate tale set around the time oi the French Revolution. Keeping politics on the

sideline, Kurzweil levers us into a picaresque world where erotic watches with themes like ‘Niece on Swing with 009' are discreetly and ingeniously craited ior leading clerics. Child prodigy Claude Page is our man on the

spot. We accompany his ascent irom

apprentice watchmakerto celebrated inventor oi the lirst talking mechanical


An odd way to kick oii a literary career? Kurzweil doesn‘t think so. To him, spending live years ploughing through 18th century trade dictionaries

62 The List '1 ti 43.5 "Ami 992

Allen Kurzweil: ‘buoys the reader along with wry observations on everything irom theerotic

diversions oi Parisian ladies to the tarts oi an overweightcoachman‘

and philosophical treatises was the most natural thing in the world. lndiiierent to the grim post- modernism. violence. perversion and angst oi what he calls ‘yuppie novels‘. he has always iilled his bookshelves with bulky 19th century epics and the works oi John Fowles and Robertson

Davies. ‘This novel isn‘t a repudiation at what we expect irom young New York writers.‘ he says. ‘lt‘s more an embracing oithe wonderiul, rich. challenging iiction I love reading.‘

Enter erudition. with a capital E. Lovingly explored are the mysteries oi 18th century taxidermy. erotica.

enamel-work and watchmaking, as Kurzweil's characters driit irom one iantastically stocked workshop or library to the next. Many an episode in

the squalid streets and powdered

salons oi Paris is punctuated by throwaway reierences to obscure essayists. philosophical debates and even a iamily oiBohemian glass-blowers. ‘ltwas. aiterall. an encyclopaedic age in which intelligent readers embraced and compared the

various disciplines.‘ he points out. ‘The details are organic to the novel.‘

Curbing his own zeal tor the sake oi his readers. Kurzweil oiten distilled days at research into a single clause. Where Umberto Eco goes overthe top. Kurzweil stays true to his goal oi ‘telling a good story‘. With a piayiully

moderntone. his narratorbuoysthe

readeralong with wry observations on everything irom the erotic diversions ol Parisian ladiestothe tarts oian overweight coachman. What might have been an arid piece oi lanciiul social history is instead a pretty digestible read. Not quite Robertson Davies. but getting there.

Somewhat bemused by all the media brouhaha. Kurzweil is already thinking about his next opus. ltwon‘t be set in the 1700s and it won't take iive years to write. ‘l‘m a little led up with the past. and eager to spend some time in the present.‘ (Carl Honoré)

A Case oi Curiosities is published by Hamish Hamilton at£9.99.