This is the motherlode of all brains-in-jars/life-is-a-computer-simulation-type stories. Gibson’s and the Wachowski’s Matrixes can both trace their origins back to here – or at least, they should be able to. I’m not aware of anything older than this that quite deals with this idea.
At Maiden Castle in Dorchester in the near future (of the time the book was written; it’s now our near past) a scientific research project has been under way for several years. It involves ‘projection’, in which the particpants, their bodies unconscious, enter into a shared, simulated fantasy world. This consensus hallucination was intended to examine a possible future, with a view to suggesting answers to some of the problems of today.
But one of the participants has been stuck in the projection for two years (when the normal period is measured in weeks or a few months at the most); the trustees are getting worried about the costs; and a new participant is about to arrive and change everything.
It is _excellent_, and (of course) leaves you wondering how many levels of fantasy there are to reality – both the book’s, and ours.
What a fine conceit. Take the two great science fiction works by one of the genre’s defining masters, mash them up together, and use the result to tell the ‘inside’ story of both of them.
It’s title is an obvious allusion to ??The Time Machine??, but this is actually much more rooted in ??The War of the Worlds??. And why shouldn’t those two novels take place in the same fictive universe? And why shouldn’t they be linked? After all, Mr Wells wrote both the stories down, so he must have experienced some of the events of both, right?
Priest sustains the tone and style of a late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century novel admirably well, and there’s not much to fault in this novel.
Except, perhaps, for the ending. The actual climax and conclusion of the story is well expected if you know ??The War of the Worlds??. It’s just the last page or two; the rationale for the behaviour of one of the characters (a Mr Wells, in fact) in particular is, to my mind, inexplicable. Not that it matters, that late in the story, I suppose, but it does bother me.
I wish I had known about this novel a few years ack, when I read both ??The Time Machine?? and Stephen Baxter’s ??The Time Ships??. It would have sat very well in company with them.
The most annoying thing about The Prestige is the way it ends; though I can see that there was no real reason to continue it after that point. The story is told, all that can reasonably be revealed is revealed (without going into preposterous and unnecessary details).
The book is finished; the tale (which, as I’m sure you know, is about Victorian magicians, and Nikola Tesla) is told.
And yet I still thought, as I reached the last page, “Aw, I want more!” like a kid that wants another bedtime story.
Which is no bad thing, it’s fair to say. Better, as a writer (or almost anything else) to leave them wanting more than to outstay your welcome.
And with that thought in mind, I’ll just say: highly recommended. I’m out.