An Exaltation of Larks by Reed, Robert, 1995

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An Exaltation of Larks, by noted Nebraskan author, Robert Reed is an odd hybrid, being an end of the world sci-fi romance. The story is also a bit of a mystery. The set-up of this story is a bit ponderous, but the pay off is huge. Reed is known for having an epic vision, akin to better known authors such as Greg Bear and Stephen Baxter, but without so much hard science and, believe it or not, even more richly developed characters. Larks is the story of two "vertebrates," named Jesse and Sully, who go to a small mid-eastern liberal arts college in the 1970's. Both are preparing for graduation in a few months. Jesse is a bit of a Lothario, having bedded most of the sexually available women in his school, and campus-renown for tackling the chastity of two particularly comely twins. Sully is a wholesome girl-next-door type who has never been interested in or by Jesse, until one evening in the middle of a huge snowstorm, when the two strike up a conversation in the middle of an empty quad. Over the course of the book their relationship develops into a something which feels to Jesse like much more than the boyish trysts he has had since coming to school.

As the relationship first develops, things start to get weird. First, all communication is cut off with the outside world, though only a few of the students and faculty even notice. Then Jesse is followed by a strange Native American who appears and disappears without notice of others. Then Jesse's friends and teachers begin to lose the ability to converse, then start fading physically from vision. Jesse even watches the School Administrator put a bullet into his own head over a story Jesse helped write in the school paper, and survive!

Then things turn cosmic. The Native American confronts Jesse, and reveals that he is the reincarnation of a turtle sent back from the end of the universe to evolve Jesse, Sully, the Administrator, and any other vertebrate in the entire universe that would have died in the following fifteen months. And yes, these turtles have a plan! It seems that beings at the end of time have figured out a way to harness a few bits of the energy of the dying universe so as to send the turtles back in time. Their purpose is to forcibly evolve all the vertebrates on Earth and in the Cosmos so that they metabolize energy that runs through all the fabric of space. The effect of this is that these new beings will essentially live forever, and can do anything that they want, without limit. They become immortal and omnipotent, each a God unto themselves. They will each live to the end of time, when it becomes their turn to send back their own generation's turtles to prepare all the vertebrates that died in the preceding fifteen months for immortality. This is all part of a plan devised trillions of years ago (from now?) by our descendants, with the goal of jumping back again and again and again, in fifteen month increments, until the big bang is reached, and it becomes possible to manipulate the laws of nature, so that instead of a closed universe, we are given an open one that never ends, and in which anything and anyone is possible.

However, like every good manipulate-the-laws-of-physics-at-the-beginning-of-time plan, there is a problem. Some beings from the end of time who do not wish to die break the law and come back anyway, in an attempt to live another few trillion years. The turtle thinks that our criminal has created the shell of a human and an entire history for that person, which includes death in the current fifteen month period. Our criminal has also apparently manipulated the memories of all around him or her so that it doesn't seem odd that he or she is there. It appears that the metabolic change that the vertebrates are being put through is not instantaneous, and the criminal is vulnerable for the immediate future. The turtle gets Jesse involved because he thinks its Sully. The administrator becomes the turtle's right hand man, and he thinks its Jesse. Jesse doesn't know what to think, but plays the role of the investigator very well. He suspects everyone at one point or another, including his bed-buddy and co-conspirator against the administrator, Jill (who would have died in the same car crash that would have killed Jesse and Sully), then suspects his favorite instructor who dies after the current fifteen months of cancer, but who may be playing possum until he has enough internal reserves to jet off to the Andromeda Galaxy and escape the turtles this time around. The story all comes to a head as Jesse and his brethren are coming into their full God-like abilities, and are folding up and putting away reality as we know it, in order to create their own multi-verse.

In my opinion, there is nothing in this world like a Reed book or story. Reed has given us over the last decade or so dozens and dozens of original, high-quality sci-fi stories, few of which are similar, and virtually all of which are spectacular. Reed's writing style may throw a few; his voice presents the tales with a sense of wonder, sometimes like that of a child, and sometimes like that of a stoned hippy. But the tales are all deep and very well thought out. What makes this story particularly engrossing, in addition to the eye-widening ideas, are the traps and snares that each character sets for the others in order to catch the criminal. As the tale goes on they get more and more elaborate, and the story never loses any of its edge, in that the person who is suspected of being the criminal switches pretty regularly. This book gets 4 out of 5 stars, with reductions only for reading like a first novel (which it is not) and for two or three unexplained breaks in logic.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)

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