cover image The Maze of Transparencies

The Maze of Transparencies

Karen An-hwei Lee. Ellipsis, $14.95 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-940400-09-9

Lee (Sonata in K) draws on her work as a poet, translator, and academic for this novel, which reads like a theory-infused dream from the Coleridgean pleasure dome. Language-drunk and story-simple, this novella is science fiction in the same way Finnegans Wake is sometimes called folklore. The narrator is a cloud—in the digital sense, and with a host of other nuances to the term—named Penny. She watches over the gardener Yang, a former government data “vigilante” now living hermitlike by the sea. She is, specifically, his cloud, though the two can no longer connect. Yang is keeper of the black bento box of algorithms, which was devised by the nine muses of the junta, the former rulers of Uberasia. The muses have vanished since a great data crash took down organized society. Using the algorithms, Yang seeks the seven harbingers of happiness that the junta foretold. But plot is hardly the point. Penny, a perennially hopeful AI, lives in her digressions and leapfrogging linguistic connections: “Please excuse this overgrown glossarium... Scripted with a prolix code, I generate multifarious queries to which I have no answers.” Yang does the same. Lee’s story is not about the journey; rather, it’s about the vast intricacy of human denotation, connotation, and dependency that language can depict but never capture. Lee releases the reader from the tyranny of narrative cause and effect, with exhilarating results. Though the work’s audience is quite limited, those happy few will love playing spot-the-reference or simply immersing in Lee’s glorious sea of words. (July)