THE FOURTH CIRCLE
Time and space are fluid and perspectives are intriguingly alien and off-kilter in this cosmological first novel from Serbian author Zivkovic. Built from multiple intertwined plots fleshed out in short chapters rich with impressionistic images, it attempts the difficult feat of conveying a parallel world through the experiences of characters largely unaware that alternate realities exist. Two principal story lines—one involving a Buddhist techno-whiz who creates a female computer program, the other concerned with a medieval novitiate who witnesses the mystical resurrection of a master whom he believed dead—anchor a narrative that also admits episodes in which Archimedes, Stephen Hawking, Nikola Tesla and other scientific luminaries find ways to slip the bounds of the time-space continuum and inadvertently travel to a common meeting place. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Conan Doyle all make appearances in the final chapters to deduce a dizzying, if talky, rationale for what exactly is going on. Zivkovic does a superb job of communicating the befuddlement, confusion and awe of individual characters as they wrestle with mysteries that exceed the understanding that their time, place and intellectual capacity permits. He also suggests a coherent cosmic blueprint that incorporates the novel's many episodes yet still remains intriguingly beyond full comprehension. Not all the mysteries are laid bare at the novel's somewhat abrupt end, but readers will enjoy the tale's epistemological gymnastics and the interplay of real and imaginary personalities. (Mar.)
Forecast: The Ministry of Whimsy imprint is known for its offbeat, experimental, genre-exploding work. Fans of books by Jeff VanderMeer and Forrest Aguirre will find this one up to the same high literary standard.